AOL moving 100% of Canadian inventory to programmatic

Canada will be first market where all premium inventory, including video, will be available through programmatic channels

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AOL will make all of its Canadian digital ad inventory available programmatically through its media buying platforms, AdLearn Open Platform and The move will make Canada the first market where AOL has gone fully programmatic across all formats, channels and screens.

The announcement extends to all original content and all reserved and non-reserved ad placements on AOL-owned sites like Huffington Post Canada,, TechCrunch and StyleList Canada. It includes display and video ad units across mobile, desktop and connected TV, as well as AOL’s unique rich media units, such as the mobile Road Devil interstitial released this month. (Pictured: One of AOL’s premium ad formats.)

“In Canada we’re a step ahead in being able to actually execute on the vision of ‘any platform, any format, any source of inventory’ programmatically,” said AOL Canada general manager Joe Strolz.

Earlier this year, the company announced plans to make all U.K. reserved inventory programmatic, but it did not include video. The U.S. announced similar plans last year, which also did not include video.

AOL has invested heavily in software that helps clients understand which digital channels are generating the most consumer engagement and optimize their campaign spending accordingly. This technology relies on programmatic targeting, which until now was only available for lower-quality remnant inventory.

By making its premium inventory available programmatically, AOL is enabling clients to use its attribution and optimization software to direct their spend on premium digital media, as well as remnant.

“[Clients] don’t just want second-tier inventory,” Strolz said. “They want to be able to use the technology that they have within their trading desk, and the technology we have, to make the most of what we have to offer and get the most out of automation, efficiency, quality and insight.”

Among AOL’s clients leading the charge for more automation was Accuen, Omnicom’s programmatic agency trading desk. Accuen will be the first charter partner to buy premium AOL placements using AdLearn Open Platform (AOP).

“We will be using AOP and to bring what have previously been very siloed channels of inventory and creative together in one unified view,” said Tom Fotheringham, Accuen’s Canadian general manager.

He stressed that using AOP and Accuen’s own technology portfolio will help clients integrate data across their campaigns and respond to changes in real-time.

At press time, Fotheringham could not discuss which brands would be involved in initial programmatic campaigns on AOL properties.

AOL said that giving programmatic access to all inventory will not conflict with direct sales operations. Clients will still be able to negotiate up-front access to AOL’s inventory, as GroupM did with AOL’s original video slate at its programmatic upfront last year.

Any inventory that is not bought upfront will be available to programmatic buyers, regardless of whether it is remnant or “premium” inventory, like pre-roll for original video content or mobile app interstitials.

AOL’s premium reserved inventory will only be available through AOL’s Adlearn Open Platform and platforms, as well as the integrated One platform when it launches next year. For the time being, other DSPs will not be able to access AOL premium inventory through its Marketplace exchange (though non-reserved inventory will still be available).

The company said that premium inventory availability would be a key differentiator for AOL’s technology and the One platform. Demand-side technology providers typically do not differentiate themselves by inventory availability, since most DSPs have access to all major sources of inventory.

AOL is one of only a few technology providers that is also a premium publisher, and has the unique opportunity to attract clients to its platform by offering exclusive access to premium media.

AOL’s One platform is intended to combine all aspects of the programmatic buying process into a single, integrated stack. Currently, the dominant practice among agency and independent trading desks is to use more than one platform simultaneously; AOL hopes to encourage buyers to direct the majority of their spend through a single platform.

“This is the first real step towards that future state of a fully integrated ad stack,” said Strolz.

AOL said opening up its premium inventory is intended to set an example for other digital publishers who are considering making their premium inventory available to programmatic buyers. The company hopes that other publishers partners in its network will also feel confident opening up their inventory in the near future.

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