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Premium publishers have needed some convincing to open up their more valuable inventory to programmatic buying technologies.

But interest in tools that streamline the often unwieldy direct sales process has heated up. It’s one of the reasons Yieldex, a company best known for producing forecasting and analytics tools for premium inventory, introduced a new line of business Tuesday: a programmatic direct platform called YieldexDirect.

The company will continue its traditional yield-management business – in fact it’s this very business that company co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Tom Shields reckons will differentiate its programmatic direct platform. After all, Yieldex’s announcement effectively adds it to a competitive landscape that includes programmatic direct players like iSocket, Shiny Ads and Adslot.

“We have a technological advantage (compared to other players in the programmatic direct space) with our foundational analytics and forecasting capabilities,” Shields said. “We also have built very key relationships with 30 of the top 100 publishers.”

Basically, YieldexDirect combines the company’s yield-management tools – which allow the publisher to forecast demand and figure out pricing – with a platform that automates the direct sales transaction. Based on parameters established by the publisher client, YieldexDirect is designed to expose certain types of premium inventory and, once the direct sale is approved, automatically create and transact on the insertion order.

According to Shields, the tricky part for publishers and advertisers isn’t the actual transaction process, it’s realizing which premium inventory is available.

“The hardest piece is the understanding of overlapping inventory,” he said. That is, if an advertisers wants to buy the sports section of a newspaper and another one wants to buy an audience of men aged 18-24, there’s naturally going to be overlap. Publishers need to be able to recognize that overlap and execute sales accordingly.

Who might benefit the most from programmatic direct tools? Shields said he sees particularly advantage for smaller advertisers, many of whom are ignored by the big publishers. After all, the traditional process of accepting a smaller insertion order, manually processing it and reporting on it is “such a pain in the ass to manage” that big publishers will often turn it down.

“If you can enable people who want to spend $1,000 or $5,000 at high CPMs to get specific inventory, they can enter what they want, they can click buy, and the publisher can hit approve,” Shields said. YieldexDirect’s advertiser base underscores this; Shields added the company’s programmatic direct platform so far works with “hundreds of advertisers, mostly on the smaller side.”

Shields is reluctant to divulge exactly how many premium publishers have already used YieldexDirect, saying only: “We launched the program with a handful of them to test it out and see if it would work.”

One need only look at the headlines in recent months to see the growing interest in the programmatic direct space.

Earlier this month, MediaMath set up a programmatic direct buying initiative involving Microsoft and Yahoo on the publisher side, and ad tech partners Yieldex, iSocket and Shiny Ads. Moreover, Facebook is prepping to support programmatic direct buys of Microsoft inventory.

Google also enhanced its programmatic direct support via two private exchange deals. And in February, platform company iSocket – now a Yieldex competitor – got an injection of $5 million.

Investments in programmatic direct will likely grow, especially as premium publishers begin to realize the benefits and the fact that programmatic direct and real-time bidding (RTB) – a practice that these publishers tend to shy away from and which was often used synonymously with all things programmatic– are twovery different disciplines.