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Podcast: Sovrn Goes Wide

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Late last year, publisher platform Sovrn raised $25 million to build on its diversified product suite. Shortly thereafter it acquired VigLink, a platform to help publishers optimize their affiliate revenue.

This week on the AdExchanger Talks podcast, CEO Walter Knapp summarizes the company’s thesis: “Can we build products and tools and technologies and services that enable media businesses … to do more of what they want to do and less of what they don’t want to do?”

Sovrn has a pretty good start. VigLink joins a family of products that already includes a data resale marketplace, a FastPay-like credit offering and an ad blocker mitigation tool.

Knapp has spent his career serving mid-tail and specialized publishers. He was previously president at Lijit, which was acquired in 2011 by John Battelle’s native advertising startup Federated Media. That merger ended badly, and Knapp tells the whole story.

“When you’re trying to scale a business through what was a direct sales approach, trying to create hand-crafted campaigns, it has a scale limit,” he says. “The Federated Media business was hitting that scale limit. We tried to hire more sales people, but more sales people were more expensive. Some … don’t work out, and the ones that do cost more money. We had photo editors, videographers and video editors. We started to look more and more like an agency. And that became the pull of all the resources in the company.”

On the current challenging environment for publishers, Knapp strikes a philosophical note.

“The media business is hard, and I think it’s actually supposed to be hard,” he says. “It’s hard to create great content. It’s hard to engage a good-sized audience. It’s hard to get people to crack open their wallet and pay you money for something. Yet there are examples where people are happy to do that. But it requires somebody to be really good at what they do.”

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