Wurl Consolidates The Complexities Of OTT For Publishers

Connected TV publishers manage distribution and inventory splits with a rapidly growing pool of ad-supported networks and streaming services.

Wurl, launched in 2018, simplifies that headache by offering a single point of distribution across hundreds of OTT networks, including A+E, AMC and Bloomberg Media, and AVOD streaming services such as The Roku Channel and Samsung TV Plus.

“It’s the Wild West when it comes to delivering content to ad-supported platforms,” said Sean Doherty Jr., co-founder and SVP of operations at Wurl. “We handle how it gets there, what the content looks like and what the ad markers are.”

On the monetization side, Wurl helps publishers maximize fill rates on OTT, which can often be as low as 50%, and manage yield through server-side ad insertion.

Doherty and Yuval Fisher, Wurl’s SVP of tech, spoke with AdExchanger about the complexities of OTT for publishers and how the explosion of streaming during COVID-19 is impacting business.

AdExchanger: How does Wurl work for publishers? 

SEAN DOHERTY JR: Video producers plug into our network and gain distribution across platforms. But [they] do their own business deals.

We have a cloud-based scheduling platform to curate channels. They can define the ad breaks, the duration of those breaks and where they put them.

Where does Wurl play in the OTT advertising ecosystem?

DOHERTY: Our ad network, which is free and opt-in, helps video producers fill their inventory. Because of the scale of inventory on the network, we’re getting access to demand the producer might not be able to on their own. There’s no additional cut we take, no interesting accounting.

What inventory do you have access to monetize?

DOHERTY: In some cases, it’s the stuff the producer can’t direct sell. In other cases, the producer likes our fill rates and wants to shift 100% of their inventory to us.

Where we participate in the waterfall depends upon the business deal each video producer has with each streaming service. On certain services, producers are negotiating for inventory splits, and we help with their fill. In other cases, we [work directly with] the streaming platform. We deliver a lot of channels into The Roku Channel and Samsung TV Plus and insert the ads.

Who do you compete with?

DOHERTY: Legacy broadcast technology companies are getting into OTT delivery. On the network and distribution side, it’s a lot of competition. Each video producer brings their own ad server to fill inventory. We’ve connected multiple ad servers and ad networks into our network.

How do you manage competition with ad networks and SSPs?

YUVAL FISHER: An SSP can help the publisher optimize yield, but most don’t fill all of their inventory. So we’re not competing with them. We want the network to be efficient, so we round off what the publisher and the ad server can’t fill.

How much inventory generally goes unfilled on OTT?

FISHER: It’s seasonal and monthly. In COVID-19 days, we’re seeing a slackening of demand. That varies by price. When there’s a lot of inventory, the price goes down and spend catches up.

But fill rates have really zoomed up since we started the service. In the early days, it was well below 30%. Now we see well above 50% to 60%.

How do you make money if it’s free for publishers to opt into your ad network?

DOHERTY: We get paid for streaming viewership. And on every ad inserted, we take a small flat fee. As more people watch a channel that fee gets higher, but the assumption is video producers are inserting ads and making more money.

FISHER: We never have an incentive to compete with our customers. Supposing we took a cut, we would have a dilemma of sending inventory to our demand, which would give us a cut, or our customer’s demand, which wouldn’t. That’s not a position we want to be in. We add in restrictions to meet their floors so we’re not competing against them.

What targeting capabilities are available on inventory sold by Wurl?

FISHER: We facilitate the ability to include metadata with an ad break. That can be contextual data about what’s being watched or that allows the ad server to understand the program, genre or title. And we provide analytics so publishers understand [viewership], number of impressions and how well the content is performing.

We’re not trying to become a DMP or to understand the audience. The demand side can do that.

Do advertisers buying through Wurl’s network know where their spots are running?

FISHER: They know sometimes through us or when they do a direct sale. Sometimes we specifically don’t share that information to protect floor prices. We might create a pool of inventory but not expose publishers, so we’re able to sell that at a lower CPM without devaluing specific inventory.

What are your plans for growth as OTT and streaming pick up during the COVID-19 crisis?

DOHERTY: Streaming hours are up dramatically, and that means an increase in inventory. Advertising is down, but CTV is a hot category. It’s targetable and has quality content, so it’s attractive when you’re trying to be measured with ad dollars.

When COVID hit, there was a lot of pullback. But the dramatic increase in viewing hours is setting off some of the decrease in fill rates. Other advertisers have picked up [in verticals such as] gaming. So in the long term, COVID accelerates a shift toward free, ad-supported services.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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