Yahoo’s Ad Chief Oversees Transition From Publisher To Platform

PrashantFuloriaYahoo hopes to entice the mobile dev community with a suite of tools around app monetization, ad buying and search served through the Flurry SDK.

The man leading that charge is Prashant Fuloria, Yahoo’s SVP of advertising products, who came on board after Yahoo’s July acquisition of Flurry, where he spent two years as chief of product.

Now Fuloria – who also cut his teeth as a product director at Facebook and as an early Googler involved in getting AdWords off the ground – is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s lieutenant on a task that’s vital to Yahoo’s future as a company: to become a mobile-first player whose developer toolsets are considered alongside those from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Fuloria argues Yahoo is already there.

“There is no doubt at all Yahoo has made the transformation to being a mobile-first company,” Fuloria told AdExchanger at Yahoo’s Mobile Developer Conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

That said, Yahoo’s display business has been in decline, and the company, which posted $4.6 billion in revenue in 2014 (a YoY decrease of 1%), is banking on investments in Flurry, BrightRoll, Gemini and Tumblr to rally that revenue. Mobile, video, native and social were collectively responsible for about $1.2 billion of Yahoo’s revenue last year.

Yahoo started breaking out its mobile revenue in Q3 2014, when it stood at about $200 million. Last quarter that number was up to $254 million. Total mobile revenue for the year was $768 million. It’s still just a sliver of total revenue, but the 23% quarter-over-quarter uptick is encouraging.

“The majority of those $1.2 billion dollars were driven by ads served on Yahoo in a Yahoo app of some sort,” Fuloria said. “We’re very committed to driving advertising growth for our partners and for ourselves on mobile.”

Fuloria sat down with AdExchanger to dig a little deeper into Yahoo’s approach to mobile.

AdExchanger: What is the full scope of your role at Yahoo?

PRASHANT FULORIA: For the last month or so I’ve been running all advertising products for Yahoo, which means I’m responsible for the engineering for all ad products, search and display, which includes BrightRoll, Gemini and our other display efforts.

How to you respond to those who think Yahoo is an underdog and late to the mobile game?

I kind of like being the underdog. It’s a lot of fun. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown. What I hear from advertisers is that they want us to succeed and they want us to grow. The world will benefit if Yahoo continues to grow and be more successful in giving advertisers a choice and giving publishers a choice. There is a lot of enthusiasm from the market around the things we’re talking about and I’m looking forward to seeing this year play out.

How would you encapsulate Yahoo’s mobile strategy?

Yahoo is focused on mobile and we’re investing in mobile in terms of people, tools, resources and time. We’re also going from being a publisher to being a platform, which is to say that we’re taking the things we’ve learned making our own Yahoo apps successful and we’re taking the things that Flurry and BrightRoll bring to the table and offering them as a set of services for our developers.

That was the upshot of the mobile dev con.

We’ve just made a very visible commitment to being a mobile platform. We’re going to be investing in building valuable services for mobile developers because we believe that we can add value for them and they will add a lot of value to us.

That’s going to be a combination of helping build better user experiences, but also helping drive better monetization. Advertising is a key part of this mobile platform and it comes in two flavors. Either you’re an app developers who wants to grow and drive traffic, which is why we have Yahoo App Marketing, really Gemini, or you want to make money through advertising or publishing, which is why we have Yahoo App Publishing.

Is Yahoo looking to mobile as its great white – or purple – hope?

Mobile has already demonstrated value for Yahoo. Look at what we’ve talked about during our earnings calls. We’ve broken out mobile revenue and we’ve shown the growth.

Yahoo is the third largest mobile advertising company in the US and that’s huge. In terms of hope, I absolutely agree with you, but I would go one step further and say it’s not just a hope in the future, it’s something that we’re doing right now. A lot of that is the work that Adam Cahan [Yahoo’s SVP of mobile and emerging products] is driving on the consumer side, but we should also see more of those dollars coming from other apps and partners’ apps.

What happens with non-Yahoo O&O in the programmatic environment?

If we have an ad that’s from Yahoo Gemini, an ad that’s coming from BrightRoll and an ad that’s coming from another programmatic buyer on our marketplace, we will serve the best ad in Yahoo App Publishing, the one that monetizes the best, regardless of whether it’s a Yahoo ad or somebody else’s ad. We’re focused on maximizing monetization. That’s how the product is optimized.

The new mobile dev product suite combines BrightRoll with Gemini. Can you expand on Yahoo’s BrightRoll plans?

BrightRoll brings a few things to the table. An amazing number of video ads get transacted every second on the BrightRoll Exchange or BRX, where you’ve got both buyers and sellers. That, in some sense, is the core component of BrightRoll.

But BrightRoll also has its own video buying platform called BrightRoll Console, which buys from the BrightRoll Exchange in much the same as a competitor might do, say TubeMogul, for example. It’s useful to keep in mind that these are two different BrightRoll products. We want to invest in both and grow them.

The BrightRoll team is working on a number of things, one of which is international growth. They’re big in the US, but there’s a lot of opportunity around the world. Another thing is getting BrightRoll to be even bigger on mobile, which we will do through the Flurry SDK integration, so that if you have the Flurry SDK in your app and you’re already showing ads, you can click a button through Yahoo App Publishing and start getting BrightRoll ads in your app if you have video advertising.

Search seems to play a big role in the new suite and in Gemini. Why the mobile search and native combo?

Search has a lot of potential and we’ve been happy with our own search performance in our own apps, as well as the response we’ve gotten from developers when we’ve offered them the Yahoo search service. It’s definitely an area we’re going to invest in. As Jon Paris [Yahoo’s director of product management] has mentioned, user intent and monetization can go together very well.

Search on mobile is different from search on desktop because of the situations you’re in when your search on mobile. You’re typically closer to an action, whether it’s driving your car or making a call. Both organic search results and ads need to be tweaked appropriately.

How do you feel about the competition? Google, Facebook and Twitter have been banging the ad-targeting drum for a while now.

In today’s complex world, almost everybody is both a competitor and a partner. In some cases we’re actually working with Facebook, Google and Twitter, and in some cases, yes, we are competitors as well.

For example, one of the demand sources you can use with Yahoo App Publishing is Google’s AdMob ad network. As a platform that serves the needs of the publisher, we want to make all different kinds of demand available. Similarly, we have adapters that plug our SDK into Twitter’s MoPub. We hope the ad that gets shown is a Yahoo ad, but it may not be a Yahoo ad all the time. It may be from Google, and that’s okay.

If you focus on the customer and figure out how you can maximize value for them, it becomes clear where you need to partner and where you don’t. That’s the philosophy we take.

You previously referred to Yahoo’s cross-device data as “the best kept secret in Silicon Valley.” How are you leveraging it?

There’s a lot you can do when you identify a user and their behavior across devices, apps and browsers. For example, ad targeting. You may have an understanding of a user’s behavior and their interests because of their app usage on Flurry, but if you can tie that back to a Yahoo user on desktop, you learn a whole lot more about the content they’re consuming.

But it’s not just about targeting. Very often when people talk about data and understanding users, they forget the measurement part, which is, frankly just as important. If a user sees an ad on a mobile device and then transacts on desktop, you want to know they’ve made the purchase you advertised to them, even if it’s a few hours later and on a different device.

Will 2015 be the year that Yahoo returns its display revenue to growth?

I don’t think we can talk about revenue projections, but we are investing in display, on mobile and through native. We’re optimistic about our business, both on our own properties and also as part of a syndication network with our partners.

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