‘Angry Birds’ Maker Dives Deeper Into Video And Native Ads, Eyes Programmatic Direct

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Michele-TobinRovio, the creator of the "Angry Birds" mobile game franchise, was one of the first companies to explode in the mobile gaming space.

Mobile gamers are fickle, though, and the company has expanded into a multimedia enterprise in addition to growing its advertising business. AdExchanger spoke with Michele Tobin, VP of global brand partnerships and advertising, about Rovio’s approach to programmatic advertising, native and video ads.

AdExchanger: What is Rovio’s advertising strategy?

MICHELE TOBIN: We’re focusing on rolling out more ad opportunities for brands to enter our world in a way that provides entertainment value and has a halo effect on the brand. That means moving away from banner ads to rewards-based video, where the fan can choose to watch a brand video and get what they need in the game.

Just last week we did a soft launch of this (rewards-based video) in Angry Birds Star Wars 2. You get special characters that are frozen in carbonite and you can either thaw them with game currency, wait several hours or days for the character to thaw or watch a video to get the character immediately. It’s an organic part of game play that brands can sponsor and participate in.

Separately, in the case of Angry Birds Go, which is a racing game, you can get your cart repaired if you have a special power up or insurance. We thought this would be a good opportunity to partner with an insurance company and so that power up is sponsored by State Farm.

How else are you monetizing video?

We also have a video channel, ToonsTV (accessible via Rovio’s apps). It includes a range of content like original animated content and content from third parties from Stan Lee, Hasbro Studios and others. There we have preroll opportunities for brands. We also have special branded channels, like one for Disney’s Muppets. It’s very high-profile and drives tons of views and impressions and provides entertaining content.

What is the status of the advertising partnership team that was launched last year?

We’ve been growing the team constantly to support the brand demand that we have. I have a team that’s distributed throughout New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, London, Helsinki and Shanghai. And we continue to grow.

What is your strategy for programmatic ad buys?

Any publisher of our scale – and we’re one of the largest in the world – is going to have remnant inventory. We work with a few networks and RTB partners to monetize that.

We’re also gearing up to do direct programmatic sales with select brands. Some buyers want to buy programmatically for standard display media and so we can now offer to brands a super integrated brand-in-game type of experience as well as video interstitials or banner display ads in the game that you can execute programmatically.

We’re looking at programmatic as a direct solution as more advertisers move in that direction. But we also see programmatic as being promising in better monetizing remnant inventory.

How do you avoid fears of programmatic advertising cannibalizing your inventory?

For one thing, we don’t make all of our inventory available programmatically. It’s only in select games and select inventory types. The more native integrations are reserved for our direct sales teams. We may expand that over time, especially in areas where we don’t have direct sellers, but we don’t see any cannibalization risks in using RTB players to help monetize our inventory.

Which games are pegged for programmatic sales?

Some inventory on some of our Angry Birds titles are available to our private marketplace.

Where does Rovio stand today compared to Candy Crush developer King?

We don’t really consider ourselves a mobile game company. We consider ourselves more of a global entertainment company.  While games remain an engine driver for us, we now have one of the largest animation studios in Europe, we have a feature film that’s being produced by Sony in 2016 and we have a consumer products division with over 500 licensed partners. We also have an activity parks group that includes the Angry Birds Space Encounter in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the (Lyndon B.) Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In what ways has the mobile app space changed since Rovio launched Angry Birds?

There’s been an explosion of the number of games and apps that are out there. Discovery still tends to be the biggest problem out there. You see the larger players spending huge amounts of money, to make sure their games get discovered. An advantage that Rovio has is its cross-promotional network. We can let fans know when new games launch and that lets us avoid spending huge amounts of marketing dollars to push our games into top-10 lists.

How many employees does Rovio have?

It’s upwards of about 800 people now.

What’s on your list of priorities from an advertising standpoint?

We’re looking at new markets. Russia and Brazil are both showing amazing growth. Basically, places in the world where smartphone penetration is starting to explode, we tend to see big upticks in downloads and video views.

We also see tremendous interest from brands in markets like that. It’s a global brand, but we’re not everywhere yet, so we’re looking for new markets. We’re also developing more interesting video products. There are still only a few companies that can provide scale in a brand-safe, transparent environment. We’re in an enviable position in that we can provide both and as video explodes we’re excited to do more in that space.

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