TEGNA’s OTT Division Eyes Blockchain, Verification And The Customer Experience

Jim Wilson is a big believer in the blockchain.

As president of Premion, the over-the-top ad buying platform of local TV broadcaster TEGNA, he helped ink a deal with blockchain startup MadHive in early March to cut off the potential for ad fraud in the OTT space. He also sits on the board of the AdLedger Consortium, a nonprofit R&D group focused on using blockchain technology to shore up the digital supply chain.

The idea is to clean house in preparation for increased OTT spend. Advertisers were burned – and continue to be burned – by the murkiness of the digital ad buying ecosystem, and there’s no reason to repeat the same mistakes in a new channel.

“There could be a future where ad fraud pervades OTT as it has digital in the past – and we want to be ahead,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, we want to be the most transparent we can be and have the most integrity and authenticity in what we deliver.”

Premion was born in 2016 after TEGNA spun off its broadcast and digital media business from Gannett the year before. Since then, Premion has struck more than 125 partnerships with publishers and streaming services, including CNN, NBCU, ESPN, HGTV, Food Network, Sling, Pluto, Xumo, Crackle and Tubi TV.

AdExchanger spoke with Wilson.

AdExchanger: What exactly is Premion and how will it evolve as OTT continues to develop?

JIM WILSON: Premion started as an ad services platform for our TEGNA stations to access the very fragmented OTT video market and as a product for our local advertisers. What it’s evolved into over time is a structured technology platform with direct integrations with publishers and virtual MVPDs that give us access to premium networks so we can be a single solution for local, regional and national advertisers.

Where I start getting excited about the future is truly linking linear and OTT together. We’re already starting to do that with Alphonso, and now we’re bringing that incremental reach and attribution to the linear and OTT level.

Let’s talk a bit about blockchain. Why are you so hot on it?

Our model from the very beginning has been about direct integrations with publishers. We have a strategy of not accessing open exchanges for inventory. The MadHive pixel is inserted into every campaign, and that allows us to collect certain data and check for unusual activity all the way to the IP address level. It’s a proactive approach to the market.

What we’re looking to advance now is checking the validity of every impression no matter the publisher we’re working with. The idea is to use blockchain and cryptography as an extra layer of assurance.

What other forward-thinking initiatives are you working on?

We’re deploying strategies and building technologies around how we source inventory from partners. Video sources are proliferating and there are multiple ways to access them and perhaps more efficient ways to do it than are currently being used.

There’s also a lot of concern in the market about whether companies are actually doing and delivering what they say they are. The third-party verification business is a big part of that but, frankly, some companies have a higher level of accuracy in connected TV environments than others. We’re working on an audience assurance program and to provide post-campaign analysis. The data business is still a bit of a Wild West with a lot of different providers in the market who all define audiences differently. We’re trying to create some level of standardization.

What sort of data does Premion have available for targeting?

We have access to MadHive’s connected TV graph, which gives us the ability to go deeper in our targeting and create a higher level of match rates. 4INFO brings us a mobile device graph. As we bring these graphs together, we can reach down into the household level and match to CTV or mobile devices. We’re able to do behavioral and lifecycle targeting, and with the reach we have through the CTV graph, we can access the IP address of every impression delivered.

A lot of our buyers are broadcast buyers and most have been using Nielsen for measurement on the linear side. But now they’re looking for opportunities to reach audiences and digital buyers. A lot of clients are also looking for either website traffic attribution or footfall attribution.

How would you describe the state of OTT advertising in regional and local markets?

We’ve had some great adoption so far and it’s driven a lot of scale for us, but it’s so early in this business. There’s a significant opportunity and road ahead for those investing in and building out differentiated capabilities and taking into account what different buyers are looking for.

OTT has the flexibility to be an extension product for broadcasters and a targeting opportunity for digital. But we’re still doing a lot of education and we’re out there testing concepts.

Is frequency capping still a big problem in OTT?

Frequency capping is still a problem in OTT, but it’s also a problem in cable video on demand. When publishers allow different sellers to sell inventory, you may end up with the same commercial coming into programs from multiple sources, and advertisers do the same.

This is something the industry needs to take very seriously. Advertisers and publishers both play a role and everyone needs to come together to figure out how to address it. We’re extremely interested in advancing the customer experience, because a good customer experience doesn’t just benefit the content owner, it benefits the advertiser.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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