News that ESPN.com plans to start selling directly to its advertisers adds fuel to the debate over the merits of online ad networks and what kind of sites can most benefit from them.
The huge sports site is among a growing list of big online publishers who are opting to either go it alone, or at the very least keep control over most of their ad inventory -- especially the chunk targeted at brand advertisers based on data about the Web site's own users.
At the same time, big online media companies like AOL have been buying ad networks to get control of relationships with those same brand advertisers.
So where do ad networks and ad technology platforms like Adify fit in?
We asked CEO Russ Fradin what kind of ad dollars are most likely to be bought via networks, how Google is impacting brand advertising, and how big Adify has grown.
First, know that, according to Fradin, the company is on track to be breakeven and then profitable this year, and that between $75 million and $125 million in ads came across its networks.
He then argued that networks are especially good for serving big brand advertisers, because they help them access quality, edited content they could not otherwise find, given that there are more than 100 million sites on the Internet.
"There is and always has been massive value in the collection of online audiences," Fradin says. "You need to have an audience of some size to get the time of day from an agency."
Fradin says that while Adify provides its ad networks with a technology platform, half the company's value comes from the back office and customer support it gives them. It's not easy for them to do the billing and the comScore reporting and all the other incidentals needed to make sure they get paid.