Anthony Katsur On Leading The IAB Tech Lab – One Of The Toughest Gigs In Ad Tech

Anthony Katsur comes brandishing a fitting resume for IAB Tech Lab CEO. He held senior leadership roles at DoubleClick, MediaMath, Rubicon Project, Sonobi and Nexstar, and he’s familiar with the messy intersection where IAB rules and business frameworks meet on-the-ground technology.

Katsur faces a tough job that would challenge even an experienced leader when he takes over as CEO of the IAB Tech Lab on August 2. The IAB Tech Lab is responsible for developing industry standards and protocols. Lately, that’s meant responding to data privacy rules created by governments and by Big Tech platforms like Apple and Google, which don’t just make the rules of the road; they make the road itself.

Katsur said he’s prepared to be the “pincushion,” when needed, since the Tech Lab will have to make decisions that don’t please all of the IAB’s constituents.

We spoke with Katsur about the new role, his main priorities for the Tech Lab and the challenge of representing digital advertising stakeholders – from buyers to publishers and everyone in between – who compete with each other but also must align on key issues.

AdExchanger: What attracted you to the role?

ANTHONY KATSUR: It's the crossroads that the industry is at. I see there being two watershed moments in digital advertising. First was the invention of the ad server, then RTB [real-time bidding].

Now there are four watershed moments occurring simultaneously. And each represents challenges as well as immense opportunity. I’m thinking of consumer privacy, identity and addressability, ad fraud and security, and also connected TV, where we’re looking at a $70 billion television industry that is going to transition to TV delivered over IP [Internet Protocol].

For the IAB and the IAB Tech Lab, it’s like being in the eye of all four of those hurricanes at once. And it was a clarion call to apply my product engineering background and my knowledge of the business and answer that challenge. I've been in this industry for over 25 years. And I feel it is a compelling way for me to give back to the ecosystem that has put food on my table and allowed me to support my family.

It’s a daunting task, definitely. But I’m excited by it.

Are there any changes or priorities you have to start?

Yes.

The IAB Tech Lab has done a great job of being a steward of the technology standards that govern the industry. And the way I look at the Tech Lab and the IAB and how we work together is that the IAB is the organization that sets the ground rules and frameworks for how business is conducted in the digital media ecosystem. The Tech Lab’s role is to understand those business rules and transform them into technology standards and protocols. In the near term, I want to ship more technology frameworks. We will continue the critical work of driving standards across the ecosystem. But we need to deliver more technology frameworks and code to the ecosystem.

It goes back to our roots of being a tech lab that built the RTB protocol, ads.txt, sellers.JSON, etc. We are going to ship more code to the industry, upon which they can innovate. That is a key goal.

But that doesn't mean everything's going to come from the Tech Lab. That could be standing up an open-source initiative in the spirit of Linux or Apache, where we can establish some grounding framework. And then let’s let the industry innovate on top of that to solve business use cases.

Any specific technology in mind?

Nothing concrete right now. But ad fraud is one area of continued focus. There are some issues around addressability and first-party data APIs, as well as consumer privacy features. Those are areas where we can ship code and let the industry innovate on top of that.

The IAB initially represented online publishers, and has since added ad tech and walled garden platforms, and recently most new members are brands and ad buyers. How does it change the priorities for the IAB when it represents all the constituents and not just publishers? 

Publishers will always be the core mission.

But it's like a marriage. Both sides of the ecosystem need to work in concert. So you have to embrace ad tech. You have to embrace advertisers and agencies. You have to embrace the Googles and the Facebooks of the world, because these are the constituents that make the industry work. You've got to embrace consumer advocacy groups. You've got to work with state and federal governments to make sure you're supporting consumer privacy rights.

It's sometimes a messy marriage amongst all the constituents. But if the free flow of information and entertainment created by publishers is at the heart of this, you need to bring all parties to the table. This ecosystem is bigger than the IAB.

Being IAB Tech Lab CEO, you’ll always be facing the sharp end of somebody’s spear.  

I think a rule of life is that you can't please everybody.

My goal over the first 60 days is to gather as much feedback as possible from every constituency: publishers, ad technology companies, agencies, advertisers, consumer advocacy groups. And to be prepared to make tough decisions. Not everyone is going to be thrilled by some decisions. We need to make decisions. I'm prepared to reap the praise and share the praise with the team, as well as be the pincushion, if you will.

We're only going to get better if there's candid feedback amongst the ecosystem. And I'm willing to listen to and accept that feedback to take the industry to a better place. But we can't be paralyzed by consensus.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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