AOL’s Programmatic Upfront: Converting Convertro Into A DMP, Unveiling TV Targeting Tools

ProgUpfrontIf AOL hadn’t already made it clear it would double down on digital video and end-to-end marketing tech at its Digital Newfront in May, Monday’s Programmatic Upfront at Advertising Week in New York left no doubt.

AOL’s latest development? The company has layered in and built a data-management platform (DMP) out of attribution vendor Convertro, which it purchased in May.

The DMP will complement ONE by AOL, an early-stage unified platform combining video from AOL’s acquisition, the AdLearn Open Platform and AOL Marketplace, which the company unveiled in March.

AOL will roll out the DMP first to existing programmatic customers and it is designed to provide a single view across a marketer’s entire inventory – both on AOL and off. If 2014 was the year of the rebrand from AOL Networks to AOL Platforms, 2015 will be about the DMP or the “marketing investment platform.”

“Customers are changing the way [media] decision processes are happening,” said AOL CEO Tim Armstrong to a small group of press and analysts before he presented to an intimate gathering of 150 agency employees and marketers at Spring Studios in SoHo. The crowd was substantially smaller than last year’s inaugural programmatic upfront, which drew 700.

Marc Fonzetti, director of media strategy and investment for Verizon Wireless, revealed during the Programmatic Upfront that AOL’s ability to blend CRM, media and second-party data led to a new partnership. Verizon Wireless could also augment data in AOL’s ONE platform by hooking it up to Oracle-owned DMP BlueKai, an openness which spurred Verizon’s selection.

“Effectively, data knows the optimal path from one customer to the next and unified data is going to help people do a better job finding customers, be it mobile, display, video or even television,” said AOL CTO Seth Demsey. “We wanted to make it very easy to see where your money [as a marketer] is going. The platform lets you run predictive analytics against your marketing spend… [and] see which creative is resonating cross-platform that goes well beyond media into message targeting for an audience.”

TV Time

In addition to committing to content and creative, which AOL claims it clinched via its Pictela and Gravity acquisitions, AOL is also pushing harder into linear and connected TV, striking a partnership with agency holding company Publicis Groupe to supply premium reserved and non-reserved inventory, as well as tools to build video private marketplaces.

AOL also unveiled at its Monday upfront a TV ad targeting and analytics platform called tRatio, designed to ingest advertisers’ first-party data, perform an anonymous match against audience profiles from 400,000 linear TV airings and apply a “viewer scoring metric” based on program, network or daypart.

“While overall viewing continues to expand, audiences continue to fragment and 85% of impressions on television are only reaching 40% of the consumer audience,” according to Dan Ackerman, head of programmatic TV at AOL Platforms. He said while advancements in content and distribution, such as HBO Go, have changed TV delivery, advertising technology has not kept up with viewer fragmentation.

AOL brought out broadcast giant NBCUniversal’s ads chief Linda Yaccarino to underscore the convergence between digital and linear TV, a convergence that has intensified since Comcast purchased NBCUniversal.

“There are a lot of technological hurdles to bring programmatic to linear TV, but we’re building those products to merge different data sets,” she said, noting NBCUniversal’s tools “are becoming more systematic and automated.”

For instance, she cited Monday’s launch of NBCUx, a programmatic sales offering that includes digital video, mobile inventory and display.

One focus is dynamic ad insertions.

“For some MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributor], dynamic ad insertions are ready to go, but we’re not at the point yet for national distribution,” she said. “We are investing unprecedented amounts of money in this area, whether it’s Comcast’s investment in Freewheel or other areas we’re focusing on.”

While Yaccarino admitted there are still many in broadcast who view programmatic as anathema, she said targeting and context drive ad inventory value. “[We think] if we can contextually place a commercial into our video content, that high value content doesn’t necessarily become commoditized if I’m targeting that ad to a (specific) audience or consumer,” she explained.

Clarification: Convertro’s technology will serve as the “attribution layer” for ONE by AOL’s DMP, but if someone wants to use Convertro as a standalone attribution system, the option is there. AOL noted that they’re building an open and modular system, so marketers can “bring their own DMP” to the table and sync up with Convertro as their attribution system of record.


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