The proposed merger of Donovan Data Systems and MediaBank has raised eyebrows throughout the industry. The merged company, to be called MediaOcean, has more than just back-office systemics in its joint technology stack. Analyzing patterns in ad spend and ad service can reveal much about the true ebb and flow of digital advertising, and the company is planning to leverage its considerable data pool. According to MediaOcean’s CEO Bill Wise and Donovan Data System president J.T. Batson, who will become a president in the new company, MediaOcean is unabashedly out to change the landscape by making its transaction-processing business a neutral “advertising operating system.”
The joint company, with more than $150 billion in processing under management, will likely be one of the largest independent ad tech companies in the world. Is this emblematic of the wave towards consolidation in the industry, and how will all of these consolidations impact the end product for brands’ data and analytics?
Bill Wise: There’s actually a lot less consolidation than you would think. Everyone knows that Terry Kawaja slide by now — the one that shows the digital technology landscape and the huge number of disconnected technologies that run across the ecosystem. And when you think of it, it isn’t surprising that this kind of fragmentation should take place: the nature of digital growth is such that every new channel creates a new set of specialized problems to solve, spawning a new breed of specialized solutions to handle them. So no matter how much consolidation eventually does take place, you’ll always have an array of point solutions to deal with. A lot of the consolidation, including ours, was created to address that fragmentation. But a lot of the consolidation happens in a way that isn’t balanced.
J.T. Batson: Take an ad network with a display DSP built in: it lets advertisers do a lot more in one place, but it also means that the business helping you manage inventory is also the business trying to sell inventory to you. That isn’t neutral. We’re trying to create a different kind of consolidation, one that stands alone and is solely dedicated to allowing advertising businesses navigate their way through all the diversity. Our goal is to create a single, open, neutral platform through which agencies can orchestrate across all the point solutions out there, allowing the market to continue building fantastic point solutions, while allowing clients to create their own consolidation.
What are MediaBank and Donovan Data bringing to the table, and how does it fit in a Google-dominated ecosystem?
Bill Wise: The large industry players like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are looking to unite touchpoints and systems across the solution stack. They’ve done a phenomenal job of bringing order to chaos. But, again, the solutions they provide aren’t neutral. MediaOcean is an independent party, and it will provide that holistic management but with neutrality.
Is there any upside to all of this fragmentation in the industry? Does it make the industry more competitive or just less understandable for brands?
J.T. Batson: On many levels, fragmentation is the result of choice in the marketplace. Obviously, choice is a very good thing. But the downside of all that choice is that it makes the industry unmanageable. It also leaves the industry reliant on players who offer a way out of fragmentation, but who aren’t neutral. It leaves agencies and advertisers reliant on solutions that aren’t necessarily ideal for them. Our goal for MediaOcean is to make the choice in the marketplace into a positive — by giving businesses the power to form their own solution stack across the incredible variety of opportunities out there — and to control of the choice for themselves through a neutral player. We think that’s good for everyone.
Ad technology, because of privacy issues, is still somewhat vulnerable to legislation, and even the problem of the murkiness of measurement — that eternal debate over clicks. How do we clean up ad tech and make it work for brands on a rational basis?
Bill Wise: A lot of the problem goes back to the fact that, currently, advertising businesses can only look at one touchpoint or system at a time; last-click attribution is a classic example of that. The core idea of the MediaOcean OS is that businesses using it will be able to work across all of the connecting points together. That makes for quicker comparisons and a better understanding of, say, how views in one channel impact clicks in another.
J.T. Batson: To put things more generally, a lot of the problem of ad tech is that everyone is working off of a different standard. Sellers and buyers often have different takes on what an attributable action is, what a view is, and even what is or is not personally identifiable information. By allowing agencies to bring all of their systems and touchpoints together in one hub, we’ll be able to let each client define its own standards and finally make sense of the picture.
When will ad spend really begin to shift towards digital at a faster rate? Do we have to finally bury last-click to do so, or is something else holding brand dollars back?
J.T. Batson: Measurement gets better when you can create relevant comparisons across the different touchpoints. So you don’t need to be beholden to the click-through numbers of one touchpoint alone, and you can make relevant comparisons between traditional and digital. Our goal with MediaOcean is to enable the holistic management that makes the data comparisons possible. But measurement alone isn’t the only part of the picture.
Bill Wise: A lot of what’s holding ad dollars back is process. A ton of investment has gone into creating electronic systems for managing the traditional media-buying business, and it often takes fewer steps and fewer hands to transact a TV buy than it does to buy rich media. That isn’t tenable, and the industry needs far better solutions for managing digital buys. We’d also just point out that the whole dichotomy between digital and traditional is falling away. Is an RFI ad on addressable TV a digital ad or a traditional one? The answer is that it’s both.