TV Will Be Bigger Than Ever. Q&A with Eric Mathewson of WideOrbit

Eric Mathewson, CEO of WideOrbit, started his career in another numbers-intensive industry - equity derivatives at Kidder Peabody where he focused hedging transactions for venture capitalists and founders of Silicon Valley technology companies. 

During that time he says he gained “a strong appreciation for the importance of systems and databases for enabling consistent profits in exchange-based transactions.” The rest is history as he used capital gained in his Silicon Valley ventures to launch WideOrbit in July 1999 as a way to facilitate the buying and selling of media.

Mathewson has some very clear ideas about media transactions and his company WideOrbit is becoming the de facto go to system for processing media transactions. I asked him the following questions:

CW: What exactly is WideOrbit?

EM: WideOrbit is a software company that develops systems for managing the backbone of media companies. We run their programming and ad systems, which handles all their scheduling programming, yield optimization, the accounting of their orders, invoices, aging and everything else a typical enterprise resource planning software system does.  WideOrbit is now the largest company in the space.  We’re managing 3000-plus stations and more than $30 billion in annual ad spending, primarily in North America.

CW: WideOrbit faced some entrenched legacy competitors in the space. How did you break through?

EM: We always focus on customer referenceability, which is a higher standard than customer satisfaction. Our products and services should meet a level of excellence where end users are willing to recommend them to other end users. Over the years, 88% to 93% of our customers said they would recommend us to a colleague. That Net Promoter Score has been a huge source of growth and competitive advantage, and it makes a big impact on a customer’s willingness to spend more money with us.

CW: How are you handling cross platform buys and sells?

EM: Transactions where DSPs enable cross-platform buying inventory are really only just now starting to emerge. We’ve prepared for this kind of demand to scale by investing in technology that enables both Real-Time Buying in digital display as well as linear audio and video inventory.

CW: Generally speaking (and I know there is a wide range of targets) what is the most efficient way to buy media today?

EM: I may be a tad biased on this point. The most efficient way to buy media today is through programmatic platforms that aggregate vast amounts of premium inventory. With just a click of a mouse on the WO Programmatic TV platform, a buyer can access and aggregate their pick from upwards of $30 billion in TV advertising inventory. Because it is so automated, a buyer can easily discern which inventory is most efficient by using our data or data that they bring to our platform. The system also simplifies all the creative delivery and billing aspects of a transaction.

CW: How dominant do you see television in the traditional sense (the TV set as hardware) five years from now for the consumer?

EM: When we look at IPG’s ad market data five years into the future, television will have a larger footprint than all the combined elements of digital content delivery, including audio and video. From our perspective, I’m not sure it matters what the composition of content consumption will be. It’s our job to help our clients maximize their revenue regardless of how their content reaches consumers. We’re aggressively investing in both digital and linear for the benefit of the consumer and our clients. Regardless of the platform used, we want audiences to continue to be consume our clients’ content and for our customers to have the tools to maximize profits.

CW: Is there any new technology that we may not foresee right now but that could be disruptive to the media space?

EM: There will always be new technologies and behaviors that might be disruptive to traditional forms of business. Consumer habits change surprisingly slowly, though. Take on-demand viewing, for example. While it’s likely that anyone reading this article uses a DVR as their primary method for consuming video, live TV viewing minutes in the US still represent over 90% of total minutes watched. This is a full 15 years after early adopters started to have the ability to time-shift their viewing.

CW: Give me a short example of how WideOrbit works as well as its challenges and its opportunities in the media space.

EM: It’s hard to come up with a single simple example when we cover so much ground. WideOrbit software is the enterprise software that runs a media company. We manage all the processes of ad insertion for clients with varying kinds of business, including NBCUniversal’s owned and operated stations, Comcast SportsNet, Fox Sports Networks, DirecTV’s advertising operations, Entercom Communications, Time Inc’s and USA Today’s web sites, Canal+ and Orange France Mobile Ad operations.

CW: Can you give me some predictions - what will the media landscape look like 5 years from now?

EM: When I started WideOrbit in 1999 with a background in the Internet, it was obvious that the future was going to be a transition from analog linear delivery of content to IP-based delivery. My Silicon Valley pals thought the transition would take about 3-5 years. I thought it was going to take 10-15 years before people were consuming most of their video or audio over connected IP devices like a connected TVs or mobile phones. Now that WideOrbit has been operating for 15 years, I still think we’re 10- 15 years away from seeing the majority of video content delivered to individual IP devices rather than as a traditional linear broadcast stream

The automation of advertising transactions is increasing at rapid clip. A huge portion of digital sold today is via Real Time Bidding, and we’re starting to see that port to Mobile as well.  Digital video is getting there, but is still mostly transacted & targeted weeks in advance. TV does not have RTB yet, though we’re poised to see a dramatic increase in programmatic sales automation.

Finally, there’s been a ton of consolidation the last 4-5 years in the broadcasting sector. I expect it will continue over the next 5-10 years, though the bulk of it is probably behind us.

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Comedy Central Research Discovers Cultural Connection

Chanon Cooke, SVP Strategic Insights and Research for Comedy Central, is responsible for advancing brand, programming, and multi-platform development through research as well as providing key consumer insights to guide creative strategy.  Specifically, her work helps the network understand Millennials.

Cook embarked on some fascinating and ARF award winning research for their series Key & Peele.  She explains, “Three seasons in, Key & Peele still lacked awareness and engagement by African-American and Hispanic viewers who should have been the show’s biggest fans.  We needed to identify how and where prior communication efforts had failed and subsequently informed a customized Multicultural marketing strategy.”

Noted here is that this research makes use of emotional response research based on community panels. This form of research is gaining more attention in the industry where consumer motivations and emotional responses can become part of the fuller analysis of a piece of content.  

I asked Cooke the following questions about her research efforts for Key & Peele:

CW: What research did you conduct for this series?

CC: There were three key research studies which were running concurrently. 

Research Study #1- Understanding Multicultural Millennials: The cornerstone of this research comes from an extensive Multicultural Millennial Collaborative Community of over 300 active online members.  The virtual “salon” convened on a weekly basis for over six months and covered a broad range of topics – from the latest memes making the social rounds to hot button topics like Trayvon Martin and immigration policy.  We also conducted multiple ethnographies, focus groups, expert and academic interviews, content analysis, and secondary research.  This is some of the deepest and richest research Comedy Central has conducted to date.

Research Study #2- Key & Peele Series Deep Dive:  Comedy Central conducted a series of in-depth focus groups around key show and communications elements -- including talent appeal, humor sensibility, show format, and messaging.  We spoke with current Key & Peele viewers and Multicultural Millennials who from a psychographic perspective should be viewers across 3 markets, New York City, Los Angeles, and Cleveland.

Research Study #3- Key & Peele Semiotics Study:  With a topic as complex as race, we knew we needed to combine our consumer insight methodologies with extensive cultural analysis.  We had to understand Key & Peele’s current cultural resonance and identify future opportunities to amplify the franchise’s cultural voice and impact.  We leaned into a semiotic analysis of popular content, and Key & Peele in particular, to help build our narrative through a company called Truth Co.  Our use of cultural analysis combined with consumer insight work enabled us to bring to the surface hidden but essential insights. 

CW: What were the calls to action?

CC: The Key & Peele season four launch would be a radical departure from previous campaigns.  Our goal was cultural resonance, a psychographic defined by common sensibilities and attitudes.  Marketing adjusted the focus from trying to attract African Americans and Hispanics to attracting the psychographic within the demographic: multiculturally aware Millennials who are culturally plugged in and social.

We partnered with brands like WorldStarHipHop, DimeMag, and DatPiff for the first time.  Our YouTube campaign was also nuanced and extensive – in addition to retargeting fans that had previously watched Key & Peele or Comedy Central videos, we built out targeting buckets for our Multicultural psychographic.  Key and Peele continued to amplify their icon status and cool cred with high profile appearances and partnerships like guest editing the Entertainment Weekly comedy issue and hosting a standing room only panel at San Diego Comic-Con.

CW: Did anything surprise you? What were the "aha" moments?

CC: Beyond likes and ratings, perhaps the most significant impact has been a fundamental shift in the internal narrative around the Comedy Central core viewer.  Now when we say “The Comedy Central viewer”, we don’t automatically picture a 24 year old White guy.  The Comedy Central core fan can be Black, White, Hispanic, male or female and we will serve all of them. The only thing we ask of them is to love awesome comedy.


Getting the Attention of Millennials. Q&A with Anne Hubert.

Anne Hubert, Senior Vice President, Scratch, is a polymath whose interests span from acting and the arts to the interdisciplinary study of symbolic systems (computer science, philosophy, psychology and linguistics).  Hubert, who studied at both Stanford and Harvard, currently heads up Scratch, a division of Viacom that behaves like a consultancy.

In this fascinating interview, Hubert talks about Scratch, sharing  Millennial insights,  advice for the next generation and some predictions as to what the media landscape will look like three to five years from now.

CW: Can you tell me about Scratch? What is it? How does it fit into the Viacom family?

AH: Scratch is a creative swat team that channels the power of Viacom in new ways. If you look at Viacom overall, it has properties in about 160 countries around the world. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, our fans invite our content into their homes, onto their phones and into their lives. We study them obsessively, receiving massive amounts of audience feedback that we use to engage passionate fans. Scratch is a group that brings our experience reaching and engaging audiences and cultural insights out into the world.

CW: How do you use Scratch to connect to brands and communities?

AH: There is so much information coursing through the organization about who our audiences are, what is driving them, what is connecting with them, what is breaking through the clutter and really reaching and engaging them. There is a lot of value in that for our partners.

Scratch takes all of that expertise and uses it to help partners deeply understand their consumers and develop strategies for where to take their business next - from the products they make to the brands they build to the kinds of organizations they build and the talent they attract.

Our work is essentially a cross between a management consultancy, a creative agency and a research firm all within the wrapper of the global media and cultural force that is Viacom.

CW: Looking ahead to the next three to five years, can you give me some predictions on the media landscape?

AH: One of the biggest things shifting in media right now is how we all think about the business we’re all really in. Right now eyeballs are eyeballs, impressions are impressions, but from my perspective, what we are really operating in is an economy of attention.

Attention is a topic that my team is very actively studying now. We are developing a much deeper understanding of what attention looks like, where it is valuable and how context matters. It will be about moving beyond tune in, click though and the approximations that we are used to. I think it is something that is a core idea and a core priority not for just this company, but also for the industry.

CW: Anne, I would love for you to articulate your advice to the next generation – those who are in college today.

AH: I got some good advice early in my career which was, number one, figure out how to be useful in any job. I also think, for me, my process on this long and winding road is to tune into what really lights me up, what I really get excited about. I think so often it’s easy for people to say that “I want to end up in this place” or “my goal is to be” or “to have this title at this company.” Those things are fine to have in mind but I have found that it is much more useful to start with “what do I really find myself thinking about morning, noon and night?” Figure out how to lean into that and make that the meat of your job. Figure out what makes you come alive and go after that. 

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