As Advanced TV Competition Heats Up, DISH Media Brings in Cognitiv Vet Dave Antonelli

When DISH Media hired Dave Antonelli from the AI startup Cognitiv to lead its advertising strategy and sales, a key reason was his experience in startups around new tech.

“When you work at a startup, you have to think and move quickly in a dynamic market, and that’s no different than what we are doing with Sling and where we are in the OTT and programmatic space,” said Dish Media SVP Kevin Arrix, who brought his former Viacom co-worker on board.

DISH Media launched innovative consumer and sales products before many of its peers. It was one of the earliest to launch a live broadcast OTT service when it introduced Sling TV in 2015. Today, it has 12 million subscribers – but also more competition from the likes of DirecTVNow (with 1.5 million subscribers), YouTube TV and Hulu.

On the sales side, DISH Media was early to market offering addressable TV ads via its satellite-centered Dish service and Sling TV. But it now faces newer entrants like Xandr and NCC Media, who are rethinking how to package linear addressable and IP-delivered ad inventory.

AdExchanger spoke to Antonelli and Arrix about how DISH Media is serving advertisers as they follow consumers into the internet-delivered TV space.

AdExchanger: Cognitv is a buzzy startup. Why leave to join Dish Media?

DAVE ANTONELLI: It was important to go somewhere that was driving innovation and change for the next step of my career. Dish Media led the way with live OTT and dynamic ad insertion. It has a massive footprint, amazing data and a startup approach that was appealing to me, the way it was appealing to be at Cognitiv – they are doing great, by the way. At Cognitiv, the new tech was machine learning. In this environment, it’s using the big TV screen, incorporating our data capabilities and blending it together.

What new connections are you bringing to the sales team?

ANTONELLI: What I bring is finding the brands that are innovative, that want to push toward the future, do a mixture of programmatic and TV and blend together various capabilities in a more forward-thinking way.

What do you make of the new competitive landscape, where Xandr and NCC Media compete against Sling?

KEVIN ARRIX: What everyone is trying to do is in the right spirit: The core players in the market need to band together, and come up with ways to partner and collaborate within boundaries, to compile a more formidable competitor to the Facebooks, Amazons and Netflixes of the world. They are each trying to build something different. Some are walled garden approaches, some are not. In the end, what we collectively need is technology to make it easy from a demand point-of-view. You don’t want people to go to five, six, seven places to buy an addressable footprint.

What’s special about Dish’s data?

ARRIX: We aren’t the only ones in the marketplace with unique data. Every MVPD has unique data, but that’s a finite list. You are starting to see the MVPDs match that subscriber data [with marketer data]. That’s where the market is going: deterministic data matching that can gauge the efficacy of the marketing [they] are running. 

Is Dish going to partner with programmers to give them access to that data?

ARRIX: I do think programmers have a strong interest in enabling their national inventory for addressable. How much, when, and how they manage it is up to them. But I think the MVPDs have the best data to enable a programmer. There is room for us collectively to figure out that process.

What problems is DISH trying to solve for buyers?

ARRIX: We want the marketplace to be more aware of and comfortable with using first-party or third-party data sets with our data, and how they can use that data to determine ROI and success around client-specific KPIs. It’s complicated, especially when you’re talking about data matching, hashed IDs and attribution.

Many direct-to-consumer advertisers are moving into TV. How are you working with them?

ARRIX: We work with all levels and categories of advertisers, and DTC is a category that will continue to grow. DTC brands have really rich data, and are inherently analytical. It aligns very well with what you can do with CTV and OTT. 

What are you prioritizing in the weeks and months ahead in your new role?

ANTONELLI: We are growing our footprint and cross-platform capabilities. We have a massive footprint across DISH and Sling TV, and can addressably target people across platforms. We are also developing an advanced analytics team. Incorporating first-party data is something our advertisers are clamoring for, and it drives scale and impact.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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