SpringServe: ‘Ad Quality Will Take Priority Over Monetization’ In 2022

Joe Hirsch, general manager, SpringServe

Magnite acquired connected TV ad server SpringServe in July for $31 million as part of its ongoing ambition to go big in CTV.

But SpringServe continues to operate largely independently, and that’s by design, said Joe Hirsch, general manager of SpringServe.

“An ad server is really no good if it’s biased towards a particular SSP,” Hirsch said. “That’s why it’s been a very conscious decision to keep SpringServe separate from some of the other applications in the Magnite garage, as it were.”

But one of the most appealing aspects of the SpringServe deal is the interplay with SpotX, the video SSP Magnite bought in February for $1.17 billion. (SpotX invested $2 million in SpringServe last year with an option to buy, which Magnite exercised after snapping up SpotX.)

A tighter integration between a video ad server and a video SSP can improve the user experience in CTV, which still leaves much to be desired. To that end, SpringServe recently built an audio volume targeting feature that blocks overly loud creative, along with an ad podding tool to address ad repetition and competitive separation and a solution that automatically resizes creative so that it fits into whatever environment it’s being served into.

Hirsch spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Historically, most CTV inventory has been bought direct. Is the split between programmatic and direct-sold starting to change?

JOE HIRSCH: It gets really fuzzy, and I’ll tell you why. You can book a campaign directly and execute it programmatically. A direct seller at Hulu can do it and so can a buyer during the upfronts. Does that count as direct sold, programmatic or programmatic guaranteed?

Depending on who you’re talking to, someone might want it to sound more one way or another.

Should a direct buy executed programmatically be considered programmatic?

If you use a partner with an acronym that ends in the letters “SP” in the process, the answer is yes. As soon as you touch a DSP or an SSP in the transaction, it officially becomes programmatic.

What can be done to make the CTV ad experience better?

The main thing we want to avoid is for people to be taken out of the moment when they’re leaning back watching TV because of the ad experience, whether that’s the quality of the ad, the volume or how many times they’ve had to see it.

Our goal is to make sure the ad quality is at such a level that it reduces churn and ultimately even retains viewers, because they’re having a positive experience rather than a negative one.

Although people like to talk about CTV as this advanced, evolved version of linear, what’s interesting is that linear has already resolved a lot of these issues. Which raises the question, why isn’t the ad experience in CTV as good as linear?

Well, why isn’t it?

Linear has been perfecting advertising inside their stream for 60 years, and streaming media is only around 10 years old, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. But even though the ad experience isn’t up to par with linear yet, there are things you can do in CTV that are so much cooler than on linear.

For example, allowing one brand to sponsor a show with an ad so that someone can watch an entire episode uninterrupted, or pause ads that don’t interrupt the user experience at all.

In a nutshell, what does SpringServe do?

We’re a CTV ad serving platform with a focus on improving the user’s ad experience and increasing the value of the ad break for publishers.

So, how are you different from Publica?

Publica is not an ad server. They’re more like a server-side header bidding wrapper that mediates programmatic demand and pushes it into other people’s ad servers, like Google Ad Manager or FreeWheel.

We compete with Publica, but competition and choice in ad serving platforms is a good thing, because it raises awareness of the second wave of CTV ad servers – and that helps chip away at Google and FreeWheel’s dominance in CTV.

What is the second wave of CTV ad servers?

In the first wave, ad servers were primarily focused on direct-sold campaigns. The second wave is about technologies focused primarily on programmatically booked campaigns.

When both Google Ad Manager and FreeWheel came into existence, programmatic didn’t exist, which meant they both had to retrofit their products for programmatic. The second-wave CTV ad servers are programmatic first.

Are you noticing any interesting AVOD trends?

FAST channels are a great thing. This idea that you can turn any group of content into a linear stream and make it into a permanent channel – that was what was promised to people with cable and satellite.

The companies that grouped together the FAST channels – Tubi, Pluto and Xumo – all got bought by the big broadcasters, because they saw an opportunity to capture eyeballs and market share. Recently, Pluto said it would hit more than $1 billion in ad revenue before 2022, which is a staggering amount of ad revenue for an AVOD service.

For the broadcasters, perfecting the ad experience is a big part of their strategy, because they’ve made such big gambles on AVOD.

Real talk, though, is some of the “CTV will eat the world” narrative overblown or overhyped?

Where the dollars go, so do the audiences. The death of third-party cookies and mobile IDFAs will be kindling to the fire of migrating ad dollars from social to CTV. CTV [will] gain mainstream acceptance as it finds more ways to help publishers and media providers better target, optimize monetization and track performance.

Give me one CTV prediction for 2022. Put your stake in the ground, and we won’t hold you to it … although maybe we will.

Amid the fierce competition to win over engaged audiences and convince viewers to keep tuning in, CTV publishers will be more focused on providing an impeccable and quality experience rather than maximizing ad revenue in the short term.

Ad quality will take priority over monetization.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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