Rubicon Brings In Three High-Profile Hires To Evolve RTB Efforts

The Rubicon Project has added three executives — including Jay Sears from ContextWeb, who recently declared the supply-side platform model “dead”– as competition among the major SSPs — PubMatic, AdMeld to name two — heats up as publishers look for ways to help ease their ad sales immersion into real-time bidding.

In addition to Sears, whose blog post this summer was merely a provocative way of saying that the SSP model was evolving into a fuller ad exchange operations service, Rubicon has hired CBS (NYSE: CBS) Interactive’s Jeremy Fain as , VP, Client Services, and Grant Sterling, formerly platform manager at NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) Universal, as account director. All three will be based in Santa Monica company’s New York offices.

The need for executives who can reach out to publishers and understand their concerns about the RTB — many premium publishers half-jokingly refer to it as “race to the bottom” — is increasingly important to companies in the SSP space. Earlier this month, PubMatic hired former Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) digital exec Kirk McDonald as the SSP’s first president.

In joining Rubicon from ContextWeb (it’s recently rebranded as PulsePoint), Sears says that the opportunities are much bigger than just optimizing publishers’ yields on their online ad sales. “Whether the ad network, agency trading desk or demand-side platform uses their own bidder or the Rubicon bidder via the company’s REVV for demand interface, digital ad buyers can easily access more than 4 billion impressions every day from 450 high-quality publishers,” Sears said in a statement. “Access to the platform provides buyers scale and quality that is unmatched in the market, with some 20 percent of comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) 500 leading digital properties, including Time Inc., NBC Universal, News Corporation (NSDQ: NWS) and CareerBuilder using REVV.”

Right now, about 10- to 15 percent of the roughly $30 billion being spent for online advertising is going through ad exchanges. Publishers fear that as more agencies and marketers funnel media buying dollars through ad exchanges, there will be increased “channel conflict” — that advertisers will simply aim for automated “audience buying” instead of relying on direct sales from publishers, who have been traditional focal point for reaching consumers.

The idea is that if publishers have more control over the exchange process, they’ll be naturally more willing to place their premium inventory on those bidding platforms, said Fain an interview with paidContent. Fain had run CBS Interactive’s network-wide audience targeting operations. That understanding of publishers’ needs from the inside is viewed as key to encouraging content companies to continue to open more of their inventory to exchanges.

The fairly recent introduction of “private marketplaces,” which put a variety of controls and options in publishers’ hands, has helped unlock some of that ad space. But for the most part, publishers feel they have little choice to to participate in bidding environments. Fain’s job will be to convince his former peers that exchanges can work for them and not reduce the value of their direct sales.

“Private marketplaces are a good option for publishers, because it allows them to access ad exchange dollars that they wouldn’t otherwise get,” Fain said. “In a sense, it’s really an extension of direct sales, and part of the challenge is coming up with improved ways of giving publishers right kinds of controls to make exchanges work for them.”