Vox Wraps Up 2021 With a Little Shopping Spree

The digital publisher roll-up continues, an OG ad tech firm may be on the block, one social media giant is really meeting the moment and more first-party data is coming to connected TV.

Just another busy week in the digital ad world. Let’s get into it.

Lacking in Identity

Vox Media agreed to acquire Group Nine in an all-stock deal, which would seem to warrant celebration, but somehow it felt like a letdown. Particularly on the heels of BuzzFeed’s lackluster IPO, it’s hard not to feel like we all expected more at one point from this buzzy sector — as in Disney or NBCU or somebody else spending billions to nab these digital geniuses.

As Recode put it: “TThe optimistic version of that pitch: Combining equals more reach, more efficiency, more awesomeness. The flip side: If we don’t combine, we may not make it.”

As the Rebooting noted, “the next phase of growth will take place on the basis of operational excellence, the ability to use scale in infrastructure, data and audiences in order to create competitive advantage.

He’s right, except that the Voxes and Complexes and HuffPosts of the world have tons of scale, but very little ID data. These days the industry is all about first-party data, eCommerce and targeting known users, which is not where these publishers live. Plus, as Business Insider noted, they don’t have a great CTV story either.

No one is saying these brands are doomed by any stretch, but these companies that always seemed to skate where the puck was going now appear back on their heels.

Math is off

Speaking of companies that feel like they may have missed their timing, MediaMath is considering selling to a private equity group or maybe even Magnite (which, by the way, has engineered one of the great ad tech comebacks) according to Digiday. Long one of the bigger names in programmatic advertising, MediaMath seemed like it could have been the next — or really the first — Trade Desk. For a company that has raised $607.5 million and was once valued more than $1 billion, it feels like the pioneering firm is flailing.

Wall Mounted TV

Samsung is the latest TV player to lean further into the walled garden playbook. The Korean electronics giant is letting brands bring their own data to the table for matching and targeting purposes via the new ​​Samsung Onboarding Partner Program, reported AdExchanger. While this is standard procedure at this point for any company that has its own set of user identity files, the move by Samsung could be viewed as a bit hypocritical given how vocal its been as an advertiser about some of the web’s ills. As our own Paul Bannister put it, Oh look, another giant company (Samsung) that is pushing for “privacy on the web” while allowing 3rd party data and mass-tracking in their walled garden.

Pinteresting Choice

How’s this for a measure of whether a tech company had a good year or not? As Ad Age pointed out, one indication that should be considered in awarding accolades for 2021 is the number of times company execs were called before Congress to explain themselves. So it’s rather noteworthy that Pintererst executives avoided getting called down to DC this year. In fact, the ad trade has named Pinterest as its tech marketer of the year, in part because it’s managed to largely avoid fostering divisiveness and the spread of misinformation.

To be sure, Pinterest also has a strong and growing business, as the pandemic seems to have helped the company find its niche — and it’s a big one: eCommerce. What will be worth watching in 2022 is how well Pinterest can compete with Amazon and the rest of the thriving retail media category when it comes to both driving and fulfilling purchases.

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