Driving Unification at FreeWheel
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Priti Dalal
By Priti Dalal,
Director, Sales Strategy & Enablement,
FreeWheel

The concept of unification and what it means for the premium video advertising industry is one of today’s hottest topics.  From changes in publishers’ businesses to how viewers are consuming content, the industry is driving towards buying and selling inventory in a holistic, unified manner across all screens. 

Among our customers, we have seen an increased shift towards the merging of digital and linear tech stacks and sales teams, primarily fueled by the desire to eliminate “swivel chair” workflows requiring multiple systems and disparate data sets.  In addition, we have witnessed the sell-sides’ growing need to manage reach and frequency holistically instead of in siloes by screen.  This would allow clients to optimize reach by engaging with the same audience across multiple platforms without compromising user experience.

The demand for unification of premium video has been further heightened by consumers’ changing behavior.  As viewers continue gravitating towards linear style content in digital, IP environments, a growing share of total monetization is taking place on over-the-top (OTT) and set-top-box video-on-demand (STB VOD) platforms that stream content directly to the television screen, thus delivering the living room experience.  The FreeWheel Video Monetization Report: Q2 2017 (launching September 28, 2017) shows 49% of total monetization took place on OTT and STB VOD devices. We have also seen unified deals making up a larger percentage of total sales as part of upfront deals.

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These actions and changes in user behavior are causing fundamental shifts within the premium video ecosystem.  The end result will be focused on allowing publishers and distributors to sell advertising how the buy-side is requesting – across screens without tech limitations.  But to get there, there is more to be done.  In this post, I will address FreeWheel’s approach to unification and highlight the major initiatives in place to achieving that end result.

FREEWHEEL’S UNIFICATION STRATEGY & CORE PILLARS

At FreeWheel, our unification strategy starts with inventory and sales channel unification, with focus on a single, unified ad management platform.  On top of this, we want to ensure that publishers can leverage data to plan and sell across any audience, currency, etc.  So, how are we doing this?  We are focused on executing against three key areas:

  • TECH: Deliver tech platforms to unify audiences across all screens
  • DATA: Enable data to work for planning, targeting, measurement, and insights across all screens
  • MARKETPLACES: Provide compliant marketplace solutions to automate demand that safely reaches audiences across all screens

By focusing on these core pillars, we are driving towards outcomes that truly matter to the industry including delivering quality scale, increasing the value of inventory, and providing controlled access across all demand channels. 

DRIVING UNIFICATION: DELINEATING BETWEEN THE BRAIN & WORKFLOW

We have a unique view within the industry on unification and think about it in two parts: the “brain” and workflow elements. 

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The Brain: Pricing & Yield, Market Demand, and Ad Operations are the core functional areas we are solving for.  Our Pricing & Yield offering provides insights into publishers’ inventory and revenue to maximize yield.  Market Demand provides compliant access to all demand channels while balancing inventory needs.  And, through our Ad Operations solution, publishers can access the best post-sales intelligence to inform other yield and inventory decisions.  Together, these functions form the brain, which is where intelligent ad decisions optimal for publishers’ businesses are made, allowing them to strike the right balance of maximizing the value of inventory, adhering to buyer or partner demands, and delivering a strong user experience (aka True Yield). 

The Workflow: Leveraging the brain for ad decisioning, however, is only one part of the equation; the other areas we are solving for such as Sales Planning, Tech Operations, and Finance, are crucial functions intended to help unlock the value of the brain.  In many ways, they serve as the workflow necessary to correspond with the brain and help it with not only making the smartest ad decisions, but also continuously optimizing and refining those decisions along the way.  For instance, having an order management system that communicates with the brain enables full pipeline management and provides a holistic view of one’s inventory.  The brain is then able to understand what orders can be fulfilled at various future periods and make ad decisions based on that information.

Together, the brain and workflow components seamlessly integrate with our ad decisioning to unify ad management experiences.  In contrast, upstream systems focused solely on order management lack the ability to continue optimizing once a decision has been made.  In order to truly unify, publishers and distributors need a holistic end-to-end platform that considers all factors when making decisions.

WHAT’S NEXT

As mentioned, there is more to be done.  Let’s take a look at some of FreeWheel’s ongoing efforts to solve for unification:

  • Unification of Inventory: We have always seen all screens – including linear – as just different endpoints.  Recently, we have been bringing together FreeWheel and Visible World assets to better offer inventory holders the ability to book a campaign in a single system and have that execute across all screens – digital, STB VOD, or linear – and do so with a unified reporting capability.
  • Unification of Demand: As industry trends continue shifting, we are focused on enabling the holistic management of direct sold and market generated demand in tandem. We are currently developing a single interface, including a natively integrated SSP, to manage all direct and third-party demand, and to have the ad server select the best deal for publishers, regardless of the sales channel.
  • Unification of Data: We will continue to focus on partnering with best in class data providers so that planning and execution functions share the same type of intelligence and work cohesively to make informed decisions across all screens. We are already seeing tangible progress through our close collaboration with MVPD customers to evaluate linear addressable use cases and define operational and technical requirements.

True unification means having a single platform and workflow ensuring maximum consistency across the entire pitch-to-pay workflow from planning to completion.  This is significant as it enables publishers to think about their entire inventory pool holistically vs. on a campaign by campaign basis, in order to maximize yield.  Most importantly, this will allow marketers and agencies to purchase advertising how they need to, while ensuring publishers can sell it seamlessly, without the hassle of technical and operational limitations the industry has traditionally encountered. 

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts tied to The FreeWheel Video Monetization Report: Q2 2017 and the FreeWheel Council For Premium Video that further address unification themes and trends we are seeing in market.

 Thank you to contributions from FreeWheel’s Linear Unification Squad, including Caitlin Roller, Commercial Specialist and Helen Drislane, Sr. Director, Product Management.  Interested in learning more about FreeWheel’s unification efforts?  Contact Caitlin Roller for more information.

 

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