AdSemble Brings Its Digital Billboard Ad Marketplace To Chicago

After five years in business, an ad-tech company called AdSemble is making its first move beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.

CEO Matthew Olivieri said the company, which offers online tools for businesses to search buy advertising on digital billboards, has reached 235.6 million impressions this year, up from 46.2 million last year (based on an estimate of the number of people who drive by each billboard). It’s also cash-flow positive.

Here’s the problem that AdSemble is trying to solve: Olivieri told me that that placing an ad on a digital billboard is normally incredibly difficult, due to the fragmentation among all the different networks.

“There are all these individually owned and operated networks,” he said. “If you were Joe the Plumber or anybody like that, you’d have to make like 50,000 phone calls to coordinate [placing an ad]. Every single one of these guys uses a different metric for how they ask for the screen size.”

(ADstruc is another company using the web to buy outdoor advertising, but it’s less focused on digital billboards specifically.)

Olivieri said the original concept was to offer a “self-service, AdWords-style marketplace” where advertisers and billboard operators could bid for ad space without any interference. However, he said the market wasn’t ready for that (at least not from a small startup), so the company developed a model that’s more hands-on.

The site still partners with digital billboard networks to make their inventory searchable, but if you want to advertise, you have to actually work with AdSemble to make it happen. (Ultimately, Olivieri said he’s hoping to go back to that self-serve model.) Still, it seems to be something advertisers are looking for, which AdSemble’s clients including Samsung, Dice, Five Guys, and New Relic.

The company says it also sells space on mall screens, sports jumbotrons, and fuel top screens — eventually, Olivieri said customers might use AdSemble to buy ads on any digital screen, though he’s starting with the ones that have the biggest audience.

Olivieri argued that advertiser interest in digital billboards is growing due to the decreasing cost of LED screens and the fact that they can bring in more revenue (by showing ads from multiple companies) than a static billboard. (I’ve asked him if he has any data to back that up and will update this post if I hear back.)

And he suggested that Chicago, which is where AdSemble is expanding, is becoming the “mecca” for this type of advertising, not just because more billboards are going up, but because another contender, Los Angeles, is currently seeing a legal battle over these billboards.