Sizmek filed for bankruptcy last Friday, putting the future for one of Google’s few ad-serving competitors in question.
The buy-side ad server first launched as Eyeblaster in 1999, was rebranded in 2010 as MediaMind and was acquired in 2011 before ultimately rebranding as Sizmek.
The company made a string of acquisitions between 2011 and 2017, culminating in the acquisition of the flailing DSP, RocketFuel.
Once valued at $2 billion, RocketFuel was purchased for $145 million after facing criticism for lack of transparency and susceptibility to ad fraud.
The goal was to build an integrated tech stack for programmatic buying and ad serving to compete with Google’s powerhouse products, DoubleClick Bid Manager and DoubleClick Campaign Manager (now dubbed DV360 and simply CM.)
However, with this bankruptcy filing, this vision may never come to fruition.
Critics have said that Sizmek failed to effectively integrate their tech stack. Per Digiday, “The reality of stitching together numerous disparate tech businesses is a tall order. It requires deep pockets to finance the integrations, and huge engineering investment — the kind not many businesses (aside from Google) have.”
Even with vast resources, Google’s acquisitions of DoubleClick (for $3 billion in 2007) and Invite Media (for $81 million in 2010) have not developed into much more than a compartmentalized ad server, ad exchange and DSP environment for Google’s display business.
Google’s legacy display network, Google Ads, remains isolated from the DoubleClick suite and both DV360 and Google Ads lack the innovation of other leading DSPs like The Trade Desk, DataXu and MediaMath.
Nonetheless, Google’s dominant position may further grow if the Sizmek ad server ultimately shuts down – joining Atlas, acquired by Facebook and ultimately sunset last year, and the Oath ad server, sunset by Verizon just a month ago.
Ideally, the agency ad server should not only host creative assets and optimize ad delivery but serve as a neutral source of truth with no stake in the bidding technology or inventory it measures.
In the face of criticism, Google has maintained an unbiased and neutral public face despite its aggressively growing market presence.
Google’s recent decision to restrict access to their proprietary user ID (the DoubleClick ID) outside their walled garden prompted speculation whether this move would kill off other multi-touch attribution providers or spur adoption of independent ad server alternatives, but Google’s ad server remains the de facto standard despite being a relatively small focus of their overall business.
With many clients heavily invested in sophisticated measurement strategies built around DCM, the disruptive nature of migrating to another primary ad server is a major consideration when considering viable alternatives like Adobe Ad Cloud, and independents like Adform, Flashtalking, Trueffect or Thunder.
Though Sizmek’s bankruptcy seems to cement Google’s dominant position in ad serving and attribution, these alternatives play a key role in driving innovation in the space.