Media Perspective: Will WPP's Yahoo! deal deliver any real benefit to clients?

The news that Microsoft's talks with Yahoo! are back on - this time over the limited prospect of uniting their advertising operations - could have significant implications for advertisers.

And while it's surprising that Yahoo! staff can be bothered to do any work whatsoever with all this uncertainly around them, Yahoo! is still busy carving out other joint ventures.

Last week saw the announcement that Yahoo! is entering into an agreement with WPP to create a media trading platform, which will be open to Group M clients and also to third-party users. It will essentially involve selling online display ad inventory from Yahoo! and 24/7 Real Media, the WPP-owned business, which, in addition to offering search consultancy, also sells ad space on behalf of more than 950 sites around the world.

The tie-up with Yahoo! is interesting, because not only has WPP finally found something potentially useful to do with 24/7, which it acquired for $649 million a year ago, but also because it sees its Group M arm moving further into the territory of media owner, as seller as well as buyer.

While the deal has similarities to Publicis' recent tie-up with Google, in that it will provide Group M clients with potentially greater understanding and better deals with Yahoo! (the classic role of the media agency), it will also see Yahoo! and WPP open the trading platform to other publishers, effectively setting up a joint sales house.

Of course, this is little more than an extension of the existing 24/7 model, but it reinforces again the changing role of the media agency/network (or certainly the changing nature of WPP's model). It is evidence that WPP is actively pursuing the Group M chief executive Irwin Gotlieb's notion that it can evolve into an operation that sells as well as buys.

The issue of Group M's dual role as buyer and seller hasn't caused much of a stir. Oddly enough, the US market has more of a problem with Group M attempting to introduce a European-style "rebate" system in the outdoor market than with it both selling and buying for advertisers. Yet its actions surely destroy the last bastions of any argument that the media agency can be channel-neutral and a true advisor to clients (if it ever has been). That said, the UK and US markets both seem relaxed over the idea of the media agency acting as media owner when it comes to content creation - equating this type of activity with a move upstream into an ideas-led world where ownership is good.

And another reason for the lack of concern over WPP's paddling in the media sales pool may well be the complexity and diverse nature of the online display market. However, while the deal seems good for WPP, it will be interesting to see if it delivers any clear benefits to advertisers.

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