Q&A Interview with Phil Antonson - WideOrbit

Phil Antonson has worked in the data heavy back office of research for many years at MSA which is a company that has helped media companies track and post advertiser contracts with increasing precision and flexibility. With his recent move to WideOrbit, Phil is able to continue his work in data specific tracking. WideOrbit has recently partnered with Donovan, which offers the potential to change how advertising is bought and sold and perhaps discover new ways to steward advertiser contracts. In this interview, Phil talks about WideOrbit, the greater role that data plays in the industry, set top box data’s potential and the future of media:

CW: Phil, let’s start with your background. How did you get to where you are today?

PA: I was with MSA (Management Science Associates) for about 17 years before joining WideOrbit. While I MSA we focused on applying software development and analytic expertise to business challenges in the media industry. I was able to work with each entity in the media supply chain; advertisers, agencies, content companies, media delivery companies, and a range of suppliers that supplied the glue to support and connect all the pieces. That experience probably gave me an appreciation for each of the pieces in this supply chain and their respective viewpoints and objectives.

CW: MSA is known for being the third party liaison between media sellers and buyers for tracking contracts and EDI. Do you see the relationship between sellers and buyers evolving as new technologies impact media measurement?

PA: In theory, improving technology will make it easier for buyers to measure the benefits they derive from a buy. Improving technology should both lend transparency and lower the cost of measuring new media. But, the pace of improvements is extremely slow and so the relationship between buyers and sellers does not seem to be changing much.

CW: Tell me about WideOrbit.

PA: WideOrbit is a software product company. We provide the back-end systems—mainly sales, traffic, and billing systems—to the media industry. Our clients include TV companies, radio companies, and mobile and advance advertising companies. We are the fastest growing supplier in our field thanks to our product innovations and customer service. We have recently rolled-out a new offering that is similar to an exchange where buyers and sellers can interact electronically. It’s called WO Central and offers real benefits to both buyers and sellers of television time. Others have tried this without success, but we plan to be the first to make it fly, especially given our large market share.

CW: What is WO Central and how does it work?

PA: WO Central is an electronic exchange that currently connects buyers and sellers of television time. It allows them to communicate and share data electronically to improve the efficiency of buying and selling time. The seller remains in control of their inventory and in what the buyer sees. WO Central authenticates and manages agency buyers across multiple media properties. A buyer can perform actions across the entire WideOrbit backbone infrastructure. Initial tasks a buyer can perform include: inspecting the traffic systems ‘view’ of an order; entering a new order; making requests for invoices; viewing of spots times; and entering, viewing and editing copy instructions. All of these actions are controlled via security within the WO Traffic network clients.

CW: Data and its various applications have tended to be back office in media. Do you see the role of data changing and if so, how?

PA: Just like in sports, the successful business leaders in all industries, including media, will be more analytic. This mindset should drive the demand for better software tools and analytic approaches (e.g., data modeling). Baseball and basketball coaches are now using statistics more than ever to pick players and make in-game decisions. The media industry is slowly evolving to do the same. Unfortunately, multi-million dollar decisions are still made based on experience and intuition.

CW: What could researchers do better to demonstrate the value of the data in major decision making?

PA: I don’t have any advice for researchers. My advice is for non-research managers to include their Research counterparts in more decisions, such as deciding how much inventory to allocate at a cable network to promotional time.

CW: Is WideOrbit currently using or planning to use set top box data?

PA: We are considering ways to leverage these data for the benefit of our clients.

CW; How do you think STB can be best used to supplement or even compete with the current television currency?

PA: STB data makes a lot of sense to me as a foundation for better measure of media consumption—a larger, more granular sample size. However, there will need to be a lot of cooks in that kitchen to make it the standard currency and each cook will want to get some compensation for their contribution. I’m therefore skeptical. Rentrak has made impressive strides in many areas as have others. Nielsen is very good at watching from the sidelines and making careful investments to retain their leadership position. But, that is getting harder for them to do.

CW: What do you think are the most dramatic changes in the industry in the past 5 years?

PA: The most dramatic thing is the lack of dramatic change. There’s a lot of potential that we have not realized. We will, but it takes a long time to turn a large industry. Addressable advertising will be the most dramatic change when we get there. The Canoe progress with RFI is a very good first step.

CW: What do you see on the horizon for the industry in the next five years?

PA: I think that we will still be working towards a broad scale addressable solution for advertisers. We will see the production of many iPad like devices to watch previews, watch content, control content, manage wireless networks, and much more. And we will see a new online network that’s a cross between Facebook, Wikipedia, and Youtube.

Interview conducted by Charlene Weisler, a research veteran, member of the Set Top Box Collaborative executive committee, the CTAM Research and Research Planning Committees and a CIMM consultant. She can be reached through her blog www.WeislerMedia.blogspot.com or at WeislerMedia@yahoo.com.

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