At the end of each year, thought-leaders voice their opinion on what they believe will be the “next big thing” in the media industry. End-of-year trends and predictions have become a tradition to most, and it’s definitely a tradition we look forward to. In fact, we’ve recently published our own list of 2020 predictions, specifically for publishers, as a follow up to our 2019 list. 

Now that we’re nearly settled into 2020, it’s a great time to reflect on the past 12 months of noteworthy highlights. As expected, some trends made a lasting impact and some were a passing fad.

Due to our ever-growing industry, we know it’s only going to become increasingly difficult to predict outcomes with accuracy. Reviewing our 2019 digital trends white paper didn’t change that, even if we were pretty spot-on with most of our forecast. 

So, which trend did we get wrong in our 2019 predictions? Hint: it’s one of our favorite topics.

Programmatic Predictions

As one of the most rapidly evolving areas of digital, programmatic is unpredictable by nature. Here’s what we mentioned in last year’s ‘2019 Digital Ad Trends’ white paper:

“Unsurprisingly, programmatic took a hit earlier this year when the full force of the EU’s GDPR regulation went into effect. But it didn’t take long to recover ground and continue growing. In 2019, 65% of digital media will be programmatic. As companies overcome GDPR confusion in 2019 and beyond, one thing is clear: programmatic is the new traditional.”

Alright, so we weren’t too far off, and we wrote about many of these changes throughout the year, but we should elaborate on a few key statements.

Let’s break it down and discuss why.

Prediction vs. Reality: #1

What we said:  “Unsurprisingly, programmatic took a hit earlier this year when the full force of the EU’s GDPR regulation went into effect. But it didn’t take long to recover ground and continue growing.”

What happened:  While it did take a small hit post-GDPR and recover quickly, we can’t expect a lasting recovery for programmatic as we know it today. GDPR was the industry’s introduction to data privacy laws, which led to many others such as CCPA and ePrivacy. 

We’re now also faced with internet browsers restricting third party cookie tracking in an effort to end ad profiling. Google and Apple put anti-tracking features in place early last year, along with Mozilla, who switched on Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) for users by default. 

With these restrictions in place, third party cookies – and things like real-time bidding (RTB) – aren’t compliant in most cases. It’s easy to see why programmatic, specifically RTB, may see a gradual decline in spend as 2020 progresses.

Prediction vs. Reality: #2

What we said:  “In 2019, 65% of digital media will be programmatic.”

What happened: While the future of programmatic has been uncertain, it is not “dead” as some have claimed – it’s simply evolving. In 2019, 69% of digital media was programmatic, compared to the predicted 65%. 

There was also a shift from RTB transactions to programmatic guaranteed campaigns. With PG campaigns, publishers sell the same premium inventory at the same price as their traditional direct campaigns. PG is not reliant on cookies and 1st party data can be applied, solving for the industry’s latest issues.  Financial Times’ PG deals currently account for 70% of their programmatic ad revenue, up from 4% just two years ago. 

Prediction vs. Reality: #3

What we said: “As companies overcome GDPR confusion in 2019 and beyond, one thing is clear: programmatic is the new traditional.”

What happened: As mentioned, 2019 brought a shift from RTB to Programmatic Guaranteed deals. PG is essentially a direct-sold campaign that is transacted through technology rather than the traditional method of buying and selling. It is programmatic advertising in its simplest form.

Pricing perceptions are shifting as well, considering most publishers sell programmatic guaranteed at the same rate as traditional direct, or higher. We asked six of our customers, located in the U.S. and U.K., to share a few programmatic guaranteed stats. All six confirmed their PG rates were equal to traditional direct, or higher, when selling the same products.

The Year Ahead

Similar to prior years, 2019 was a year of change and transformation for the digital industry. There’s still a lingering uncertainty about the future of online advertising, especially regarding programmatic. Read our predictions for 2020 trends in our most recent white paper. What bold predictions have you made for the year ahead?