The display landscape continuously expands with new options and technology that augment the media mix for clients and agencies. There are practically more networks and tactics then varieties of supplements in a vitamin store. Similar to aforementioned supplements, many may argue that a lot of the new/rebranded networks are full of hype and have yet to deliver on their claims. At OMMA Ad Nets 2010, the leading networks and display industry players came together to sort out this expansive and intimidating field of opportunities and chaos. 
Networks have come a long way. It use to be that many of the prominent advertisers would shudder at the thought of their ads being served to an “unknown” user- especially outside of their verticals or endemic sites. Regardless of the efficiencies networks produced- many clients would not grasp how a user seeing their ad on a completely unrelated site to their product would help promote awareness or branding. These same advertisers might think it is better to only buy placements on the top vertical sites- or more prominent ads on TV. At least you know what you are getting…GRPs!
What do the experts say? “It depends on the client.” That is the universal answer and perhaps the universal truth. Regardless of how targeted your networks can get with third party data and retargeting technologies…if the marketing budget is there to buy the Superbowl ad- chances are your audience will indeed see that prominent ad…along with everyone else. How many will go to your store or website after that? Maybe enough to make it a semi-viable option? On the flip side- those with very limited budget are not able to weigh as much value on context, thus remnant inventory and reaching more qualified users efficiently suits their needs.
Networks have had to fight from the bottom up- not only displaying superior efficiency with their long tail of opportunity- but adding in additional insights and audience modeling to provide evidence that their expansive fleet of second and third tier sites does bring it home and convert users. Networks staying alive in today’s competitive field are going beyond simply re-packaging assorted sites into a sexy vertical channel. Today’s top players (or their partners) must deliver a wider variety of audiences and data as well as the infrastructure to implement selective media buys in a variety of configurations and pricing structures.
When it comes to the end of the day, and the efficiency is called into question, generally networks fare quite well. When people question if networks can perform the same functions as big name publishers with engaging placements, rich-media or sponsorship capabilities- there is a bit of a standstill which takes us back to our budgets and that looming Superbowl ad.
The balance between art and science was mentioned in great repetition at OMMA. Art is indeed subjective, science is chiefly impartial. The science of ad networks continually broadens in tandem with the evolving art of display media buying and goal setting. Creative ads were actually the “art” being referenced- but display media planners are in immediate need of heightened creativity in order to mix all these abstract “colors” into a master media plan.