jump to navigation

Ad Networks: Synthetic channels June 11, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in ad networks, advertising, business models, Consumer internet, Internet, start-up, startups.

One of the hallmarks of the last few years on the internet has been the growing length of the “long tail”. Compete released some data last year showing that its panel was visiting 77% more websites than it did five years ago:

Long tail getting longer

Interestingly enough, Compete also released data showing that the “head” of the internet was growing in size:

Top Sites account for a larger percentage of pageviews

Together, this suggests that there are now many new sites getting only moderate traffic. While these sites may never grow big enough to become public companies, they are very likely getting to a scale where they can break even. I spoke on this topic at the web 2.0 expo where my presentation analyzed how big sites needed to get to hit both of these goals.

Many of the smaller ad supported sites turn to ad networks for monetization. This trend is being matched by advertisers embracing the channel. A recent report by Collective Media found that:

* 66% of advertisers plan to increase their usage of ad networks in 2007

* 88% of respondents planning to use online ad networks in 2007 (up from 77% in 2006).

* 57% of respondents believed how an ad network targets audiences was the #1 differentiating factor between networks

* Reach (at 52%) and Efficiency (at 66%) were still the key drivers for why agencies/advertisers include ad networks on the buy

I believe that among the biggest beneficiaries of these trends have been the content specific ad networks. With more advertising buying on networks, and with audience targeting being the #1 differentiator, networks that can offer extremely targeted audiences focused where an advertiser is endemic are hard to beat. As I’ve posted about in the past, having endemic advertisers makes for higher RPMs, and hence a smaller level of overall traffic scale to get to high revenues. At AOL, the channels with endemic advertisers always got the highest CPMs and sell through rates, and content specific ad networks are essentially creating synthetic channels.

Many ad networks do contextual targeting in their efforts to get endemic advertisers next to content (with Google and Yahoo being the most prominent). Others use behavioral targeting. Both of these approaches have been effective in lifting RPMs, but both require a leap of faith from the advertiser that the “black box” truly works. To mitigate this risk, contextual networks usually have CPC or CPA based pricing models. However, these models don’t capture all the value of a branding campaign, which can only be fully priced by a CPM model. This leaves some value on the table. Many endemic advertisers are not looking just for “in market” buyers who are looking to make a purchase decision imminently. They are also looking to build brand awareness to influence future purchase decisions.

Synthetic channels, like the channels on the big portals, have an advantage in this respect. By guaranteeing that all sites in their network are about a single topic, they can aggregate a critical mass in traffic while still enjoying endemic site RPMs. This is, in a sense, a “hack” to true contextual targeting, but it has the advantage of being simple to understand and hence simple to sell to advertisers.

One example is Jumpstart, a synthetic channel reaching 5m UU/month and focused on the auto industry. It was bought by Hachette Filipacche (publisher of Car & Driver and Road & Track) in April of this year for up to $110m.

Another example is Glam, which started life as an site focused on fashion, but quickly morphed itself into a synthetic channel focused on “Women: Fashion and Lifestyle” and reaching over 12m UU/month. It claims to be the “fastest growing web property in 2007“.

A third example is the Health Central Network, a synthetic channel focused on medical information and tools. Many of Health Central Network’s sites are actually owned and operated by the company as it rolled up small health content sites during the internet bust.

I think we’ll see more synthetic channels emerge, focused on the high ad spend categories:

ad spending by category

Note that automotive, retail and medicine, the content targets of the three examples above, are the three of the top four advertiser categories. I’m sure this is not an accident! Are readers aware of other synthetic channels?

Update: Conincidentally, Techcrunch just posted about Active Athlete Media, another synthetic channel.


1. Ad Networks: Synthetic channels  »Technology News | Venture Capital, Startups, Silicon Valley, Web 2.0 Tech - June 11, 2007

[…] Source:Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog One of the hallmarks of the last few years on the internet has been the growing length of the “long tail”. Compete released some data last year showing that its panel was visiting 77% more websites than it did five years ago: […]

2. Weissman - June 11, 2007

Vertically oriented ad networks are interesting — see what Adify is doing here too (www.adify.com), for another interesting take which is like private label ad network platform.

But I wonder whether there is still a piece missing, one that adds to the content focus by looking at consumers actions and activities. That could make things even richer.

3. Saar Gur - June 12, 2007

Great post Jeremy!

There are probably over 100 small vertical ad networks out there and many of them have been able to grow over the past several years without venture funding.

Networks like NetShelter (tech ad network) and the Travel Ad Network are often mentioned in the same crowd as Jumpstart.

OnlineSpin recently had a great post that provides great perspective on the evolution of these businesses:
“Go Vertical!” –



4. Ad networks and behavioral targeting; who benefits the most? « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - June 19, 2007

[…] long tail”? As I’ve posted about in the past, I’m a fan of “synthetic channels“, or vertically targeted ad networks, that can take advantage of the first two of these […]

5. Pete’s View - June 20, 2007

[…] some background. Liew points out the number of sites people visit has grown dramatically in the past 5 years, at the same time the […]

6. Norman Johnson - June 21, 2007

Here are two more examples of the independent verticals.
Building Industry Network: A vertical ad network with B2B and consumer facing channels focused on all aspects of building design and construction.
Houseblogs: A network of over 500 bloggers passionate about remodeling, renovation and home improvement.
Both on the Adify platform

7. How to monetize UGC video « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - June 28, 2007

[…] and no copyright violations, and if it has the ability to target ads well (e.g. through a synthetic channel, or behavioral targeting), then lower production values will not prevent a healthy market for […]

8. AOL Buys Tacoda - some thoughts on why « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - July 24, 2007

[…] piece on Venturebeat about vertically targeted content sites and how they can add value to both synthetic channels and behavioral networks, topics I have blogged about here in the […]

9. Hidden traffic drivers at top tier sites « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - August 14, 2007

[…] Glam is more like a vertical ad network (which it readily admits to), there are many other well known sites that derive meaningful amounts […]

10. Hitchhiker's Guide to 650 - August 24, 2007

Not Your Father’s Ad Network

I’m not going to rag on Glam.com . . . I actually admire companies that take some chances, break some rules in the search for new business models and opportunities. So instead, I spent a better half of a sunday morning a few weeks back, when th…

11. Four flavors of ad targeting « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - July 7, 2008

[…] is about some topic. Search is the easiest case, where the user tells you what the page is about. Vertical ad networks with endemic advertisers are also pretty easy to contextually target because they only include […]

12. Not Your Father’s Ad Network | Nosejob - April 11, 2012

[…] I jump in, Jeremy Liew’s post about synthetic channels is an important piece on the vertical-ization of ad networks. Synthetics channels are the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: