Media planners’ reaction time plummets: Adap.tv CEO (Q&A)

Toby Gabriner tracks startling changes in the media world

Adap.tv CEO Toby Gabriner

Toby Gabriner is the CEO of Adap.tv and One by AOL, two of AOL’s biggest technology platforms. Adap.tv focuses on video media buying, and recently added linear TV to its repertoire. At One, the goal is to unify demand-side services, analytics, attribution and a host of other buyer services into a single buying service.

Gabriner gave a keynote speech at this year’s IAB X-Series: Programmatic conference, where he spoke about growth in the video industry and AOL’s attempts to grapple with inefficency in the marketplace. AD-Vantage sat down to chat with him with about whether marketers feel they understand programmatic, the importance of attribution and what programmatic TV really is.

Do you think that clients are having trouble understanding the programmatic ecosystem?

I have little doubt that they are. I’ve talked to clients quite a bit – all the way up to CMOs of major global brands. What they’re struggling with is a combination of understanding the landscape and figuring out how to activate it.

I think that over the last couple of years, brands have been doing a better job of bringing the data together, of not siloing it. But then all the technology layers that go on top of that to activate it are incredibly complicated. I think there are very few brands that have been able to figure that out.

And you think one solution is for those layers of technology to consolidate, right?

Absolutely. It’s a big reason why we launched the One initiative at AOL, because we firmly believe that a) it’s too complicated; and b) you need a consolidated platform to really be effective at leveraging technology. I equate it to thinking about entreprise resource planning or supply chain management – you know, SAP or Oracle-like systems in other industries. Our industry is in dire need of those kinds of tools that bring lots of different parts together in a holistic environment.

It’s interesting that you mention supply-chain management, because I get the sense from reading business press stories that a lot of businesses don’t understand how their supply-chain works – but they are confident that it does work. Do you think that’s a perspective we could take in marketing? I mean, is it more important for the CMO to understand the ecosystem or to be aware of the value that the ecosystem gives them in terms of ROI?

Probably the latter is most important. I mean, smart CMOs would hire really intelligent people to help them figure out the right tools. If you take a CFO – a CFO may not know all the ins and outs of a financial software package that he or she has throughout the organization. But they get the benefits of what it does. They’re smart people.

The marriage of IT and marketing is a critical piece. I was just at a major CPG brand about two weeks ago and we did a series of workshops. What was great was that the brand folks and the IT folks were both sitting in the room together. That way the brand folks can say “This is what I need the system to do,” and the IT folks can help to do the translation and understand how these pieces all should be working together.

Let’s talk about programmatic TV, because that’s a real centrepiece for Adap.tv. What do you see as the key benefits for programmatic TV over traditional TV buying, in the “Luddite” world, as Chris Dobson called it at the IAB X-Series conference?

The biggest is obviously targeting. Right now, most TV is bought with a blunt instrument: age and gender. It’s why digital is so much more attractive – because you have a deeper understanding of users and you can start to target against that.

If you’re able to target, then you’re able to eliminate a lot of media waste. And I mean, if you think about watching television, you get pounded. I think frequency capping is a bit of a myth in television.

I might say the same thing for digital video, a lot of the time.

That may be true. I think that we’ve often pooh-poohed television as being, as you said, the “Luddites.” And I think it’s more a lack of tools than a lack of being intelligent. Some of the smartest people I’ve worked with come out of television. And the converse belief is that digital people are always smart, which I don’t think is always the case.

How important is it to get to real-time delivery of programmatic TV? Because I think it’s easy to get confused between programmatic digital video, where we’re able to target individual users in real-time and programmatic TV, which is only about half-way there.

Right, it’s near real-time. The ideal stage is being able to do all of this stuff in real time, but the reality is is that the infrastructure is probably not going to support that for another 10 years. Addressable TV is coming, but it remains to be seen whether it’ll have the kind of footprint that your traditional linear television environment has.

But near real-time is a heck of a lot better than optimizing every three, six or 12 months. If you can optimize within 72 hours or even 24 hours, it’s much, much more efficient. We’ve seen campaigns where advertisers move in and out of inventory. And you can watch their KPIs improve because they have that flexibility.

Recently Adap.tv announced a deal with FreeWheel that would give access to ABC inventory. It seems like there’s been a lot of big broadcasters opening up the pipes to programmatic. And it seems to be happening much faster than in digital display, where we still have some big publisher holdouts who are doing direct only. Why do you think it’s happening so fast in TV?

It’s interesting you say that. Maybe that depends on the market – in the US the display market is wide open. You can buy and sell display any which way you want. In fact, usually, the major broadcasters are much more open to having their display sold programmatic than their linear TV slots.

I think there’s two major issues. One is data control. Media owners and publishers have typically dictated from their side of the table. They’ve said, “We own the audience, we own the data. If you want to reach my audience, then you have to pony up.” And there’s some validity to that, right? They invest tens or hundreds of millions into creating content, so they should have the right to monetize that. But on the other side, the advertiser is saying, “Look, I’m trying to reach a finite audience and I don’t want to spend 70% of my dollars on an audience I don’t really want.” So there’s that tension.

What is changing is now there’s more openness. The sellers are saying “We can start to help you by applying data. We can figure out on our side who those audiences are and do a better job of serving them up for you.” This leads to the whole notion of private marketplace, where you can operate in a more automated way but there are constraints.

And which model is Adap.tv’s linear TV offering closer to, a private or open marketplace? Who owns the data in that environment?

There’s a range. On the TV side, we have a product that’s similar to what we offer in digital, which is an open public environment where there’s bidding going on. On the other end, there’s private marketplaces where it’s really about connecting the pipes – the commercial terms are predetermined but the agency has the ability to do some portfolio management.

Any other insight to share from programmatic video land?

The thing I would leave you with is the importance of attribution in all of this. We recently acquired an attribution company called Convertro, which I think was just as important as the Adap.tv acquisition – because, quite frankly, we know so little about how effective campaigns are.

Right now, we think our demand-side platform is making us so smart. But we have no idea how the DSP we use for display and the DSP we use for video and our offline television buys are all working in concert. If you use attribution technology, you start to get a broader perspective. You can start to make quick changes on your media investments. If you see this technology in action, it’s amazing – you can literally course-correct overnight.

Our ultimate vision is that those course corrections become automated. The attribution data get fed back into the system, and then the budget allocation changes in real-time or near real-time, based on how the campaign is going. Attribution technology is the glue that’s going to hold all this together.

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