Since its inception, marketers and brands have been drawn to the concept of programmatic ads, specifically for it’s promise in optimizing cost and delivering more effective results.

Among the recent trends in the programmatic space is RTB, or Real Time Bidding. There is a lot of confusion in the paid ad space surrounding these two terms.

Are they the same thing? Are they interchangeable? 

The short answer is — no. 

Especially when it relates to the DOOH or Digital Out of Home advertising channels. Digital out-of-home media, or DOOH media, refers to digital media that appears in environments accessible to the public, especially when they don’t have access to their personal devices.

This primarily includes digital billboards and outdoor signage, as well as networks of screens found in businesses like malls and healthcare providers. 

Chances are, if you’ve been in public spaces, you’ve been exposed to DOOH marketing. 

Let’s clear up some of the confusion surrounding RTB, Programmatic, and Program-manual ads in DOOH and go over a few of the key differences between them. 

What is Programmatic DOOH?

Programmatic ads is the automated buying and selling of online advertising, so advertisers are only paying for ads that are delivered to the right people, at the right time.

Digital out of home and programmatic blends perfectly together as it gives advertisers the ability to automatically adjust their campaigns in real time, depending on demographics, and company goals.

What is a Program-manual DOOH? 

Older companies with outdated technology and systems might connect to a buyer’s DSP (Demand Side Platform) tool that allows the buyer to programmatically make a decision on what DOOH screen they want to buy an ad unit on.

However, this method, although widely popularized, loses the ability for accurate, real time connections. 

This technology does not have programmatic capabilities or Kubient’s patent-pending oRTB connection down to the individual screen. Which means the company manually sends the IO over to the DOOH operator to manually flight the creative into the next carousel. The buyer does not receive any insights or analytics regarding the playing of their ad unit; they just receive a bill at the end of the month.  

What is Real Time Bidding DOOH

Real-time bidding or RTB refers to the buying and selling of online ad impressions through real-time auctions that occur in the time it takes for a webpage or display to load.

In less than 120ms, RTB allows publishers to monetize the advertising space available on their website (or DOOH displays) by selling them to buyers through an auction system.

RTB has been used for years both in the world of traditional online advertising, along with more recently, the DOOH industry.

Although RTB is a type of programmatic ad buying, there are a few key differentiators that are changing the ways advertisers and brands approach their buying strategies.

RTB helps both the advertiser and publisher. For advertisers, it allows them to access the right person at the right time with real time targeting. For publishers, it optimizes the monetization of their ad units, letting publishers achieve higher CTR’s with less ad spend.

The Differences

Let’s discuss the key differences between RTB and Programmatic.

While Real Time Bidding is indeed a type of Programmatic buying, the differences mostly reside in the ways ad budgets are optimized and spent, publisher ad units are monetized, as well as the analytics that are able to be collected during and after the fact.

Optimizing Media Budget

Programmatic direct or RTB allows advertisers and brands to spend their media budget only when their specific target audience is engaging.

This is a huge selling point that has led countless advertisers and brands to this channel in recent times. 

No longer is the “spend and spray” strategy of paid advertising applicable, or really effective at all. This refers to a strategy in media buying where budgets are made and ads are displayed to a wide variety of audiences or markets — spending even when they’re not reaching their target customer.

This is where RTB, like Kubient’s, comes into play. Advertisers only pay when their target audience is being reached and all preset conditions of the ad set have been met. 

Additionally, ads are delivered only at designated or automated times — advertisers choose when they’re live and pay only when they’re being delivered.

This is especially relevant when it comes to the DOOH industry, when timing is incredibly important as it relies on in person traffic for impressions.

For example, would it be a good idea to have your ad campaign for a local discount running on digital displays in a city past 10pm when the store’s are closed, and there’s no foot traffic?

The answer — probably not.

Instead of your ad being displayed and run when during suboptimal times, and you paying for that time, you only pay for when your ad is being delivered to the right person, at the right place, at the right time.


Beyond the actual delivery of the ads, analytics is another big factor when it comes to running your campaigns with programmatic direct. 

It can be hard to get accurate analytics when it comes to some types of paid ads. Online ads run through media platforms such as Facebook or Google comes with its own suite of analytic tools to measure exact impressions, clicks and conversions.

But when diving into other industries, such as DOOH, it gets a bit more complicated. 

There are a few key advantages in analytics when it comes to Programmatic or RTB over Program-manual.

With Program-manual, you purchase your ad space, receive an invoice, and that’s typically the end of the road. 

With Kubient’s patent-pending oRTB solution, you’re getting a much more detailed look of how exactly your ads are performing, the people they’re reaching, and even some behavioral analytics that are nearly impossible to come by through other channels. 

Additionally, the platform provides advertisers with the ability to to geofence the screen, meaning that it captures the consented devices ID and allows it to execute either a true omni channel campaign, or validate direct attribution for conversions.

This is what gives Kubient the edge in terms of analytics and metric driven results.

Accurate Impressions

Know how many people saw your ad — you’re paying for each impression, so it only makes sense to know just how many there were, right? 

While exact figures when it comes to impressions can be tough to come by through DOOH advertising, programmatic gives you a highly educated approximate total based on a multitude of factors. 

Exact Timeline

Know when your ads are being displayed. Knowing the exact time that your ad campaigns run are helpful for several reasons.

The main being, it gives you the ability to compare results and traffic at different times. 

Knowing that your DOOH ad campaign with a digital CTA received 5x as many leads during a 5pm time slot than a 9am time slot gives you invaluable information to optimize effectiveness. 

Second being, it helps make sense of when exactly your media budget is being spent, the most expensive times to run ads, and vice versa. 

Exact Location

Similarly, knowing the specific location or longitude/latitude that your ads are being displayed is also critical to optimizing and understanding the effectiveness of your ads with location-based targeting

Behavioral Data 

As the DOOH industry continues to innovate, there is more and more technology that allows advertisers to gain a better understanding of their target audience and how exactly they’re reacting to their ads and brand.

This comes into play mainly with software that can capture certain aspects of consumers in real time as they experience and view digital displays.

Now, exactly what type of information is being collected?

For example:

  • Did someone smile when they saw your ad? 
  • How long did they watch your ad for? 
  • What gender was the person? 
  • What was the approx age of the person?

Such behavioral analytics are what will be the driving factor of both the programmatic and DOOh industries, and help advertisers and brands dial down on what’s actually working as well as better understanding public perception. 


Programmatic and the various subsections like Real Time Bidding is shaping and changing the advertising industry as we know it.

What was once largely a game of chance, dependent upon external factors to make ad campaigns a success, is now driven by intelligent data, accurate analytics, real time decisions, and true attribution.

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Chief Digital Officer at Kubient. Technologist, Designer, Builder, Dad. Dedicated to disruptive innovation, integrating technology, people and data to drive profitable growth.