After working at The New York Daily News for a few years as the Director of Ad Technology and Ad Operations, I realized that viewability is one of the most important metrics that the advertising industry has seen (that sure was a pun) since I joined the industry in 2010. This realization lead me to create Optimera, a suite of solutions for optimizing ad revenue.
If the term “viewability” is unfamiliar to you in the context of ads, then you’re either living in a bubble or are lucky enough to not work in advertising. However, you experience ad viewability every day, sometimes annoyingly so. The easy definition of viewability is whether or not an ad on a webpage has the opportunity to be seen. By opportunity, it means that if you use a web page normally, you will eventually see the ad in your browser window.
In the most innocent situations, all ads on a webpage have the potential to be viewable but are so far down on the page that they rarely are seen. In the most devious ways, publishers actually hide (read “hack”) ads from ever being viewed but the advertiser doesn’t know and still pays. Once ad buying technology evolved enough to be able to track this it made advertisers ask, “What are we really paying for?”
If you still don’t share my enthusiasm for viewability, let me let you in on a few statistics to win you over. Extremely generous metrics at the beginning of the decade had total viewability of all ads on the internet at between 46–69% viewable:
However, I can tell you it was actually around 30% once you stopped asking the limited pool of top tier publishers about their highly curated ad campaigns.
Consider for a moment that 70% of all ads on the internet were not seen but 100% were paid for by advertisers. Or another way to put it, in a 36 billion dollar a year industry, $25 billion was wasted.
We haven’t made much progress in the past few years either…
So, if this is such a problem, why don’t publishers just fix it? Well, for a myriad of reasons this is very difficult. Some of the biggest reasons are they can’t redesign their sites overnight. Even if they could, there are still a lot of editorial, product, and internal politics restrictions on where ads can be on the page. Not to mention, the most premium part of a webpage should be where the content lives. To complicate matters even further, ads at the top of the page are sometimes the least viewable. So, while publishers can slightly optimize the placements of ads on their site, there really is no solution that scales well.
Fine, but there must be a vendor who came up with a brilliant solution already then right? You’d figure that. Companies like Google, Moat, and Integral Ad Science all tried different approaches to solving this problem. However, they failed to understand that all publishers don’t operate the same. Each publisher has their own sensitivities around accuracy, performance, pricing, and ease of use. I can tell you from personal first hand experience that all of these vendors failed. Failed to provide a smart product and failed to listen to publisher’s needs.
Okay, great, “So what?” you might be asking. You don’t really like ads and this wasted money has no effect on your life, right? Actually, you’re wrong. As advertisers became more savvy, they were able to tell publishers to meet higher standards of viewability. However, this wasn’t an easy thing for the website owners to accomplish; especially for long established ones like those that run newspapers. This lack of agility from the publishers means less advertising dollars which in turn means less money being put towards quality content. As that revenue dries up, what used to be your favorite website for hard hitting local news coverage now can only afford to recycle “Top Ten Ways to Take a Selfie With Your Cat” articles. Meanwhile, media, the very infrastructure that keeps our democracy in check, erodes away.
Watching the editorial team slowly wither away during my time at the Daily News left an impression on me. I felt it was really my mission to run our team as efficiently as possible in order to maintain revenue in a time where publisher digital revenues continued to slip further down the slope. One strategy that we strove to employ was making more with less. Rather than jamming more ads on the page, we were very thoughtful about how we could do more with what was already there.
For instance, while searching for a solution on how we could meet the advertiser’s viewability demands, I started thinking about what I could build myself to solve our problem. Over the course of a weekend I built a demonstration of an idea I had and before I knew it, I was asked to participate in the NY Daily News Innovation Lab and so started my journey with Optimera.
The New York Daily News Is Incubating An Ad-Tech Startup Called Optimera
The second startup participating in the New York Daily News' Innovation Lab began at the Daily News itself. Optimera…
Okay, you’ve stuck with me this far. Now you’ve earned the joy of learning all about Optimera. Get pumped and I’ll bestow the title of honorary ad ops professional upon you.
This revenue increase has as much to do with the technology as it does to the guidance I provide using the depth of my understanding in the space. It also means that the publisher can hold on to more business because it is meeting and exceeding the buyer’s key performance metrics. Optimera is also able to do this at a fraction of the cost of competitors in the space who only offer clunky manual solutions that cost on the order of tens of thousands of dollars.
However, enriching the ad platform’s data set is only the start. By building a rock solid product and nurturing trust with my clients I have started to see other opportunities where I can help. My goal is to build an amazing suite of revenue optimization products at a price point far below anyone else in the industry. I believe it is important to help publishers put more money into their newsrooms and content production rather than supporting yet another business platform.
While I don’t want to put all of my cards on the table, I do see amazing opportunities in the future. These include the essentially untapped market of viewable video advertising, page design recommendation tools, dynamic page re-design, predictive viewability scoring, and creating marketplaces around high demand inventory. All of these ideas share the same theme of taking what the publisher already has and just making it work better. Automation and optimization are the ethos of what Optimera brings to the table with the publisher’s POV front and center.
I am really excited to start my journey with Matter because I appreciate the aligned sentiment around the importance of supporting great journalism. I’m hopeful that my work to innovate how publishers monetize content allows them to spend less time thinking about how to optimize revenue and more time focusing on building a more connected and well-informed society.