Brett Wilson: In June, over half — 58.1 percent, to be exact – of our revenue came from trading desks/traders using the platform self-serve, versus the standard process of media buyers sending out RFPs and manually managing vendor relationships. That’s still the prevailing way business is done, but perhaps suggests that trading desks are winning the internal agency tug-of-war. This was never true for us in the past.
First, video is really unique in that it is a tool for branding and is comparable to television, which is where marketers spend the bulk of the ad dollars. What is beginning to change in online video is that marketers now have more control. If you buy TV you always know exactly what you’re getting. In our language, you understand what the ad unit is, that it is interruptive, it takes over the screen, places the sound on. In digital video, that hasn’t always been the case. That is beginning to change, where marketers can now enjoy the optimization, targeting and control of real time buying – specifically for digital video.
Does that mean new categories of advertiser are also finding themselves more attracted to video? And how is RTB, which is still relatively small, driving that?
Targeting audiences across multiple screens is topical, so the notion of what constitutes a brand ad and what to do with it are changing. Why would you just want to target people using a pre-roll? Why should a video [that someone hasn’t chosen] play before another video [that they picked]? Increasingly, we are seeing some buys where there is a connected TV element, a Facebook element, a display element, a mobile element and a pre-roll element where the brand advertiser or their media agency can evaluate the metrics while the campaign is going to see which screen is most compelling and then optimize from there.
Metrics for online video have gotten incrementally better, though that’s an arguable point. Where do you stand in the debate about whether gross ratings points, which are largely viewed as a TV metric, make sense for online video?
That is a hot topic. I think when we started the company five years ago, out of grad school at Berkeley, the original incarnation of TubeMogul was as a video analytics company. The key technology was a couple lines of code that went inside a video player, and if you had that, you would understand everything about who is consuming the content, where it came from, and how far they watched. We powered the analytics for Brightcove and for a few thousand other publishers.
As we pivoted to the ad side, we felt we were best in the world in helping brands understand the effectiveness of their brand ads in other ways. So when it comes to GRPs, we think it’s a good metric to help advertisers understand the audience that they reach and the composition of it. That’s particularly true as TV buyers buy digital videos – the GRP is the kind of metric that they know and they trust. The question there is, what is going to become the standard for audience measurement? Right now, you will see a lot of individual vendors provide their own audience verification. That adds to the hocus pocus out there and just confuses advertisers.
We have made a bet with Nielsen and their Online Campaign Ratings product, that it is likely to become the audience measurement standard. We think so much of it, we include it for free on every buy with us.
What’s particularly valuable about Nielsen’s OCR?
There are two things. The first is that Nielson is already the trusted currency of TV buyers. In another couple of years, TV will be seen as just another screen. The people who buy TV will be buying digital video in all its forms, so it is important to work with a brand that they trust. Secondly, Nielsen has a partnership with Facebook, which gives them a very large panel of users. And we think they are probably more accurate than other audience measurement vendors.
In other words, the GRP alone is not enough.
The thing is, GRPs are not a measure of ROI, so beyond GRPs, we also look to server metrics, completion rates, clicks, and all of that is down to the site level, but we also measure brand awareness, purchase intent, and other metrics that tell the advertiser whether or not they influence the upper end of the purchase funnel.
It’s worth noting that most video ads are from brand advertisers – and when it comes to their products, you can’t necessarily buy them online as a “direct response” item. Things like cars and toothpaste don’t lend themselves to DR advertising, which is what most of the ads online are right now, where the viewer is meant to click and buy immediately. Brands just want to persuade you, they want to influence you. Our goal is to provide a set of metrics specifically for brand advertisers that help them assess whether or not they persuaded you. Incidentally, we focus exclusively on brand advertisers, we don’t do direct response campaigns. We invest a lot of time in the metrics that we think brands want as well as brand safety.
The idea of selling “brand safety” has been a bigger part of your business in the past year. How has that service evolved? How is what you do different from an AdSafe or a DoubleVerify?
On the technology side, we have got a few different layers of brand safety and the first thing that we do is we look at every single page before we serve an ad on a page to see if there is anything objectionable or offensive to that brand, and if there is, we never bid on the page to begin with. And that service, we actually make it available on our site, so you can paste in any URL that you want, and you can see our real time categorization of the site.
The second thing we do is try to identify and block auto-play pre-roll — what is preposterous is oftentimes, the pre-roll loads automatically when the page loads, as if you wanted to watch the content that follows. We have branded that fake pre-roll in the market place and we have built a technology to identify it. Advertisers can certainly buy that ad format if they want, but they always know exactly what they are buying and when they buy what they think is a user-initiated pre-roll, they are not going to see fake pre-roll or auto-play bundled in.
The third thing that we do is we are completely, totally, shockingly transparent to a safe level. I have to use superlatives because all our competitors say they are transparent. What we mean by transparency is that you don’t just get to pick the sites up front, of course you do, you get to see how much inventory they have before you buy and you see performance metrics at the site level. Impressions, views, completion rates, clicks, conversions, everything that we track is measurable at the site level so you always know exactly what you ran.
What are advertisers looking for when they target a video ad? Is it just about clicks or is it also brand awareness?
Because most video ads are from brand advertisers, first and foremost they care about context. So often when we see audience targeting, it is within a set of highly curated sites. These brands still use site and site quality as a proxy for audience. Otherwise audience targeting for video, technically speaking, is exactly like audience targeting in display or other media types.