Sharethrough, the adtech company that allows customers to sell “native” advertising that appears in the stream or feed of their content, has big plans for 2015: It is targeting an annual revenue of $US100 million and the launch this month of a platform that will allow advertisers to buy native ads at the same scale they currently buy banners and videos.
It’s likely you’ve seen a Sharethrough ad today already. The company works with more than 400 publishers — including Forbes, Time Inc, and Hearst — as a SSP (supply-side-platform) to help them place native advertising on their websites. The ads follow the same style guideline as each publisher’s content, but display that the author is a brand advertiser, or include text stating that the article, post, or video has been sponsored.
Founded seven years ago, the company has raised $US38 million in funding to date. Telecommunications and broadcaster BSkyB — also the UK’s biggest advertiser — was one of the investors in its last round. It was a signal the idea of “native advertising” was moving from the idea of “newspaper advertorials on the web” into a formidable media in its own right.
Dan Greenberg, Sharethrough co-founder and CEO, told Business Insider that he sees only a few big players in this space: Facebook, Yahoo (with its Gemini proposition), Twitter, and Sharethrough. He doesn’t foresee one of his native ad rivals acquiring Sharethrough, though: “If there is consolidation, I hope we do the consolidation: Consolidation for the independent companies that power the open web.”
And it appears Sharethrough has the muscle to do that: Greenberg claims the company has marked five straight quarters of profit, on revenue of $US46 million in 2014. “Mobile is now 70% of the business,” he claims, and that mobile revenue is up 700% year on year.
Greenberg aims to bring that revenue figure up to $US100 million by the end of 2015. His focus is on programmatic. This month Sharethrough is extending its platform to include RTB (real time bidding) capabilities. So rather than advertisers having a particular publisher in mind on which to place their content, they instead bid the right type of audience, which could appear across a range of publishers’ sites.
Sharethrough will use its existing bidder and buying platform to power the new capabilities. The company is also partnering with ad tech companies (Greenberg wouldn’t say which, but hinted at the major demand-side platforms such as Turn and MediaMath) and agency trading desks (again, no names just yet.)
Greenberg explained the thinking: “Instead of something where advertisers have to log into a specific system, or call a publisher, they can buy native ads at the same scale they buy banners and videos. It puts tons of control in the hands of the publishers too….and if I’m at WPP, I don’t want to be stuck buying banners all my life, I don’t want to have to [call the publisher direct], [native advertising at scale] will be the big story this year.”
Greenberg admits that native advertising still has its problems: He chairs the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau’s) native advertising working group, which is working through issues such as how to correctly label native ads so consumers aren’t deceived, and to develop universal ad formats across the web. Those things take time: “Industry groups work at the pace of government — or more than [it feels slow] because the pace of government is slower than start-ups,” Greenberg says
Nevertheless, native advertising is set to soar this year. BI Intelligence predicts spending on native ads will reach $US7.9 billion this year and grow to $US21 billion in 2018, rising from just $US4.7 billion in 2013. Of that 2015 prediction, $US1.9 billion will be made up by the “native-style display” sector in which Sharethrough sits, while the majority will be made up by social native ads. Many people might dismiss native advertising as dressed-up advertorial, but the market is set to be huge.
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