A Peek Into Yahoo’s Ad Stack As Investors Search For Evidence Of A Turnaround

PrashantFuloriaIf a turnaround story is going to fly, it’s got to take off at some point.

But Prashant Fuloria, Yahoo’s SVP of advertising products, is preaching patience.

“The reality is that this is a multiyear transformation, and our long-term trajectory will not be defined by a single quarter,” Fuloria said.

Speaking of quarters, the results for Q3 2015 were not stellar, with revenue shy of analyst estimates, partially the result of what CEO Marissa Mayer called “continued revenue headwinds in our core business.”

But Yahoo has been making some moves on the advertising front.

In late September, it consolidated all of its programmatic ad tech under the BrightRoll brand, including Flurry analytics, Yahoo data, the BrightRoll DSP and the BrightRoll Exchange.

And a nonexclusive deal with Google announced in mid-October will allow Yahoo more flexibility in how it monetizes its search results and ads beyond Microsoft.

That said, Mayer warned investors to expect less revenue in the coming quarters as Yahoo shells out to train the machine-learning algorithm that powers Gemini, Yahoo’s combined marketplace for search and native. The fruits of that labor will take time to bear. More patience required.

Publicly at least, Yahoo is optimistic.

“Gemini is designed to mirror where we think our user engagement is going,” Fuloria said, “and as usage shifts to mobile, more and more of our inventory is going to either be search queries or a native experience, whether that’s someone on Tumblr or News or Finance or Mail or Sports. One of the main reasons for having a unified marketplace is to aggregate as much demand as possible for our inventory.”

AdExchanger caught up with Fuloria.

AdExchanger: What is Yahoo’s vision and why doesn’t Wall Street seem to get it?

PRASHANT FULORIA: Yahoo’s transformation is all about the virtuous cycle of people, products, traffic and revenue. I think that people get that vision – you hire great people who build and iterate on innovative products, which then leads to more user engagement, which ultimately drives greater revenue. … It is on us to make measurable progress along the way – progress that we hope shareholders will see as appreciable growth and demonstrated value.

Let’s drill down into Yahoo’s ad tech vision, specifically.

Yahoo’s ad tech strategy is focused on the needs of advertisers, as well as our consumer business. Yahoo has increased investment in driving engagement around mobile, native, more immersive video experiences and social, and we’re building our ad products to mesh with our consumer play so that they also drive more value for our advertisers.

Can you explain exactly what’s in Yahoo’s ad stack these days?

The two main moving parts are Gemini and BrightRoll. Gemini is our unified search and native marketplace. BrightRoll is our programmatic stack. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of Yahoo’s advertising story.

How do they operate?

Gemini is a vertically integrated offering that allows advertisers to run ads on Yahoo’s inventory and on the inventory of partners like Yahoo. Our programmatic platform lives under the BrightRoll umbrella – it’s a buying platform, it’s an exchange and it’s media agnostic. We would love for advertisers to buy Yahoo inventory through BrightRoll, but that’s not a requirement.

We’ve also built an open data platform that allows advertisers to use their first-party data and third-party data, as well as any Yahoo data from Search, Mail, Flurry or Tumblr to create audiences across both Gemini and BrightRoll. One of the key things we wanted to do after the acquisition was to give advertisers access to Yahoo supply and Yahoo data through BrightRoll.

What kind of volume does Yahoo have with O&O? Does Yahoo’s platform need to be more open because it has less owned and operated inventory than in the past?

Yahoo’s O&O inventory across our sites and mobile apps is experiencing two trends. We’re growing user engagement on mobile, and user engagement on desktop is declining. We definitely have opened up our ad products to a lot more supply from partners over the past year.

But look at Flurry. There were two key pieces behind that acquisition: One is using Flurry data for Yahoo ads, which is already happening, and the other is access to supply. The number of mobile app developers working with Flurry and the syndication business on mobile apps are the fastest-growing parts of Yahoo’s business.

We’re aggressively growing Yahoo mobile app inventory through the Flurry platform and we’re also growing access to supply programmatically through BrightRoll’s own exchange and third-party exchanges.

Are advertisers meant to use both Gemini and BrightRoll?

The analogy I use is related to the dilemma that a consumer faces when they’re deciding which phone to buy. The iOS ecosystem is designed to give people a great experience out of the box. But if you want the flexibility to choose hardware from any number of manufacturers, you typically tend to go with Android. In a sense, the premium publisher offering works out of the box and the programmatic offering gives advertisers the ability to bring best-of-breed technologies together.

Both have their pros and cons. The key thing we want to do at Yahoo is give advertisers a choice depending on their goals – but this model is not unique to Yahoo. Google has AdWords and DoubleClick. Facebook has its own ad product and it’s building a programmatic stack with LiveRail and Atlas. Having a marketplace optimized for publishers as well as a programmatic stack – that’s almost more the norm than the exception in display ad tech today.

A BrightRoll customer complained that customer support has declined since the acquisition. How would you respond to that?

I would hope that any concerns about BrightRoll receiving less support would be an aberration and we would love to follow up on those. If anything, we’ve increased our investment in customer support and service as part of the acquisition. BrightRoll has access to more resources as part of a larger company than it had as a startup.

What is Yahoo doing to retain its ad tech talent?

In terms of the talent we have working on our advertising products, it’s a pretty exciting time to be at Yahoo because we’re working on interesting products that we’re seeing good feedback on.

Is the recently announced Yahoo Mail account key part of a larger plan around cross-device?

Account key for Yahoo Mail is really best understood as a security effort – we’re working hard to secure user accounts and to move past the traditional model of a password that is easily forgotten or, even worse, stolen. We expect features that create better, safer user experience, like the Yahoo Mail account key, will ultimately drive more monetization – more ad supply, more user insights, a stronger cross-device graph and so on.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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