In our fourth episode of The Bullet, we speak with Bill Swanson, an experienced strategist within the digital space with unparalleled expertise. Bill’s impressive CV spans across leadership roles at the likes of PubMatic, Teleria and most recently universal video intelligence platform, IRIS.TV.In this episode we unpick the world of video, and how businesses across the board can unlock the potential it offers as it fast becomes one of the biggest sectors of the industry.

Bill Swanson on Contextual Targeting, Connected TV and Changing Consumer Habits.Q: It’s no surprise to anyone that consumer habits have drastically shifted over the last year. What changes did you see with your clients in terms of their business strategies – and was there a willingness to adapt and react quickly to the unprecedented change?

A: IRIS TV’s clients are publishers, broadcasters and CTV type platforms. The change they all had was an increase in consumption of their content. It is a big tick for them being seen by more eyeballs. What we are seeing again in studies on this, is there was no real result in a proportional move of ad dollars to those eyeballs, and that’s still shifting sand in terms of how that moves over. Therefore, the change in buyers and advertisers habits didn’t result in improved revenues to the publishers.

It was quite well covered in terms of push due to a lot of the news being considered negative. Not only do we have COVID, but we also had Trump and all the stories around him. There was buyer-side nervousness on top of supply-side frustration, from an IRIS perspective. This helps highlight the importance of context in general, and not everything is negative.

There were brand safety concerns around negative sentiments, and negative context within the videos. What we need to consider is not all news is bad news. A lot of technologies, IRIS.TV being one, have to rise to get solutions in place to make sure the dollars follow the eyeballs as the consumer shifts to these types of new platforms and new consumption habits.

Q: Many execs believe that Connected TV has the potential to revolutionise the TV ad market – driving convergence between TV and digital, opening up the market to streaming services, and creating new opportunities for addressable advertising. What opportunities are you seeing resonate the most with your clients, and where do you see the future going?

A: Our clients on the supply side are hoping money will come their way, and are looking for solutions to put in place to execute sending more ad dollars to them. A lot of these CTV platforms are keen for the continued evolution, consumption of effects, TV quality, production, and programming by these streaming services, which will encourage marketers and brands to move their money.

At the executive level, there’s the potential there to revolutionise the TV ad market. The opportunity is always there and if you track the evolution over time, in terms of advertising spend, it always follows the eyeballs, or for podcasts follow ears. Podcasting has grown, there is more advertising coming to those. It’s a different way of engaging with users using the technologies out there.

I’d say the future is playing out at different speeds in different regions. Again, we are a US company, now we’ve opened up our EMEA business, and EMEA has different regions, different regulations and competition rules. Then you got the walled gardens as well and different types of infrastructure dynamics. These have impacts along the top of how the agencies and their buyers for their clients can shift that spend over to where those eyeballs are on that engaged audience. CTV will drive that and revolutionise TV ad markets.

It’ll take longer than anyone would ever wish it to, because a lot of content creators in the space are spending a lot of money to create content, and not necessarily seeing, particularly in the AVOD space, the ad dollars following. It will come and technologies such as 4D and who we partner with, Silverbullet and IRIS can help in terms of that evolution.

Q: Contextual video has seen a resurgence in the wake of the third-party cookie demise. Yet, contextual targeting back in the day was deemed a simple keyword-based targeting and blocking tool. What advancements are you seeing in contextual video and what can brands expect for the future?

A: From where IRIS.TV sits, we’d say that context is key, and the demise of the third party cookie is accelerating the need and interest in contextual solutions. With the demise of third-party cookies, there are lots of different solutions people are looking at. This causes some confusion in the short term regarding what metrics people are going to target against. But contextual targeting is not new.

With CTV, there are no cookies, it’s a cookie-less environment, but in the OLV, online video, there are still cookies. The way you’d buy digital, you’ve seen video be the same and it is we’re using the cookie. With CTV there are no cookies, there are no URLs. People have to adapt their buying habits around that. Again, that’s where we think contextually to be able to offer contextual targeting is key. Traditional contextual solutions are not new and they are looking at page-level details.

They’re scraping a page, they’re looking at the page, they’re pulling out keywords, and identifying through those keywords several identifiers help devise a type of target against it. A video doesn’t have words. Our marketing people say the text is worth 100 words, a picture’s worth 1000 words and a video is worth a million words. You’ve got a million words to basically in effect contextualise, therefore you can get a more granular and targeted buy on behalf of your clients.

Technologies improved, what IRIS.TV does is give video level data analysis, we get verified by third-party sources. The partnership we have with Silverbullet is utilising the latest and greatest in terms of AI, machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing. All these other technologies sit alongside what is traditional contextual targeting. This has evolved a lot in terms of the video space and gets you to a far more granular level, which then hopefully gives the buyers and their clients a far more brand-safe and targeted buying opportunity. The opportunity in CTV is huge, it’s still new, contextual will help. Technology continues to evolve at massive rates.

IRIS sits in a pretty unique position in the ecosystem and promotes IRIS around all of this. Its key people understand most solutions out there in the marketplace around contextual are looking at the page level, they don’t look at the video level. Most of the providers out there don’t have access to the actual content asset. IRIS clients are the publishers, the broadcasters, we have a direct feed from those publishers, so we can get the full knowledge and understanding of those videos.

When we work with the likes of 4D, we can then pass information to them, allowing them to further contextualise and offer sub-segments the buyers recognise and understand at a video level detail, rather than an assumed page level detail. This is the more traditional side of it. It’s different in terms of where we sit which is on the supply side, offering solutions to the buy-side to target a far more granular level.

Q: Today we exist in a very nuanced world; a polarized world where brands have to be on top of their game when it comes to brand safety and suitability. When we think about the pandemic and political unrest, brands need to be confident their brand is placed in a respectful environment to reflect their brand ethics. How can video advertisers make sure they combat these issues?

A: It starts with transparency, this is where context can play a key part in helping brands gain confidence in the video and see environments are not only brand-safe but far more granular in their targeting and execution. The ad is directly linked to the contents and the granularity of the information then helps with the brand safety concerns that the buyers have. I mentioned earlier in terms of stories around Trump and COVID. There are positive stories, not around Trump, but positive stories around COVID in terms of vaccines coming out, solutions coming out. Certain advertisers and brands would probably want to be around that content, it is going to draw a lot of eyeballs and it’s a good news story.

There are blockers and other technologies that suppliers use. I say, suppliers, I mean the publishers and the broadcasters still have to make sure they’re blocking ads or potential money, because of the fear around unsafe content. Therefore, video advertisers, in particular, using contextual solutions at a granular level, can also help get over some of those concerns around brand ethics and concerns the buyers and clients have.

The agency is making sure that they’re doing well for their clients. They’re also conversations around the audience ID solutions. This is something that’s come out pre demise of the cookie, audience ID is looking in terms of how you can leverage data that’s out there to address the fact cookies are disappearing.

They’re about 80 solutions out there in the market at the moment. That’s going to take time to settle down, you can’t have 80 solutions that offer a buyer and a seller, a type of mutual metric they can trade off. It’s an improvement in terms of looking at solutions post cookie which allows brands a more targeted and safe way of buying. We think IRIS.TV, and where 4D sits as well, assists in the contextual side, most definitely, it can sit alongside that or separate. But offers a far more brand-safe and targeted way of buying at a micro-level.

Q: I imagine many brands are struggling right now as they decide whether they should or shouldn’t abandon advertising ties with the walled gardens, and how to combat some of the backlash against social giants. In your opinion, how can brands overcome the lack of transparency when trying to navigate this side of the spectrum?

A: Walled gardens are somewhat of a black box. It’s a closed ecosystem where the rules of engagement are determined by the owners, and therefore transparency is an inherent problem, it’s a big unknown. They do offer huge scale, in many instances, they can offer that transparency. By offering a huge scale, it means from a buyer’s perspective, you can get campaigns away to perceived relevant audiences. As you mentioned, there are inherent concerns around what happens within walled gardens, and the content in there. Looking at YouTube, it had concerns with cookies going away, the control of the content, where the ad is going to appear – big concerns around that.

To operate outside of these walled gardens, brands need to be provided with credible reach to market and tangible paths to transparency and metrics transparency. In terms of being transparent, the programmatic landscape hasn’t necessarily helped itself over the last 13 years. Ultimately, the rise of programmatic trading is pipework that should provide full transparency. There’s been too many players and bad players in the space that should’ve stopped that happening.

This allowed the walled gardens to offer a credible and scaled solution. As more focus is on the programmatic landscape, we’re seeing that market consolidate somewhat and grow massively. For them to continue to grow, there needs to be increasingly more transparency in terms of where they operate.

Brands need to embrace context, which we think is a primary data filter to their targeting and buying needs. These context signals enable buyers via programmatic pipes to target with greater precision and get better ROI in terms of their spending. We know from speaking to senior leaders they need to have proof points, because they are spending their brand’s money wisely, this has always been the case.

As they’re looking at CTV environments, the growing space there, and making sure they’re moving and looking to shift money out of the walled gardens, how can they do it in a brand-safe world at scale? Programmatic pipes allow that to happen. Using other solutions, ours and others out there can help them return to their clients and prove they’ve got ROI outside of the walled gardens. This will help publishers outside of that space to succeed and do well. Then they have to produce good content to advertise on their good content. We as a company highlight that content and context to enable this type of value add purchase to happen.

Q: With the rise of video, and the various channels that sit within this space – Broadcaster VOD, CTV, online video, linear TV, the list goes on – how are you seeing your client measure attribution? What are businesses such as IRIS.TV doing to support this fragmented ecosystem?

A: It is fragmented; part of what the IRIS.TV solution is to build video level data, aka contextual solution, to address the fragmentation of the ecosystem which exists due to the lack of attribution available. These are growing audiences and growing consumption platforms. Our clients are all those businesses you have mentioned above Broadcast VOD, online video and they continue to grow as the route to the market barrier to entry is relatively low.

Our clients are looking for ways to make their ad dollars attractive to the buy-side, as this further fragments, it makes it difficult to then identify where the relevance is for them as a buyer. For this to be accountable, we see the need to work with partners such as 4D who have addressable targetable contextual segments. The buy-side can readily identify and buy with confidence the supply they’re targeting via what IRIS.TV does in the background. It all needs to be trackable or needs to be measurable and addressable. The buyers can prove that back to their clients.

The technologies out there now and have evolved, are allowing these fragmented ecosystems to be targeted at a far more granular level. Therefore, you don’t have to buy on one particular site or one particular platform, you can address, whatever the campaign parameters are across a bunch of different sites, platforms, broadcasters, to address the needs of that particular campaign.

To use an example, if Nike is looking to target sports lovers aged X to Y, who are buying in a brand-safe environment around particular contents. In basic terms, it doesn’t have to be just on one TV channel or show. What IRIS.TV does is go here’s all the sports content and football content and whatever the buyer may particularly need, you can categorise it all into a PNP. They can then execute it across the relevant contextual segments across the audiences identified by the likes of 4D, because that’s what the buyers are used to targeting and buying. The ecosystem might be fragmented. But it’s a very targeted buyer in terms of the relevance of the content where that’s going to sit around.

Q: In conjunction with the rise in contextual targeting and new brand safety measures, brands are looking at ways to enhance the power of their first-party data. How do you see both first-party data and context working in tandem to support video advertisers with cookies going away?

A: First-party data is important, and media should be providing more data to marketers. The challenge is going to be doing it in a privacy-first secure way, looking at all the regulations that are out there and continuing to evolve and be secure on the terms that maximise the value of that media. Marketers utilising the currencies they value,such as trusted third parties like Silverbullet is key in recognising the partners are out there and parties out there that can then help them target around relevant data sources they’re happy with.

Our job at IRIS.TV is to be the bridge that enables the value of first-party data to truly be unleashed by securely onboarding it, enabling trusted third parties access, analysing, segmenting in a way that provides marketers transparency with what the publishers trust. First-party data and context working in tandem is key because people want to understand the audiences, they also want to understand the context. There’ll be instances where it might just be an audience buy or context buy, but the more you work with both of those and the more target it’s going to be and then hopefully more brand-safe it is on behalf of the buyers, the clients at the agencies.

Q: IRIS.TV recently announced that it is supporting the industry-wide initiative to develop and deploy Unified ID 2.0, an initial development led by The Trade Desk, which offers a new open-source industry-wide approach to internet identity that preserves the value of relevant advertising while putting user control and privacy at the forefront. What encouraged you and the IRIS.TV team to decide to support this initiative?

A: Firstly we are keen to support industry initiatives which push for cleaner and more transparent routes to market for buyers and sellers. We know the market is evolving, it is a great initiative. Trade Desk has passed over to pre-bid and they kicked that off. They’ve got good clout, great kudos in markets, it has helped get that going. IRIS.TV has always had a close relationship with Trade Desk. We’re more than happy to be involved and feel our unique expertise and video level data tied into Unified ID probably further down the line. It can help in terms of using that as an identifier, which will help target around the contextual side of things as well within the unified ID. As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of ID solutions out there, it doesn’t mean there’s going to be one definite winner.

We felt this one had many people backing it, many people are already involved in it. We will get involved in other ID solutions. Because we want to make sure the market continues to evolve and the different ID solutions will be used by different buyers and sellers. We felt this is a great initiative and one IRIS.TV is happy to get behind and ID Solutions are going to be part of the future for buyers and sellers as the cookie crumbles. This is important, context is also an essential component of identity and with more people watching on shared devices, as well as a prioritisation on privacy, it’s going to be hard to respond to people based only on signals. Therefore, context is going to be a key part.

To summarise, Unified ID plus video level contextual targeting, which IRIS.TV provides will help benefit buyers. We also have our ID, which is an IRIS ID, which allows buyers to target by pre-bid, we see that as something that will help the ecosystem, it isn’t an audience ID. But it is a type of a unique ID allowing buyers to target on a contextual level that can sit along with the Unified ID 2.0 or any other solution. There’s no one clear play at the moment, as I say, the buy-side is still trying to work out how best to work in particular CTV environments. With a cookie crumbling as well, it is changing buyers habits and workflows internally within the agencies.

Q: As we look ahead to the next 12-24 months, what would you say the biggest trends are for the video landscape?

A: Even though we’ve gone through all the problems in terms of internally within agencies and changing consumer habits, they continue to put money into video and CTV will happen. The need for the premium inventory to be discoverable, and addressable is going to be key to us and others trying to make sure that solution that’s in place, as that money shifts the buyers can buy the confidence. The buyers continue to look outside the walled gardens for brand-safe, premium inventory. It is not going to be a sudden shift of money moving from the walled gardens, but there’s more awareness in terms of not necessarily wanting to have all their money being spent in the walled garden space. Context is becoming a key part of the overall buying strategy from brands and their agencies. The shift will pick up the pace, particularly as people want to get back into the offices post-COVID. This helps us generally in conversations and moving solutions forward. The world consumption of content and movement from linear to other platforms has been accelerated and the ad dollars are trying to find a quick route to find the way they can buy it in a more addressable and targeted way. This will gain more speed.

Q: Final thoughts, having a senior leadership role in arguably one of the fastest growing sectors of our industry, what do you think is key for success in your role? 

A: Transparency generally because we touch all sides of the market. As I mentioned in the beginning, our clients are publishers, and broadcasters. We also have good relationships and partnerships with the likes of Silverbullet 4D and others. We also have to educate massively in terms of what’s happening in the marketplace.

Education, openness and importantly, awareness from an IRIS.TV perspective of why do we exist? Why are we here, we’re here to fix a problem where we think within a fast-evolving ecosystem, there is a huge gap in terms of confidence in terms of how people can buy on target CTV and, in particular, also the changing video landscape. My role is more about building out a team and building out the business in EMEA. But it’s communicating the problems we think are out there as to why IRIS.TV exists, and what the solution is to those problems. We are one part of that solution. This huge ecosystem we’re speaking to, but it’s an education thing.

At PubMatic we launched the PubMatic Academy with the main reason to educate the market in terms of why PubMatic existed at a particular point in time. It was really to say we are a programmatic solution to help you as a publisher, monetise your inventory. Programmatic was relatively new then, publishers are trying to work out why they had to work with programmatic partners and SSPs. What are all these new acronyms that come into the marketplace? This helped in terms of education.

IRIS.TV educates the market in terms of why we’re here, why we exist, what the problem is that we’re trying to solve and trying to bring the market up to speed as quickly as we can. Not only does it help us as a business, but also helps to solve a lot of the problems we see further down the line in terms of addressability. Also in terms of measurability of buying and executing CTV campaigns in a growing ecosystem of supply. This is fast-growing, highly relevant and engaging from the consumer perspective, but isn’t necessarily getting the ad dollars coming to them yet.