The Display LUMAScape Explained

Ad Networks – Video / Rich Media

These networks specialize in supporting a specific kind of creative, which is more difficult to do in a programmatic channel than you might expect.  Companies like TubeMogul, YuMe, Videology, and Brightroll specialize in the video space, both in terms of securing inventory on video content, as well as inventory that will accept pre-roll units as interstitials or overlays.  The next frontier here is certainly connected TV (think Roku or other internet connected TVs).  Others in the rich media space, like SAY Media, are more about running cross screen campaigns that can distribute high-impact creative on responsive, highly designed websites, and / or simultaneously across many different media.

Ad Networks – Vertical / Custom

These networks tend to specialize in a particular kind of vertical, and tend to represent publishers with a specific kind of content, the idea being that the network can bring relevant ads to small publishers that can’t call on big brands themselves, and cheaper supply to big brands that can’t operationalize a buy for a small amount of money site by site.  Companies like Glam are all about fashion & beauty content, Travora specializes in travel content, Martini Media focuses on wealthy consumers, Gourmet Ads aggregates food & dining content – you get the picture.

Ad Networks – Targeted / AMP (Audience Management Platforms)

AMPs were a big trend in the industry a year or two ago, and a natural evolution in the space.  AMPs are essentially platforms that combine the features of DMPs and DSPs.  This makes a lot of sense, as unique data segments are at the heart of many programmatic media buying campaigns.  Marketers who want to cherry-pick at scale needed a solution like the DSP to buy media on an impression basis, but they also needed a DMP to house the segment to begin with.  So the very first thing marketers had to do was integrate their DMP with their DSP, an inconvenient barrier to get started in RTB.  So it makes perfect sense for DMPs to develop bidders, and bidders to develop DMPs.

Companies like Collective Media and Audience Science are good examples. In terms of targeted networks, companies like OwnerIQ and RocketFuel collect their own proprietary datasets, which they use to optimize media campaigns as a bidder.

Ad Networks – Performance

Performance is what many people think of when they hear the term ad network, because for a long time, networks were one of the only places that would sell media with a performance guarantee and charge only when a user clicked, landed on a page, or even made a purchase.  Today, performance networks typically have to have real optimization technology behind them to stay cost competitive with DSPs, and likely look more like DSPs from a technical point of view in terms of how they buy media.  As you can see from all the acquisitions, this has been a hot space in the past few years, with lots of companies eager to buy optimization technology but keep opaque margins.

Ad Networks – Mobile

Mobile ad networks perform the same function as any ad network, just with a speciality in working with mobile formats and inventory.  It makes sense to work with a mobile specialist for lots of reasons, but technical challenges are probably the biggest one.  Getting something like a rich media ad to work across iOS and Android devices, in app and mobile web environments, and across many different screen resolutions is no small feat. The publisher set is also quite different in mobile than desktop; some of the largest publishers in the mobile space are gaming and social applications that don’t even have a presence in desktop media.
Other challenges, like how to do audience targeting presents unique challenges due to the limitations of cookie based tracking.  Publishers with fantastic datasets in desktop often have no way to make it available on their mobile properties.  Mobile has also been an area with a lot of dealmaking recently; consumer traffic has seen a huge shift, and many of the largest ad tech businesses are looking for ways to branch into new channels quickly, and without having to build mobile expertise from scratch internally.

Media Management Systems & Operations

This category largely represents order management system software.  On the buy side, DDS (Donavan Data Systems) and MediaBank were both marketer facing order management and billing systems which merged and now do the same thing under the MediaOcean brand.  Bionic and Telmar are in a similar business, offering media planning software.  Operative (which acquired Solbright in 2010) is also an order management system, but for the publisher side of the business (as is FatTail, which for some reason is under the Publishers Tools section). Order management systems for both sides track contracted rates, sales pipelines, contracted revenue, and produce dashboards and basic reporting for the sales organization.  Theorem provides a host of managed services for the publisher side of the business, and is often thought of for extra help in trafficking campaigns.

Sharing Tools / Social Tools

This category has less to do with ad tech, so most people in ad tech are likely unfamiliar with many of the names here, outside of the social behemoths Facebook and Twitter.  From an ad technology perspective, Facebook and Twitter are important tools on both the buy and sell side, which make them interesting hybrid players.  Facebook runs their own ad exchange, but just for their own inventory.  They let buyers buy media using Facebook data and essentially invented the native ad form factor, but they also enable buyers and sellers to host a presence on their platform, effectively publishing content within the walls of Facebook. Twitter is obviously similar in a lot of ways, just smaller still trying to figure out what ad products it will offer to the market.But those are the companies people know – what about Gigya, ShareThis, Addthis, and Tynt?

Gigya is what you might call an engagement platform, because it helps publishers and marketers integrate with social registration (like Facebook Login), and can consolidate identity data based on those user logins from lots of different platforms which can then be used for content recommendations, tailored offers, and other services that help personalize the user experience.  Addthis and ShareThis are the services that host site widgets that let you easily share content to lots of different social networks, but then track and segment those users, and help publishers and advertisers better understand how users share their content.  They also sell targeting against “influencer” audiences built on the user behavior they capture.

Finally, many users are familiar with tynt’s service whether they realize it or not, as it is the technology that appends “read more” links automatically when you copy & paste text from a website, enhancing SEO and traffic, though in a way not always well received by consumers.


Along with ad exchanges and DSPs, SSPs are the other core service within the programmatic media ecosystem.  SSPs are essentially ad exchanges with some additional toolsets built in that favor optimization for the sell side and are designed to help publishers monetize their inventory.  Within this category you have two distinct types of services – demand optimization and platform optimization.

The former is what the SSP service was traditionally, a technology platform that connected to many different sources of real-time bidding demand, could optimize between RTB demand and non-RTB demand like ad network tags, and brought a light set of tools for publishers to set rules on what demand they would take and not take.  Those rules could be advertiser blocks, category blocks, price floors, and transparency settings.  That’s still the bread and butter solution SSPs sell today, and companies like Rubicon and PubMatic are the pure play leaders in that space, though Google, Appnexus, and other companies also have competitive offerings.

The new kids on the block are companies like Beanstock Media and Sonobi who optimize across many different SSPs.  As more money has moved to programmatic channels, publishers have brokered deals with more and more SSPs to gain access to more demand and higher fill rates.  The problem with this strategy is it creates the same problem publishers had with ad networks that the SSPs were built to solve in the first place; complex and inefficient waterfalls to manage in order to yield manage across many pools of fragmented demand.  Beanstock and Sonobi try to solve that for publishers with an automated solution, effectively becoming and SSP of SSPs.  All that said, it seems clear all companies will converge to the same set of features and capabilities in the near future – SSPs will likely build optimization tech so their publisher relationships aren’t displaced and the platform optimizers will likely build traditional demand optimization connections so they can continue to build market share.

Publisher Tools

This is probably the most hodge-podge category on the entire LUMAscape, as it includes a number of companies that do completely different things from one another.  For example, Yieldex (the company I work for, now part of AppNexus) is the only game in town when it comes to inventory forecasting, pricing recommendations, and cross platform revenue analytics, though we also have a solution in the automated guaranteed space.  ShinyAds and iSocket (both acquired by Rubicon), and AdSlot are the other major solutions in automated guaranteed space, though BuySellAds has a similar service designed for smaller websites to package and sell inventory on a guaranteed basis.

FatTail is more of a publisher side order management system, similar to Operative, which is in the Media Management Systems category, while Lijit and Sovrn are ad networks that provided publishers dashboards and were designed for smaller, longer tail sites.Taboola and Outbrain are in the hot content recommendation space, which publishers can use to place native ad-like sponsored listings on other sites to drive traffic back to their properties, or can host others’ sponsored listing to monetize their websites with a different kind of ad unit.  Yieldbot runs a unique kind of ad exchange which semantically categorizes publisher webpages and makes those signals available for buyers to target.  Maxifier (acquired by Cxense) helps publishers programmatically optimize guaranteed campaigns for performance.  There are lots of other companies in this box, but you get the idea – it’s a wide range of tools and services to help publishers understand their business and / or improve monetization of their properties.

Ad Servers (Publisher Side)

Last but not least, the publisher ad server, undisputed king of the ad technology space.  Publishers may have flirtations with every other ad technology vendor, but when they pick an ad server, they get married.  The ad server is the core decision engine of the entire ecosystem.  More than any other category, there’s a clear leader in this category, and that’s DoubleClick by a mile.  DoubleClick is without a doubt the preferred platform of both large and small publishers, though they aren’t the only option despite what some in Ad Ops might have you believe.ADTECH is especially strong in the EU, and OpenX and OAS (now owned by Appnexus) are strong Tier-2 ad servers, meaning they don’t have the full set of features you’d expect from DFP, but are solid solutions for publishers with less complex requirements.  LiveIntent is a company you could argue is mis-categorized here and would be more accurately placed in the SSP space as it specializes in monetizing publisher email inventory through an exchange.  Adzerk is the newest pure play ad server in market, and has made some impressive deals with digital native publishers thanks to its tech savvy approach of exposing the underlying services of an ad server through a set of APIs.

There you have it!  A complete breakdown of every category on the LUMAscape, as well as a bit of additional context on some of the nuances and imperfections in their categorization.  I want to thank Terry Kawaja and the LUMA Partners team for producing the LUMAScape to begin with, and hope this article adds a small amount of value to anyone trying to use it to better understand the digital marketing industry.


  1. Hi Ben,

    I don’t usually leave comments, but I can’t help how worthwhile your articles are.
    I was recently hired into an ad ops role and I’m still in the training stage. Unfortunately, there isn’t much material in place for me to learn except when I directly ask our senior ad ops person and oftentimes, they’re too busy to help me.

    Please don’t stop sharing your knowledge, it means a lot to us.

  2. Thanks Melanie! I’m glad you’ve found the site to be a resource – feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section in the future.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Just a quick comment to echo the sentiment Melanie shared. I’ve been a loyal reader of this blog for years and have found it to be incredibly useful and valuable in understanding the Ad Op/Tech side of the business. I appreciate your time and efforts in sharing your experience and knowledge on these topics. Thanks and keep it coming!


  4. Hey Ben,

    Im currently working as an intern in a Video+Display Programmatic Advertising Agency. I have to come up with pricing metrics for the different companies within the industry. I’ve found so little information since then. Any suggestions ?

  5. Hm, what do you mean by ‘pricing metrics’ – like, what the typical rates are for various services, or the going rates for specific types of media, or something else?

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