Yahoo! Exec Joel Jones On Developments With Right Media Exchange

Joel Jones has been announced as VP, Americas Ad Marketplaces at Yahoo! which includes responsibilities as the new head of Yahoo!’s Right Media Exchange in North America. 

Jones spoke to during last week’s ad:tech event about RMX and its latest developments. Can you share a little background on you and your new role?

JJ: I’ve been at Yahoo for four years now and have spent a couple of years in the corporate strategy group and under Carol Bartz as her chief of staff, respectively. Back in May when Frank Weishaupt departed, I moved in to take what is the Americas Ad Marketplaces role. This team runs a number of things that crosses both platforms in Right Media, which we’re here to talk about today and some other pieces of our business. We actually have our platforms group, which includes Right Media and APT as well as other platforms we’re pushing. We have our ad network group, Yahoo Net Plus, and we have our pricing and yield management function.

We have Hardeep Bindra and Eran Metzer playing interim leads of the platforms group for me. They roll up into my group. So I’m spending lots of time with them as well.

What’s the impact for Right Media with the Yahoo!, Aol, Microsoft announcement?

The core of that – that’s a network announcement -so I’m not going to go [very] deep on it. What I think we can say, clearly, is our network runs on Right Media, so from Right Media’s perspective, you look at Yahoo’s network, who’s one of your flagship customers, and you say, “Hey, this customer is getting stronger and going in the right direction,” and that only bodes well for the platform.

How will the group of three  – Microsoft, Aol and Yahoo! – use Right Media Exchange, it’s an ad serving platform, it’s also a data management platform for targeting, potentially for Yahoo – but not the other guys? Is that right?

We have a fantastic platform and actually announced better audience sharing capabilities recently. Those are part of the platform. They’re available to any network that runs on it, whether it’s the Yahoo network or all of our other stakeholders.

You had a Right Media forum on Monday evening [with customers]. Any key takeaways?

We had a chance to talk to folks about some great stuff we’re doing in mobile and what we’re doing around RTB seller controls, as well as audience sharing, which I mentioned earlier. We also had a chance to take the group through what’s going on in fiscal‑12. It was a group that was excited and engaged to be there.

Let’s talk a little bit about mobile. Where has Right Media been with mobile and what’s different now?

We’re trying to bring mobile and PC together in one place on the interface, so that you can actually place buys, run campaigns across the two fairly seamlessly. That involves getting the creative process together, opening up some new targeting capabilities that you need for mobile, such as which carrier, which operating system, those sorts of things – but getting all that in one place, so that you can seamlessly run across the two.

And video?

So, lots going on in video. That is a theme that came up many times. We talked about some rich media releases that came over the last couple of weeks where we have this sort of new SAFEE, it’s an acronym for a container that allows you to run rich media and expandables and all sorts of new formats. It allows you to run those in a very safe and publisher‑friendly way. We talked about video as one of the core themes as we go into fiscal ‘12. Again, roadmaps are never final until they’re final, but that’s certainly one of the places where we see lots of dollars poised and ready to shift from offline to online, and we want to make sure we have the right capabilities there, right formats in the exchange.

How do you respond to questions around Yahoo’s commitment to ongoing innovation with Right Media Exchange? There are concerns that the technology is drifting and not being tended to.

I think we had five or six different announcements of new innovations – things we’ve released over the last few weeks – those are seeds we’ve been planting over the course of the past year and what is deep, accelerating investment in the platform. The pace of innovation and new features has already started to pick up and will continue to rise.

Do you think Right Media has an engineering team that can compete in the marketplace compared to an incentivized startup group, for example, that’s focused on this space, also?

We have fantastic talent working on this. Again, the proof’s in the pudding. The things that are coming out now in real-time, we’re seeing some of the real releases they’re producing, and I would say where I get very excited about Right Media is when you innovate on Right Media, you’re doing it at scale. One of the steps we talked about at our forum was that we’re now serving up around 10 billion Impressions per day on Right Media. Those aren’t Impressions we’re looking at through an RTB pipe somewhere else. Those are hosted impressions on Right Media. That’s a scale hard to touch.

Where does Right Media fit in the overall brand of Yahoo?

As a company, we need to maintain not just at the brand level but at the business level. There is some natural separation in the platforms business and the network and publisher business. To be a successful platform, to run Right Media as the kind of business that thousands of active buyers and sellers can trust and be transparent with, you have to keep some line there that says, “We’re running this neutrally for all of our customers. Yahoo’s a very important big customer. They help bring scale to this marketplace, but, hey you, an independent buyer or seller, you can trust us to run your business for you, and run a platform where the platform itself, Right Media, we’re not a party to the transaction. We’re facilitating it, but there’s a buyer and there’s a seller, and we’re just helping you come together.”

We need to maintain some separation, nothing formal at the brand level, it is a separate brand today, but at the business level. This is one of the things we actively manage all the time so that we can make sure that we’re doing right for all of our customers, Yahoo and all the independent third parties.

It feels like Yahoo! is a media company. Would it make sense that Right Media is separated and maybe get spun off down the road? Why does it make sense that it’s still part of Yahoo, which really seems to be a premium content company?

A couple of things that I’ll build in here is this eternal question of media or tech has always just seemed like a silly question to me. Media in the 21st century requires tech. I think the lines between these things are much blurrier and there’s a lot of power in having the technology integrated with the media.

It’s digital and the way we do it in all the innovation, whether it’s the consumer side or the advertising side of the business, is based and founded on technology. I think we’re also seeing, and it’s certainly something we hear from partners and customers of our platforms and partners and customers of Yahoo, is that having the media together, close to the technology, allows you to do some things. You can innovate at a scale that you could not innovate otherwise. There’s a lot of benefit to having that critical mass of premium inventory in one place with the exchange, and that’s a real differentiator of the platform today.

How do you overcome issues around the management of the company and continue to grow the exchange?

When we talk to folks internally and the people that want to come work with Yahoo, the common thread is that Yahoo is this tremendous asset and Right Media is, too. The swirl that happens at the company level doesn’t change the asset and the growth trajectory that we’re clearly on. That’s what gets all of us excited. That’s what gets a lot of partners and customers excited.

Are you satisfied with where the real‑time bidding capabilities are right now? Is there any need for improvement there?

We had some great releases over the last couple weeks where we’ve really upped the game on seller controls. Letting publishers set which inventory, which floor price, what level of transparency, at a fairly granular level, including buyer‑specific levels. That was a big piece that has helped make this a compelling offering. One of the sets of statistics we talked about at our Right Media forum is that 100 percent of Impressions on Right Media today can be RTB enabled. The capabilities are there. The platform’s ready.

To go further, around 60 percent of Impressions have an RTB bidder in the mix. That’s RTB at scale. It’s happening today. I think we’re seeing an industry shift where this is getting adopted more rapidly, but getting the seller controls in place, having the technology there, I think that’s what’s really setting us up for the future.

How about customer support? I think that’s been mentioned sometimes as a challenge. What can you say regarding the day‑to‑day management of client accounts and relationships? What kind of commitment is Yahoo making there?

Any time you’re looking at staking out a premium position – which is clearly what Yahoo’s doing and clearly also where Right Media is headed – client service is critical to that. The technology’s important, client service is critical. It plays almost to the RTB question we just had. Which is, you can have the technology in place, but being there to work with customers, partners and clients and help them understand how to use it and how to get the best benefit for their business, that’s a huge focus for us. It’s an area where, we are very strong today, and it’s an area where we’re continuing to invest. No question that the way to run and be a premium exchange goes through having fantastic client service.

What are the plans for bringing more publishers on the Right Media Exchange, or do you even feel a need?

Any exchange, you want to make it very, very liquid in the areas you’re trying to be the best in the world, and that involves having both lots of supply partners, and lots of demand partners. Absolutely, we’re trying to continue to drive liquidity in the marketplace. We think we lead here, but this is an area we want to lead even further. When we look at the area we’re trying to stake out, it’s premium publishers. That’s what Yahoo, as a flagship client of Right Media, has some of the best and most premium inventory in the world. Attracting other premium publishers like that, that’s really the vector we’re going on here.

Then it’s just about making sure that the capabilities premium publishers are looking for are reflected and present in the platform, and that the service levels we have are there to help them learn how to take advantage of it.

How do you define a premium publisher?

A lot of the guidance for what “premium” is, we’re taking from our demand side clients. What is it that works for you? What is it that you’d be proud to run your brand next to? I think that’s an evolving definition that our industry is trying to help shake out.

Thinking about more premium publishers that might come on, you’re talking about big guys that have scale, correct?

I don’t think premium necessarily means size. There are names, brands and types of content that are very compelling – that are big. And there are ones that are medium and small. Premium’s less about just the big guys, and I think more about finding that great content wherever it is, and the kinds of things that demand wants to run next to.

By John Ebbert


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