“We want to get 80-85% of predictions right, not 100%.
Or else we calibrated our estimates in the wrong way.”
— Nate Silver

Going back and reading previous years prediction posts is probably not the best way to give yourself confidence to take another swing. But, if being wrong 15-20% of the time is good enough for Nate Silver, it’s good enough for me. So, here’s a go at what I see happening in several key areas in 2013.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

Without a doubt, the launch of Facebook Exchange was the big RTB story of 2012. It almost doubled the volume of RTB-enabled impressions overnight, expanded the idea of RTB into the realm of native ad units, and has been a major success for Facebook, DSPs, and advertisers alike.

I think we’ll see some other big names enter the realm of programmatic buying with their own unique value propositions in 2013:

  • Pinterest and their supply of potentially valuable product-intent data
  • Twitter and their abundance of inventory better utilized with external bidders (like FB)
  • LinkedIn and their abundance of extremely-unique B2B data and inventory
  • Amazon has already announced that they’ll make their data available via RTB, so it would make sense that their owned and operated ad inventory will follow suit

Mobile

An intriguing consequence of these uber-publishers’ foray into the world of RTB will be that the high-profile problem of cross-device targeting will start to get solved in a real way. Think about the companies that could pull this off by having a user logged in on multiple devices:

  • Twitter: Since people log in on their desktop and their phone, targeting can naturally span these devices.
  • Google: Remember how they unified their privacy policies a few months back? That wasn’t just to “reduce complications for users.” Now, you’re logged into your Android device, Chrome on your desktop and Chrome on your iOS device, creating a robust and beautiful cross-device profile.
  • Other social networks: given the continued increase in smartphone adoption of the past year, and the massive social activity that occurs on those devices, you can see how desktop behavior can be easily ported onto phones with a unified log-in pretty easily.

I couldn’t have a section for mobile predictions without talking about Apple.  Remember iAd?  Yeah, I forgot too.  For potentially the largest player in the fastest-growing segment of digital advertising (mobile), I don’t think we’ve heard the last from Apple.

I’d expect iAd to relaunch in 2013, and I’d expect it to look a lot more like an exchange. Apple does a lot of things well, but one of those things is not media sales – it’d make sense to go the exchange route and let others do the ad sales. The creation of identifier for advertisers IFA in iOS6 could be seen as a first step to Apple creating their own version of a mobile cookie for just such an exchange environment.  It would be like the app store, but for DSPs buying ad impressions instead of developers building apps for flatulent sound effects and chucking birds at pigs. Seriously Apple, do it!

Display

I’ve got two predictions for the general world of display in 2013.

First off, the much talked about Facebook ad network becomes a reality. Many folks thought this would come much sooner.  However, those folks failed to realize that the primarily problem Facebook needed to solve wasn’t to acquire more inventory, but to monetize.  They felt that they already had tons of inventory on Facebook to work with, so an external network wasn’t a priority.

The first problem to solve was to better monetize what they already had.  Through FBX and other initiatives such as gifts and social ad enhancements, these issues are starting to be addressed, so now it’s time to talk inventory expansion.  I doubt Facebook is going to want to take the time to build a publisher sales team and slog around to site owners about placing new code, so I’d suspect the ad network gets launched through an acquisition.  There have been rumors about Atlas and Appnexus as targets, and I’d expect something along those lines to become a reality.

Secondly, I predict the fringe topic of viewability to become a much bigger deal this year. The IAB is already working to make viewable impressions the billing standard, but it’s going to require a big shift in thinking for that to happen.

At the end of the day, unviewable impressions are already baked into today’s CPMs. So, once charges for viewable impressions are isolated, we can expect much higher CPMs (maybe 30-50% higher), but also much better performance since only viewed impressions will be counted.

eCommerce

I spent a lot of time this year talking to brands and retailers about their businesses.  The one thing I heard time and time again, from brands across almost every vertical, was their focus on increasing direct-to-consumer sales online.

That means online commerce will start to look more and more like the real world.  There will be large “big box” online retailers like Amazon, but there will also be boutiques and branded storefronts offering a unique direct-to-consumer experience.  Brands that have for a long time relied on big ecommerce aggregators to market and sell their products are realizing that they’re leaving just too much margin on the table by not catering to consumers directly.

With a thriving vendor ecosystem, the barriers to going direct have also come down and even niche brands can now easily launch storefronts, manage shopping carts, handle shipping, and execute extremely effective marketing campaigns without the need to sell their products at wholesale prices to aggregators.

So, that’s my best take on what’s to come in 2013.  Hopefully next year, I’ll be able to review this post and take comfort (eggnog and Sailor Jerry rum notwithstanding) in the fact that I came through with Nate Silver-esque accuracy.