Genesis Media CEO Mark Yackanich discussed the merits of Smart AdServer in an interview with Bill Brazell that first appeared on the media and tech blog The Make Good. The two also broached subjects such as programmatic, fraud and adblocking. What follows is a video of the interview and a transcription.
Bill: Hi and welcome to the People of Ad Tech. I’m your host Bill Brazell and I’m here today with Mark Yackanich, the CEO of Genesis Media. Welcome, Mark.
Mark: Hi Bill, thanks for having me.
Bill: Thanks for being here. Mark, you guys do a lot of work in video advertising. What trends are you seeing? What’s happening there?
Mark: The market continues to go through pretty incredible change. Big trends continue to be viewability — the impact that it has on the way that planning happens and the way that buying happens, the tools sets that support validation of viewability, problems associated with the standards of measurement of viewability. All of this flows through the planning and buying process through to the publishers and the way that they structure their sites. It’s a big issue.
Fraud — I’m very happy to say from our perspective, we’re seeing a movement in fraud. We’re seeing less of it on the open web, we see a little bit more of it in mobile. But the steps that are being made in terms of whitelists and blacklists and industry focus are very clearly — we’re making progress, I’d say. And a focus on viewability helps there.
On the other side of it, programmatic. Programmatic buying and selling tools — DSPs, SSPs — I’d can’t overstate the importance of programmatic and how quickly it’s come down the pipe, much more quickly than any of my peers and certainly myself expected. We’re seing some of our biggest tier one advertising clients (when they look at their video spend) and certainly agency partners, think about video buying as programmatic buying. And I think for a while we’ve said programmatic will just be buying. The word should be erased, it’s buying and selling that the computers and tools that we use will ultimately be using to mediate all theses exchanges. That’s a real thing, it’s happening right now. And sometimes I call it programmanual because there’s still at very manual element to it, but we’re making strides.
And I think the last one is the impact of data. Actually two more, the impact of data on the way that video is bought and sold. If you look television dollars, they want to flow into the video advertising system, but there are roadblocks. And when they do, when the floodgates truly open (and we believe that we’re really beginning to see it, I thought we’d see it last year and we’re beginning to see it from a planning perspective this year) it will mean a massive change in the market. A lot more spending, with a lot more constraints on the spending, but a lot more spending across our ecosystem.
Bill: What’s one of the roadblocks that you see shifting as you see the things starting to open up. Which roadblock is starting to erode?
Mark: All of them are, in their own way. So, if I could list through very quickly the things that I see at least as impediments to these shifts, they’d be things like culture. Not to be underestimated, the cultural change associated with taking these dollars and spending them on digital video advertising versus television, who’s actually doing that spending? There’s certainly issues associated with currency. You know, what is that standard you’re going to use for cross-platform cross-screen planning? That’s a big issue. And another big one, and one that we focus on very squarely on, is inventory availability, and specifically quality inventory availability. There is actually a contraint on supply, for quality digital video advertising placement — and that’s one of the things that Genesis Media is focusing on.
Bill: OK. And one of the ways you guys focus on it is you kind of specialize in predictive analytics. Can you talk about how that affects the work that you guys doing?
Mark: Yeah, and it might help to do a very quick historical tour through Genesis Media so you understand how we arrived here. I’d like to say that we were so brilliant that it just was something that we knew originally, but as is so often the case with earlier-stage companies and especially in ad tech, there’s always a bit of a route.
So, we initially saw that there were two kind of big constituantes that we needed to serve. On the advertising side there was absolutely a constraint on supply places to put quality digital video advertising. And on the publishing side, when know that our publishers are getting hurt right now by declining economics in display and they need to figure out a new kind of financial model that will allow them to more appropriately monetize the quality editorial content that they’re creating. So this is where the opportunity was — initially we could bring video advertising into non-video environments— this was 3 or 4 years ago — into editorial, into photo, into recipes, into work opportunities. You know, quality opportunities that have great brands and that have really engaged audiences.
So we started to put these types of units out there and what we realized very quickly is that if you weren’t very careful about the placement of the units, you could potentially suppress traffic within a publishing environment, you certainly weren’t going to perform from a KPI perspective for the brand. So we needed to build this predictive analytics bucket that would allow us to better understand where we could place ad formats so that they would perform in scale. And really that was our first kind of foray (and this was two-ish years ago into) the world of data science and predictive analytics. And so, for the past two plus years we’ve been inventing in a very high-scale very performant data infrastructure that collects data, allows us to cue it, synthesize it, develop some intelligence then apply it back into the way that we serve media experiences within publishing sites. So, these predictive elements allow us to understand in our particular case (which is very unique) user behavior within web pages. And based on that user behavior, develop various scores (or indices) that allow us to determine which pages can support which type of media experiences. And which ad formats are most likely to work.
Bill: OK. And as part of doing that — I’m guessing — I know you work with one client of mine, Smart AdServer, and I’m guessing that there are different relationships with different publishers and some ad servers may help you get the information you guys need more quickly than others. Is that a factor?
Mark: …The unified ad server means a very different thing now than it did a few years ago. At this point, we’re seeing ad servers migrating into the world of DSPs and SSPs and there must be integrations (if they have an SSP) with all the DSPs, so it’s a very different stack than it was a few years ago. And availability of information, I’m not sure that’s how I’d categorize where I see the greatest value from the ad server coming. The unification of these various elements, for instance, an ad server with an SSP or an server with some DSP characteristics, that I see a lot of value in. And, you know, at least for us, we built a DMP in our belly and we’re using that for the purposes of interacting with, or talking with, Smart.
Bill: OK, cool. And what are you telling your publishing partners about ad blocking? Everyone’s obviously, very concerned about what ad blocking means. What kind of conversations are you having around that?
Mark: Very confused ones, to be totally frank. Different publishers, first of all, experience ad blocking in very fundamentally different ways. I think about ad blocking as an issue that falls along demographic lines. And I think about it as an issue that also falls across device lines. For instance, the prevalence within mobile is different than the prevalence within the open web on desktop. And across various demographic groups, for instance males 18-34, it’s a problem reaching them. If you’re a sports blog that has a lot of its traffic driven across mobile, there’s a high likelihood right now that you’re getting hurt, it a pretty big way, by ad blocking. If you’re a local newspaper that primarily drives traffic off the open web, you’re experiencing the hurt (you might not know you’re experiencing the hurt, by the way) probably less so than those kind of niche audience-focused publications. And I think the answer is there’s a lot solutions out there right now that are trying to figure out the best way to grapple with this, and I don’t know that we’ve come up with — collectively— a great answer to the problem of ad blocking. And it is a problem and it will increasingly be a problem.
Bill: Yeah, I mean I keep thinking if publishers were to work together and all, say, “You’re not going to see our content unless you turn off the ad blocker,” something would happen. But it’s hard to, it’s impossible to imagine many publishers collaborating in that way. And I understand too, that publishers are afraid to do that because then their overall traffic numbers would drop…yeah there is no quick easy answer to this.
Mark: …What you do have are efforts by folks by Facebook or Apple, to try to … experience which theoretically should work to the advantage of the publisher because of the nature of the environment. And certainly this is kind of a good part of the solution, but at the same time the more that we push content into those ecosystems and walled gardens, the less information your going to have. You’re not going to understand as much. You lose a grasp on audience, you lose a grasp on behavior. You lose a lot of control. And that’s something that we’re concerned with.
Bill: Yeah, I know it makes sense.Well, I don’t expect you to solve it today, but I certainly appreciate your thoughts on it. Mark Yackanich, CEO of Genesis Media, thanks so much for your time today.
Mark: Thanks so much, I appreciate it.