[Source: I founded isocket, a 'thought leader' ad tech startup]
Allow me to try and demystify that Luma Partners graph that you linked to. It's a great graph and Terry has done a good job building it, but it strikes fear into new people like you - and sometimes, like any data source, it can be twisted or misunderstood.
Many look at it and go "wow, that's such an overcrowded market!" but I like to point out that this is a $30B (domestic) industry, and that graph essentially covers all the pieces. I'm sure if you look at any other industry that big and drill down into all the vendors and OEMs and so on it would be even more crowded. Like autos - there are a few big car companies, but thousands of little vendors that make this bolt or that gasket.
It's all about the two main entities, the ones that matter - advertisers and publishers. Everything else is there to help those two groups. Advertisers, like Ford, buy advertising space from the publishers, like Yahoo Autos. So there are buyers and sellers.
These buyers and sellers used to get together, shake hands, and do a deal. But over time its gotten more complicated for each side, so companies pop up to start handling different pieces of it.
Any time you have a market of buyers and sellers doing business (stocks, widgets, whatever), you tend to see things like:
* Brokers to help connect people and do deals.
* Marketplaces where buyers and sellers can find each other.
* "Authority" type services that help a buyer investigate whether a seller is legit and vice versa.
* Vendors/suppliers that help you execute a deal.
* And so on.
For example, if you want to buy a banner ad on Yahoo, you have to make a banner ad. So there are companies that help you make great banner ads.
Then maybe you want to bid on the ad space on Yahoo so that you can get a competitive price, so you go to an ad exchange like Right Media (owned by Yahoo).
Let's say you call up a website and want to buy a banner ad on them. Even if you do everything else by hand (like send them a check by mail, etc) - how does the banner ad actually show up on their website? That's why ad servers were born. Ad servers manage all the different ad spaces and banner ads for a website, handles rotating the banners, turning the banner on and off on specific dates, tracking clicks, etc.
One of the newest buckets is "DSPs" - this is a new type of service that popped up a couple years ago when buyers wanted to do a new type of advertising (called Real Time Bidding). A customer had a need/pain, so a group of companies started to help them.
So each bucket in that Luma graph is a piece of the chain to help buyers and sellers do business. Some buckets are more important and arguably more lucrative/sustainable than others, but that's how it developed.
I was in a similar place when I was first exposed to the advertising industries. One of the most effective ways I found in familiarizing myself with AdTech was by teaching it. So I ended up handling all of the onboarding of new product managers, engineers and designers in our company.
The lumascape is meant to scare folks not familiar with the industry away. At the basic core of advertising, it is simply about connecting advertisers with their target audience through content sites and various mediums. Everything else in between are middlemen with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Some of these players make a business out of optimizing an advertiser's campaign on metrics that matter to them (eCPM, CTR, CPE, etc). Others move the needle further by removing the human aspect (i.e. sales, campaign managers, etc) by connecting advertisers with publishers programmatically.
I am happy to go over this crowded and somewhat confusing advertising ecosystem if you have specific follow-up questions.