The Digital Anthropologist: LiveRail’s Brian Kane on the Future of Video Ad Tech

Brian Kane was COO of LiveRail in 2012. This story originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2012

Brian Kane is the new COO of video advertising technology company, LiveRail. Mr. Kane was formerly COO at Admeld, and Google’s Director of Publishing Services prior to joining Admeld. Mr. Kane spoke with The Advertising Technology Review about LiveRail’s standing in the video advertising field, the risks of adopting the GRP and his belief that the infamous ad tech bubble might just be a myth.

Are we truly in an ad tech bubble? How far does ad tech have to go to convince the masses that it can deliver enough value to justify shifting more ad spend online?
First, as it relates to the idea of a bubble, I don’t necessarily think that we’re – meaning ad tech as a whole- in a bubble. It does seem that there are a number of companies which appear to be a bit more focused on their valuations, their raises and planning for their exits versus providing solutions to the market. The number of companies which are placing a value in excess of $1 billion on their companies is staggering. The fact is that those companies are talking about their exits, raises and valuations before they talk about sustainability of operations, and the value they are bringing to their customers. That’s the interesting piece. So that’s my definition of a bubble; it’s the state you’re in when you start worrying more about the exit then about creating something of real value. I’m pretty sure many would’ve said that at the time of Google’s acquisitions of Youtube or DoubleClick – that they were indicative of “bubble-like” conditions. Certainly not in retrospect. Increased numbers of acquisitions doesn’t equate to a bubble. Players were focused on exits rather than solutions; those are the cases where individual companies may be in a bit of a bubble. As for what we need to do to demonstrate to brands that there’s justification for moving more spend online, I think that as an industry its obviously important to continue to provide them with interesting and actionable sets of data to enable them to understand the ways in which their campaigns are impacting consumers. Online holds significant advantage in this area over every other medium, and our ability to educate brands on this is still – all these years later – central to our work. More importantly, we are recognising that as an industry we’re driving a huge amount of change in how things have been done for a long time. It’s not just “flick-a-switch” kind of change, but cultural change – the kind that takes longer to work through – the kind that causes people to do things and look at things very differently than they have in the past. I think it’s critical that in ad tech we recognise that we’re still moving people along a very rapidly moving continuum of deep change. Serving as trusted partners to these organisations, enabling them to make sense of technology which is complex and changing so quickly, has to remain core to what we do.

Video advertising is far more effective than traditional banner ads. Is this arena the next frontier for innovation in ad tech?

There are a handful of factors at play that make video advertising a particularly important area of ad tech innovation. In the early days of online advertising, one of the largest gating factors to bringing advertisers online was their relative lack of comfort in creating compelling creative in the absence of video. On the buy side of the ecosystem, all these years later, video still remains the format that advertisers gravitate towards and understand best. On the supply side, the number of video- enabled impressions has grown exponentially, and there’s a good amount of recent data that suggests that the proliferation of connected devices and tablets is going to have a substantial impact on the numbers of these impressions that will become available over the next few years. Equally important though are the technology solutions that have come to the market recently which have given advertisers and publishers really powerful tools to transact programmatically, at scale. Advertisers now have the ability to buy video placements via RTB leveraging really rich audience data – and publishers can now feel more confident and comfortable in selling their video inventory through these channels while maintaining tight control over who can buy and at what price. The advent of private exchanges has also brought a new buying model to bear, enabling premium publishers to lob off slices of inventory which are sold in programmatic fashion to a select pool of buyers. This innovation is the here and now. The next phase, which I think is really most interesting, is what will take place as more televisions become connected, and as tablet usage continues to explode. While it certainly is not the most scientific study, I’ve got 3 kids between ages of 5 and 7. Their first screen is their iPad, their second screen is their iMac, and the TV is last on their list. We’ve got a bit to go, but this trend will press our industry to create new ways for advertisers to connect with audiences and new ways to measure the success of those engagements. This has been substantiated recently in studies from Nielsen which found some significant shifts over the last few years as to the reduced importance of TV as the primary media consumption device. This is, to me, an exciting not-so-distant future state.

LiveRail manages more than 3 billion impressions per month, about 25 percent of all video ads. Based on your knowledge of the what major brands want, what trends do you see emerging in video ads?
I think there are two significant trends that are substantially shaping the video advertising industry today. The move today is towards audience-buying via real-time-bidding and the continued shift of consumers to devices apart from the television. This is prompting advertisers to focus significant effort on multi-platform buying. As real-time bidding and programmatic buying technologies advance, we’re seeing more large publishers and buyers adopt this technology. For publishers, the appeal of RTB has typically been the creation of more efficient ways to manage the non-guaranteed sales channel, in video, we believe that we are going to see more and more guaranteed deals executed via this new technology as agency trading desks build their video businesses, and as publishers begin to implement new models like private exchanges, for exposing this video inventory to buyers. Multi-platform is the other significant trend that’s driving substantial change across the video advertising space. As more content being delivered and consumed via tablets, and to a lesser degree, connected TVs, publishers and advertisers are looking for more efficient ways to manage advertising across these platforms. The other thing that is getting a good amount of attention is the focus on gross rating points (GRP), and whether this traditional media metric can be brought over into the online world as a measurement tool. As more TV buyers transition to the online space, GRP represents a familiar and useful metric for both planning and measurement, but the fear is that it doesn’t capture many of the nuances that differentiate online from other formats. The concern is that if our industry fully embraces GRP, we risk devaluing much of what makes online advertising unique. There are merits to both sides here. Stepping back from the granular details, development of an appropriate set of standards that deliver effective cross-platform insights to traditional TV buyers, while still respecting many of the unique aspects of online, would be a positive step forward for the industry.

Privacy and data are two big concerns for consumers and brands. How does LiveRail tackle these issues for clients?
Since we work with participants across the entire ecosystem– publishers, ad networks, DSP’s, trading desks, and agencies) we understand the complexities and concerns that come with privacy compliance and audience data from various perspectives.  Earlier this year, we worked with the leading technology vendors that specialise in these areas and created the Video Brand Safety Alliance. All members have native integrations in our platform and with one click, our clients can use TRUSTe and Evidon to address privacy and Exelate, Proximic, comScore, and AdSafe, and DoubleVerify to address audience data.

Brian Kane was Chief Operating Officer for LiveRail, a leading video advertising company.

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