Prepare for Programmatic Imperialism. Q&A with Eric Bosco

ChoiceStream CEO Eric Bosco believes that the media industry will soon be entirely programmatic. “We are definitely headed toward programmatically traded media in other channels like TV, print and outdoor” he says. 

In this interview, Bosco talks about the evolution of ad tech as it will impact television, the impact of connected TV and the best metrics needed for accurate measurement. The world is evolving at an ever increasing rate.

CW: What is your background - how did you get to where you are today?

EB: I joined AOL in August 1996 as a unix programmer. During the development of AOL’s Instant Messenger product, with the help of a strong team, we launched the instant messenger product with the little yellow man that we recognize today, a product that took AOL by surprise with its popularity at the time.
Over the next 14 years, I filled a number of different roles at a variety of companies that informed my knowledge of advertising. In 2010 I joined ChoiceStream, then a personalization software company, as COO. In 2013 I was made CEO, a position in which I pivoted the company into one that made it simple for advertisers to automatically bid on digital ads.
CW: Tell me about your current job and current company.

EB: I am currently CEO of ChoiceStream. There are two sides to a startup – the problem-solving, innovation-focused aspect to the curve, and the mining, harvesting and plateau stage where incremental changes are made to make a product or service more efficient. The ad tech industry evolves every day, and companies are challenged to address the changing needs of their clients.  My role is to maintain a strong image of where ad tech is headed.

CW: Where is ad tech headed?

I predict that migration to programmatic will continue.  Today, marketers are embracing the basic benefits of efficiency and scale for basic media channels like online display, video. They do this through DSPs and programmatic direct deals. Moving forward, brands will continue to adopt programmatic and will progress to more optimized one-to-one approaches.  We are definitely headed toward programmatically traded media in other channels like TV, print, outdoor, etc.

CW: Is your company similar to programmatic?

We are all about programmatic.  ChoiceStream provides the efficiency and scale of programmatic media buying, but we provide additional programmatic capabilities as well.  We complement brand and third party data with our Pollshare platform, which collects consumers’ self-declared preferences and intents.  We also have the ability to personalize creative with our programmatic ads.  However, our core, what really makes us stand out in the programmatic arena, is Thunderdome, our meta-algorithm that identifies and applies the best of thousands of different algorithms throughout each campaign.

CW: If so how do you fit in the media ecosystem with areas such as television – do you see an expansion here?

We definitely see expansion in television.  ChoiceStream’s technical stack is media agnostic.  That is, we apply the same real-time data and optimization across display, video, mobile, and native.  As programmatically traded TV becomes increasingly available, we will optimize those buys with all of the same data and technology.

CW: How will connected TV’s impact your business?

Via our Pollshare platform, we already collect a large amount of TV show viewership information that allows us to find specific TV audiences online.  This has helped our advertisers to make the jump from TV to digital. Connected TVs will allow us to go in the other direction and use the large amount of consumer data we have in the digital world to make TV ads more relevant to those consumers.   This possibility is very exciting since it can marry the wonderful branding impact TV ads have with the richness of targeting based on the data that brands have come to require in digital.

CW: What metrics do you use?

A majority of our business is done on a CPM basis with a wide variety of backend metrics like percent of new customers, registrations, checkout value, etc.  That said, we can support any metric that makes sense for our clients, including Master Service Agreements (MSAs) like those we have in place for a few of our bigger partners.

CW: How do you optimize campaigns?

Optimization has been central to ChoiceStream’s vision from the very beginning.  We started development on an architecture that has since let us run multiple algorithms at the same time and deploy new ones any time.  That advantage led to the development of Thunderdome, which now powers our campaigns.  Thunderdome operates thousands of algorithms continually on every campaign.  These algorithms specialize in dense data, sparse data, or previous campaign data and can even factor in the the disruption of real-world events.  Whenever any algorithm rises to the top, it is activated until some other algorithm beats it out.  The effect is similar to playing best-ball in golf.  Many golfers playing best-ball will beat the world’s best golfer every time.

CW: If you were at a television network, would you start the sales shift to programmatic and if so, how could you maintain the cpms?

EB: I would certainly start the sales shift.  There are many excellent reasons to shift to programmatic, but the most immediate would be to figure out the space, possibly even to contribute to shaping it while it is still malleable.  Any television network that ventures into programmatic for the first time a year or two from now will be riding the coat tails of their competitors.  The CPMs will do exactly what they did in online display when that business became programmatic - they will dip a little short term, then they will recover.  Of course, every programmatic platform supports floors and floors can be used to prop up pricing, but I don't think CPMs are the issue.  If CPMs drop a bit while volumes climb, net revenue won't be impacted.  Programmatic is sure to bring a whole set of new advertisers to TV while it brings engaging TV ads to 1:1 advertising.  I think everybody wins from that.

CW: What do you see as the drawbacks to programmatic?

EB: I honestly don't see any drawbacks to programmatic.  Programmatic is additive.  It opens new possibilities to publishers and advertisers alike.  If leveraging one of the new capabilities requires expertise or risk that you don't want to deal with, you can always pass on that feature while still taking advantage of others.

CW: What is your definition of television?

EB: Since there is a thing called video, and now this thing called television is adapting many of the advanced transactional models that were once exclusive to video, I'll go with a definition that helps differentiate the two.  Television is produced content that is owned by the media company and monetized by advertising.  Video is shorter in format and may be user generated, but is also ad supported.  In contrast, a film, a movie, or a series can be accessed on the same devices as TV and video, but these are monetized by subscription. Finally, cinema is viewed in a dedicated venue and monetized by admission fees.  It seems to boil down to monetization models, which is why some of these definitions may converge in the near future.

CW: Give me some predictions for how the media landscape will look five years from now.

EB: In the next five years we will continue to see a shift in ad tech as it relates to marketing technology. Companies are expanding their capabilities to become integrated marketing platforms. Enterprise software companies like Oracle, SAP and IBM are increasingly becoming involved with helping CMOs in a way similar to that of ad tech agencies. Oracle’s acquisition of Datalogix back in January is proof positive of this trend toward all-encompassing marketing solutions. Similarly, ad tech solutions platforms like ours are strengthening our marketing arm on both sides of the equation – while we partner with many advertising and media agencies, we also work directly with brand marketing leadership, serving them as a programmatic marketing platform.

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