Will The Ad Industry Share Its Data? AdFin Hopes So

altersohn adfinA Bloomberg Terminal for online media.”

We’ve heard that description from companies like Metamarkets and AdFin, but what exactly does that entail?

At the highest level, it’s a dashboard presenting a single view of inventory prices across numerous sources – a tool to enable media buyers to make better buying decisions, analogous to the famous contraption used by Wall Street traders.

While the concept seems easy, however, the execution isn’t. Beyond the technological hurdles collecting, normalizing and aggregating data from disparate sources (unlike Wall Street, there isn’t a standard data format in the ad tech world), there’s also the logistical issue enlisting partners to release enough data such that the terminal can provide a broader market view.

Andrew Altersohn, who assumed the CEO position at AdFin roughly three weeks ago after Jeanne Houweling left, is facing down that latter challenge.

AdFin’s technology – which crunches and combines log files from various sources and displays the results on a dashboard – is largely ready to go, Altersohn said. It’s not quite 100% yet – the company is still tinkering with its user interface and rolling out some additional features, like on-screen tips and tactics to assist the fresh-out-of-college media planners who will likely use the terminal.

AdFin’s terminal allows media buyers at agencies or trading desks to anticipate, based on their agency’s own historical data, how their purchases will perform.

“Some people may choose just to use AdFin for that,” Altersohn said. “If I’m a holding company, an agency, a desk, a publisher – let me see everything that’s going on in my world. Having formerly run an agency, that’s valuable. You need the bird’s-eye view and the ability to drill down in one place.”

But AdFin has a greater, more expansive goal: “We also aspire to have users get the full benefit, which is to see how I’m buying and bidding vs. an aggregated, anonymized industry set of numbers.”

In other words, if the agency or trading desk agrees to submit its data to AdFin’s larger pool, the kiosk will reveal how those same bids are performing against the overall market.

Altersohn, who arrived at AdFin following stints as North American president of Havas Media and Havas Digital, sat down with AdExchanger. His VP of sales, Joy Cavanagh Ross, had a cameo.

AdExchanger: Why the Bloomberg Terminal analogy?

ANDREW ALTERSOHN: Markets in general, and financial markets in particular, have done far better when there were several key elements in place. Among these is information symmetry, where you’ve got buyers and sellers with equal access to information. You’ve got information consistency. And you’ve got trusted delivery, ideally coming from an agnostic third party. When you have those three things, which is akin to what Bloomberg did in the financial markets, you have far more buyers and sellers coming to the market, far more liquidity, and all boats rise.

You might have smaller margins because of transparency, but there’s more trust. Buyers believe the price they paid is a fair price. When you don’t have that, you have inefficiencies. Our goal here is to try do that, just like what Bloomberg did for the financial world.

What does AdFin need to realize that goal?

AA: The good news is the technology is far along. We have a fully functional system that will ingest DSP level data. DSPs are the best actual source of data since they have the files we need. We have the ability to ingest it, process it, provide a lot of real great visualizations and summaries and highlight insights.

One of the big hurdles in our business is just trying to understand where the data is and whose data it is, exactly. Many people are cautious or conservative about that. Our goal is just to have a glimpse into that data and provide it back in an aggregated fashion.

What are the complications around data ownership?

JOY CAVANAGH ROSS: We want to capture the buy-side level data via DSP log files. The DSP itself has to be equipped to send log file-level data to AdFin on behalf of its buyer, which could be an agency, a trading desk, or a direct advertiser – whoever permissions the data to allow it to be contributed.

AA: We need to work with the advertiser community to make it simple for them to provide permissions.

How do you get data contributions to add to the AdFin pool?

AA: The ideal is to have enough partners and enough users that want to contribute, whether it’s all their trading data or a subset of their trading data, for the purpose of getting visibility into the market. We’re pursuing a bunch of strategies to see which works.

What are those strategies?

AA: There’s an industry-by-industry approach, which is talking to a few key players in each industry to see if we can get them to opt in. It’s happened with similar products: Four or five auto companies want to contribute their data to see how they each stack up against their competition. “Guys, wouldn’t you like to have some more direct insight into your competition?”

The other approach is working with both the supply side and the demand side, mostly at the DSP or trade desk level, to offer the AdFin tool set that will make them more efficient in their everyday activities. “Here you go. Use it. But in exchange, please contribute some of your data to the greater good.”

How big is your current data pool and how big does it need to be?

AA: The pool is small right now, but I’ve been thinking about the same thing. I want a sense of the market sample size I need to have something statistically relevant. My belief is you need 5-10% of daily trades, but I haven’t proved that out statistically. It also has to be a widely distributed 5-10%. If it’s all automotive data, that won’t work.

How is AdFin doing in terms of getting partners to buy in?

AA: We have a couple of things that are signed or close to signed that will kick-start us. It’s building the relationships and finding partners looking a few chess moves down the road, who realize the utility AdFin is trying to bring to the market is a win-win. Those partners are there and I believe the market is ready for something like this. The timing is ripe because there are two major hurdles. The first is quality. People are all over that. You have to know what you’re paying for, that you’re getting what you signed up for.

Once that gets resolved or pushed to a secondary concern, the next question is if I paid the right price for what I’m getting. Was it a fair exchange?

Is the conversation around quality superseding the conversation around price, or are they happening concurrently?

AA: It’s in the back of peoples’ heads, but it’s secondary. If I go out and buy a new car, I have to make sure it’s the car I wanted. Then it’s whether I got the right price. [The quality conversation] is delaying the [price] conversation, but it’s teed up. And if you bring the price conversation up, people understand.

One of the arguments against pricing transparency is that it undercuts results, because it reveals the margins.

AA: Let’s be clear: We’re not revealing any margins. We have just the closing price of the transaction, what the asset sold for from the supply side. That’s all we’re providing. If you add on data fees or viewability metrics and all that other stuff, the end price will be higher. We don’t have that data. I agree there’s a lot of transparency questions, but every single impression has a different set of math to it. Those pieces are not part of our equation.


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