The company has developed a video and TV campaign platform used by advertisers directly or by distributors to sell to advertisers. That same platform is now being used by its AudienceXpress subsidiary, which uses the technology to acquire inventory from those same television distributors to resell at a national level.
Seth Haberman, founder and CEO of Visible World, spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: Comcast plans to acquire Time Warner Cable and will reportedly acquire video ad serving platform FreeWheel. What does this say about future of the industry?
SETH HABERMAN: The basis of most television advertising campaigns is reach. More than anything, the scale and the reach of the offering is critical because television grew up as a mass marketing capability. US industries [like insurance and car companies] mirrored that capability and designed their products to be effectively marketed on television in this grand reach game.
What addressability does is provide more precision. It provides the ability of those advertisers to titrate their offers very effectively and make them more relevant and add new models and capabilities to offer up the media – all of that until you reach scale is a very interesting business. For companies like ours, that growth is phenomenal. If you really want to make an advertiser like General Motors, for example, happy, you have to do it on a large scale. There’s no one larger right now in the television distribution business than Comcast and there is going to be no one who’s larger when you add Time Warner to it. If you’re looking at this industry and you’re saying, “What’s the best way to scale it?” then it’s very exciting.
Is addressability at scale a challenge, since it’s inherently more targeted?
Data is only relevant if you scale it appropriately. In other words, I probably know enough about everyone’s television viewing habits if I look at 3 million set top boxes. Where it becomes interesting is if I can take action, and the more reach I have, the more valuable it is. This is why, if you think about what Facebook paid for WhatsApp, the way companies like Facebook work is, they look at “what happens if we don’t [buy the company?]” If your company generates its reach based on traffic around connecting people, then a company that has 450 million people who regularly use it, especially in places where Facebook has very little reach – it’s an important thing to do.
Many say TV dollars will not shift to online channels until true, cross-platform measurement is in place.
Measurement is in the eye of the beholder. Television executives are trained from their very first instance of getting a job to work with Nielsen, and so it’s very hard to say, “Go use something else.” And [that] something has to be pretty compelling to do something different than Nielsen. I think you’re seeing…what I call a hybrid phenomena. That phenomena is that people will continue to buy against Nielsen so that Nielsen continues to be a currency mostly because they do a pretty good job and everyone’s kind of preagreed to it and no one really wants to say reopen measurement.
What’s wrong with reopening measurement?
That’s like reopening up a border conversation between two countries like Germany and France – do they really want to discuss the Ruhr Valley again and where the lines should be drawn? No one wants to go there. So what they’ll do is a hybrid, where they say, “Look, we’re going to buy according to Nielsen but we’re going to report along all of this information we have now about our audiences.”
Traditionally, the distributors of television sort of had an asymmetric advantage. A lot of the information and metrics they have…advertisers will now have about how successful ads are and how they’re performing cross-platform.
How does this impact pricing structures?
If you’re an advertiser and you’ve figured out however many audiences this show gets you and this other show actually delivers more sales, [then] you’ve got this weird dynamic where different advertisers will look for different types of shows and audiences depending on what works for them. And that information won’t necessarily move to the sell side, except for the pressure put on those different audiences. So that’s a whole brave new world we’re starting to see, and you’ll probably see distributors wanting to invest as much as they can into these metrics … as opposed to necessarily upsetting the apple cart of how people buy according to Nielsen, at least not on a gross scale. On the margins, there’s lots of innovation and we can all get caught up on buying a show for X, Y and Z, but by and large, that’s a very small percentage of pieces.
Where does Visible World fit into the future of TV/video ad buys?
I think this is a really exciting time in the television advertising business. There is a lot of innovation going on. There are a lot of people willing to rethink and all of those insights require one fundamental thing – if you don’t treat everything as a large, giant, tectonic plates of audiences, but as smaller audiences, you’re going to be able to create value. The heterogeneity of audiences is the key to value, but those small audiences require new frameworks for how to actually activate those audiences. I liken it to fracking, which some people won’t like, but there’s a lot of oil in the ground, but it’s hard to get out. That requires automation and targeting. And we think we’re building technology to offer to almost everyone in the business.
Can you share your headcount and funding?
We’re probably getting close to 90 people. We haven’t raised any money since 2008, when we raised $25 million in Series C. Right now, we’re funded by the fact that we’re an EBITDA positive company and have been so for a number of years.
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