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The Washington Post on Tuesday debuted Zeus, an ad network it hopes can make inroads against Google's empire come next year. 

Generally speaking, an ad network connects a publisher’s ad inventory with marketers who are seeking to buy digital ads in automated fashion. Google is by far the biggest player in this space, but the Post is betting it can challenge the tech giant by offering marketers a brand- safe environment and more appealing ad formats. 

“People assume programmatic is bottom-of-the-barrel targeting that follows you all over the web,” says Jarrod Dicker, VP of commercial technology and development at the Washington Post. “But a healthy medium can exist.” 

To achieve its lofty goal, however, the Post must recruit publishers to use its Zeus software. Adding more publishers to its platform creates more ad inventory, which in turn provides advertisers the scale they desire when buying digital ads, according to Dicker. 

“Look, we know it’s been done before, where a bunch of publishers band together and try to take on big tech,” Dicker says. “But no one has actually provided the tools and the tech needed in order to help drive all elements of this business.” 

(The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon—another major player in the digital advertising space, behind Google and Facebook.) 

The Post is slowly rolling out its product, initially making only Washington Post ad inventory available to advertisers in the D.C. area. Come next year, however, it will open Prime to ad buyers and publishers across the U.S. “Through Zeus Prime, buyers will be able to easily execute an ad campaign by creating an ad format in a single click and targeting across a marketplace of trusted publishers,” Dicker says. “Creating a campaign will take under one minute and can be launched within a day.”

141-year-old tech company

Although the Washington Post is mostly known for its award-winning journalism, it also makes tens of millions of dollars by licensing software to publishers. It has three products that fall under its “Zeus” umbrella: “Prime,” which is used to buy ads; “Performance,” which drives viewability; and “Insights,” which provides tools to target consumers with ads using data. 

While marketers can simply use Prime to buy ads, publishers will be required to license all three Zeus products in order to be a part of the Washington Post’s ad network. Dicker doesn’t believe this will be an issue, stating that publishers will generate more revenue for their ads when compared to using other platforms.

"The demand is very high" among publishers, Dicker says. "We're giving publishers one technology suite that gives them everything they need to take value and ownership back." 

Other publishers, such as Vox, offer similar products, but Dicker says the Post is the only one that offers a full technology stack, some of which includes a content-management system for journalists to post stories and revenue-management tools for publishers to see what's generating ad dollars. There's also little effort required to get Zeus products up and running, Dicker says.