Bob Lord recently got a title change – he’s now CEO of AOL Platforms – after the digital media giant’s technology division was rebranded from AOL Networks last month. At AOL Platforms, Lord is overseeing the global rollout of One, a demand-side platform that brings together programmatic display and video, data management, marketing automation and pretty much everything else under the sun. AD-Vantage caught up with Lord to chat about AOL’s vision for digital media, and the advantages of a single platform for automated buying.
AOL just launched One, which integrates a lot of the tools used for digital media buying – DSP, data management platform (DMP), audience analytics, etc. What do you see as the benefit of using a single platform, rather than specialized tech solutions at each step of the buying process?
The first advantage of committing to a single platform is that the brains behind the operation get smarter the more volume you put through them. It’s not about whether or not I’ve got the lowest CPM, it’s about whether or not I’ve optimized really well. We have certain clients who are now giving us all their buy because they realize that AdLearn Open Platform learns better when you put more money through it.
The second premise is that you have all these different silos of unique components, and when they’re not stitched together, you lose a ton of efficiencies. We still have insertion orders that are faxed to us. Lots of e-mails, lots of back and forth, lots of paper RFPs. Just a ton of inefficiency. AOL One would automate that process from an insertion-order and logistics standpoint.
Then the third advantage is you’re going to have a persistent data record of how things perform for you. We think there needs to be a connection between the digital world and linear TV world, between the brand dollars and the direct-response dollars. We need to understand that interaction. And that requires some kind of persistent data record, a way to communicate between a data management platform and a measurement provider like Nielson, so that you can actually understand the interaction.
I think people have to think around platforms. It was a very purposeful change that we made, going from AOL Networks to AOL Platforms. AOL is going to be building a platform where any agency can come and bring their buying power and their data to the marketplace. So although it’s the same platform, you as a media company, or an agency or brand use your data and buying power to create a competitive advantage. Don’t worry about the bits and bytes. I’m going to do that for you. Go back to what you’re in business for.
But doesn’t using a single platform seem like putting a lot of eggs in one basket?
I’m not saying everyone has to go to the One platform. I think there will be a finite number of platforms that large brand agencies should be part of. You have to be thinking about setting up a platform ecosystem for yourself. You can’t make decisions with three DMPs. You’re not going to be effective with three DMPs. You’re not going to be effective with three SSPs and three targeting systems.
But you know, I think that comes from legacy. That comes from media-buying companies spreading the risk. I’m going to buy a little bit on NBC, I’m going to buy a little bit on ABC, and I’m going to make the decision. We’re asking a lot of these guys to let the decisions be done by a machine and sometimes that’s a hard thing to do.
I want to talk a little bit more about programmatic TV, because that’s a big selling point for One and for Adap.tv. The tech isn’t yet at the point where trading desks can buy individual TV commercial impressions like they do on the web. But then what does programmatic TV actually mean?
Automating the buying and the data collection process. It’s just taking a lot of the white space out of how you do advertising and data on linear TV. It’s automating the RFP, and it’s also getting data back on the impact that the ads have.
It’s in its infancy. We’re only doing tests. Part of the issue is the systems aren’t responsive enough or real-time enough to get data back to you right away. That may be why people aren’t attacking it – because you don’t have that instantaneous information. But in my view, even if it’s a week delayed, if I can tie it to my digital inventory or digital progress, I’ve got more information than I had before.
How are you convincing broadcasters to make their inventory available programmatically?
You’ve got to solve this problem by actually telling the marketplace, “You know what? The only way I’m going to buy from you in the future is if you use this technology.” And if you buy $37-billion worth of media, you’ve got power in the market to force publishers to use the marketplace.
And the great news is our relationship with Magna Global is actually helping them force this issue. Matt Seiler, CEO of IPG Mediabrands, has put up his ambition to automate 50% of North American media buys by 2016. But at the same time he’s created a consortium of broadcast players, which I think is a really important piece because you can’t try to solve this problem just by doing the tech grade.
Since I came into this job 10 months ago, publishers and broadcasters have stopped asking me “why” and started asking “how.” People understand that it’s not going to be just an RTB space with remnant inventory, and it’s not going to drive their prices down. They understand that there are private marketplaces that they can set up that protect their floor pricing. And they understand that it’s fundamentally about automation. So publishers are starting to come together around this, and realizing that getting to the market first could mean higher rates.
How do you feel about using GRPs as a way to connect TV and digital?
There’s a transitional period where you have to use GRPs as a surrogate. I think there’s a lot wrong with GRPs, but there’s not so much wrong with it that you can throw it away. People have had great experiences with it. CMOs know it well. The ad business knows it well. So until Nielson pivots and says, “We have a better measurement on this,” I think it’s just another transition that has to happen.
You know, I’ve been in this industry way too long. I remember article after article saying that TV’s dead. TV’s not dead, and it won’t be dead. The theme of our NewFront was “Connected,” and we philosophically believe that TV and digital need to be connected. We’re all about figuring out how to get the right message to the right consumer at the right place and on the right device. And right now it’s a really expensive proposition for brands. We believe technology will help figure that out.