ACCC calls on industry for Ad Tech Inquiry

New inquiry into digital advertising services comes off the back of the scathing Digital Platforms Inquiry report released last year

The ACCC’s adtech and ad agency services inquiry efforts are officially underway, with the industry watchdog calling for feedback and information from Australia’s digital advertising supply chain and services ecosystem.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission today released an issues paper and fact sheet for the Ad Tech Inquiry, and is seeking comment from buyers as well as sellers of digital display advertising, along with social media platforms, website owners, adtech services companies, app developers and advertising and media agencies.

The call for information comes a month after Australian treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, announced the Digital Platform Services Inquiry, a five-year plan to investigate the whole digital advertising landscape. Headed by the newly created digital platforms branch sitting within the ACCC, the inquiry reflects the additional powers the ACCC has been given to investigate and regulate Australia’s online advertising landscape following the Digital Platforms Inquiry report released in July last year.

And as part of the latest Ad Tech Inquiry information gathering process, the ACCC said it will use its compulsory information-gathering powers to access information from market participants that’s not publicly available. An interim report is due by the end of the year, with the final report expected to land in August 2021.

“This inquiry will allow the ACCC to assess whether these advertising and adtech markets are operating effectively and importantly, gauge whether they are working well for a range of different stakeholders,” ACCC chair, Rod Sims, said.

The ACCC defines digital advertising technology services as services that provide for, or assist with the automated buying, selling and delivery of digital display advertising services. Suppliers in its sights include publisher ad servers, supply-side platforms, demand-side platforms (DSPs), advertiser ad servers and data services providers. Agency services are those relating to negotiating, acquiring or managing digital display advertising services.

“During our Digital Platforms Inquiry, we heard many concerns about the complexity and opacity of adtech and ad agency services. This had real potential to undermine advertisers’ abilities to choose services that provide the best value for money for them,” Sims continued. “It may also prevent the companies that host those ads from maximising their advertising revenue.”

Specifically, the watchdog said key issues to be explored include whether market participants have enough information on pricing, rebates and revenue flows to make informed adtech and ad agency choices; competition; the role and use of data in supplying these services; and whether competition and efficiency are detrimentally affected by supplier behaviour.

“Higher prices for advertisers means higher prices for consumers,” Sims continued. “We believe that online display advertising practices certainly warrant some digging.”

Submissions are due by 21 April. The ACCC said it also plans to work with the UK Competitions & Markets Authority, which recently penned a report following its own Online Platforms and Digital Advertising market study.

Australia’s online display advertising market generated $3.4 billion in revenue, according to CEASA and ACCC analysis.

Last month’s wider digital advertising services inquiry mandate included the brief explore the availability and transparency of information across the market, the potential concentration of power, transparency of auction and bidding processes, merger and acquisitions activity and supplier behaviour.

Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) CEO, John Broome, welcomed the inquiry and said the association intends to make a submission.

"As with the Digital Platforms inquiry, we intend to consult extensively with our members to ensure that the ACCC has an in-depth perspective on advertisers’ views on the matters under review in its Ad Tech inquiry," he told CMO.

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Australia Technology Lead, Jonas Jaanimagi, also welcomed the inquiry and the opportunity to engage in industry dialogue.

“We see this as a genuine opportunity for the Australian industry to collectively and objectively provide education and full transparency across adtech and the associated supply chain, to help ensure that there’s a true understanding and reflection of the technologies and services provided," he said.

"The critical issues to be addressed in this inquiry will clearly benefit from the IAB’s considerable experience, both locally and globally - placing us in a unique position to closely consult with the Government, and as a result, collaboratively help lead the industry forwards.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia. 

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