As Sellers Take Their Data More Seriously, BlueKai Expanding Publisher Push

Omar Tawakol, CEO, BlueKaiLast month, BlueKai signed a deal to build a data management platform for MLB Advanced Media, the interactive business division of Major League Baseball, designed to connect the company’s 30 team websites for advertisers.

MLBAM was the fifth publisher BlueKai has added to its client list this year. CEO Omar Tawakol tells AdExchanger that while the company has always worked with publishers, he’s now seeing more activity from the sell side. And that has him thinking about the differing needs of sellers and buyers, though there is a plenty of intersection in the tools that both sides require to understand and package audience data.

“Publishers obviously use data differently than agencies,” Tawakol says. “If you think about how they viewed the digital ad landscape just two years ago, publishers saw data management in a very defensive manner. The fear was that advertisers are armed with all this audience data that’s allowing them to buy inventory more cheaply. But they’ve gotten more strategic about it and are not taking the defensive crouch any more.”

Last year, about 20% of BlueKai’s clients were publishers. This year, that number is 30%.

A company like MLBAM must be able to say more to an advertiser than that it attracts sports fans or even fans of the Yankees or the Angels. Advertisers are interested in segments of sports fans who are planning on a trip to Hawaii. They want to find sports fans who aren’t just interested in cars but have expressed an interest in a Mercedes or a Nissan, and happen to follow the Yankees. But even that kind of information is not detailed enough.

“They want all that, and they want to know if  this is someone who tends to spend higher than others in those given segments,” Tawakol says. “If publishers can present that to an advertiser, it puts more control in their hands. And it ultimately allows them to drive up yields. He who can leverage the arbitrage value of the data first is going to get a bigger piece of the pie.”

These days, much of MLBAM’s business comes from mobile through its subscription-based At Bat app for Apple’s iPhone and Google Android. For the past two years, the company has been working to expand both its tiered subscription products and match those with aggressive ad support on its video inventory. The company works with Auditude on its streaming video ads. Auditude hopes to put BlueKai to work on making those placements more valuable as well.

“BlueKai’s advanced data management platform will allow us to distribute relevant ads to our audience while delivering higher engagement and brand recall,” Noah Garden, EVP, Revenue of MLBAM, said in an email to AdExchanger.

Although BlueKai is mostly known for cookie-based data products, Tawakol also says the partnership with MLBAM will showcase that it doesn’t need cookies to make its system effective.

“We do have a solution that allows for the capture without data and works on iPhone and Android,” Tawakol says.

So far, MLBAM and BlueKai are not working on mobile together, though there is the possibility of doing so down the road, Tawakol says. In addition to reflecting the increased work from publishers, there is a growing interest in clients generally in finding a way to connect audiences from the PC to smartphone to tablet.

“Most clients choose a PC- or a mobile-focused DMP separately, but that’s changing too,” Tawakol says. “More and more of our business covers all channels and screens. It’s something that will be more a part of our business, as part of a natural, industry-wide evolution that’s taking place.”

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