Marketing Matters: History of Ad Networks 

The digital advertising ecosystem includes Ad Networks, Ad Exchanges, Demand Side Platforms (DSPs), and Supply Side Platforms (SSPs), all of which play a fundamental role in the industry’s evolution.

The First Ad Network 

In the mid-1990s, when the internet was still in its infancy, the concept of ad networks was born. DoubleClick was the first ad network in 1995, closely followed by 24/7 Media, which formed the basis for the ad network paradigm. As intermediaries, these networks bought ad space from many websites (publishers) and sold it to advertisers, providing a seamless and efficient way to reach a broad audience. 

Launch of Ad Exchanges 

Digital advertising started experiencing a major transformation in the mid-2000s by introducing Ad Exchanges such as Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media. Ad Exchanges introduced Real-Time Bidding (RTB), which differs greatly from ad networks. Instead of aggregating ad space, Ad Exchanges enabled real-time buying and selling of ad space based on individual impressions. This ushered in an era of transparent transactions and precise targeting and improved the efficiency of digital advertising.

The Rise of DSPs and SSPs 

Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) and Supply Side Platforms (SSPs) emerged in the mid to late 2000s. DSPs, which included platforms such as MediaMath, Turn, and DataXu, allowed advertisers to manage their bids for ad space on multiple ad exchanges in a consolidated way. In contrast, SSPs such as PubMatic, Rubicon Project, and OpenX offered publishers a platform to optimize their ad revenue by automating the sale of online ad space. This automation ushered in the era of programmatic advertising and led to a paradigm shift in the industry.


Understanding the different roles and interrelationships of ad networks, ad exchanges, DSPs, and SSPs is important. Ad networks bundle advertising space from publishers and serve advertiser demand, often specializing in specific demographic audiences or content niches. In contrast, ad exchanges serve as marketplaces for real-time transactions of ad space on an impression basis.

DSPs and SSPs serve as key intermediaries in these transactions. DSPs provide advertisers with a platform to automate ad inventory purchases from multiple ad exchanges. At the same time, SSPs enable publishers to seamlessly sell their ad inventory across multiple platforms by assessing the value of incoming impressions and passing it on to DSPs to bid accordingly.

Current State of Ad Networks

Ad Networks hold the lion’s share of about 70-80% of demand dollars. Nevertheless, the attractiveness of ad exchanges, DSPs, and SSPs is increasing due to automation and granular targeting benefits. With global digital advertising spend estimated at $389 billion in 2021, the importance of these platforms in driving digital advertising revenue cannot be overstated.

Ad networks are here to stay, and future advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will significantly change them, thus influencing the whole field of digital advertising. Are you excited for what’s to come?

Keitaro Team

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