Live from Austin: The PubForum 39 Live Blog

The PubForum 39 Live Blog

The AdMonsters crew is in force in Austin, TX, for our 39th Publisher Forum. We have a slightly larger group of attendees than we historically have had, the agenda has some longer session (with more group participation) than in the past–so there’s a bit of a charge in the air with all the newness.

We’ll be live blogging the event while we’re here, so you can follow along wherever you are. And here we go…

9:05 am: Rob Beeler has taken the dais to welcome everyone to the biggest PubForum yet (this is the most attendees we’ve had so far). Quite a few newbies this time as well, as we found out yesterday evening during dinner. High enthusiasm among the n00bz.

9:09: “The competition is the complexity in the marketplace.” A selection from Rob’s Greatest Hits, or Rob’s Evergreen Mantras.

9:24: Gavin Dunaway and Newsy General Manager Blake Sabatinelli are onstate for. Blake explains Newsy’s format, on-demand short- and long-form video content. The on-demand economy is transforming video, and traditional media sources are noticing they’re losing millennial viewers. But Newsy’s offering is not “one-size-fits-all.” The viewer can manage it.

9:28: Blake’s media background: He started in local TV, got into front-end web work, and worked his way up through E.W. Scripps. He came to Newsy via Digital Solutions, the company’s startup incunator.

9:30: Where’s the traffic coming from? Well, Newsy was a mobile company until about 18 months ago, and has been moving into OTT since. Users will watch 27 minutes of content on Roku, 56 on linear.

9:32: Because of mobile/iPad focus (Newsy was one of the first iPad news apps), they have a “slighty older” audience and are “very into the millennial majority” at this point.

9:33: What drove Newsy into linear? It’s “where the audience is going. Everyone wants to be on the large screen.” Brands want that presence, in spite of the “black box” nature of managing/analyzing data. First Newsy cable deal goes live on Sept. 1.

9:34: Can anyone get into OTT? Depends on the platform. There’s a barrier to entry in that creating content is expensive. Barrier to entry in OTT is high, which is why Newsy thinks it’s an appealing platform. Blake expects there will be some consolidation in the next three to five years with OTT.

9:36: “There’s still a great deal of people who just want to sit down and watch something.” That’s what drove Newsy’s curation service, curating 60 minutes of content. Blake said he sometimes just wants to be told what to watch because of the number of choices available. Newsy has even made OTT service “more linear-first.”

9:38. Rob is asking Blake about the operations angle–ops teams learning “new languages,” communicating with advertisers. Blake says, “We try to do everything in a digital manner,” which means a CPM basis. The idea is to make the work “as easy as possible” for their teams. That also means finding the specialists for each field. As Rob points out, that means not everyone is expected to be experts in everything, which is not always the way ops plays out.

9:40: The content is “very traditional architecture,” using Scripps backend, which Blake says was a benefit of being part of a larger org. Everythign is “stitched on the fly” from there.

9:41: Newsy was launched as “all programmatic, all the time.” Blake says they started 100% programmatic and worked their way backwards. It took six months to figure out how to do programmatic to their satisfaction in linear. They’re working with (Blake’s estimation) 36 demand partners, a lot of open marketplace deals with some PMPs. PMPs are “the closest things we can get to direct sales in programmatic.” There are challenges in starting at zero and ending at your goal, and there are challenges in communicating the reality of that situation to other teams.

9:45: What data can you get out of the OTT black box? Blake says they’re always looking to partners to help manage that.

9:46: You need to offer value to the user if you want more user data to help with cross-platform optimization. Newsy “struggles to find that tangible value.” News is a challenge because users can find news anywhere. He says Newsy has a lot of people authenticating on  desktop and mobile, but not as many who are customizing content. “It’s tough to get inside the brain of a news consumer, speaking as one myself.”

9:48: How about ad quality concerns? Audio is a concern, and that’s one thing that needs to be addressed through largely manual processes. Blake says that in programmatic, tracking down a bad ad can be a more manual process than anything else.

9:50: Newsy had their first upfront this year, following two years of being on the list. They had three and a half weeks to plan an event in New York City. Blake says it was like planning a wedding, but they got good leads out of it and were satisfied with the way it went. It was “a total 180 from what we normally do” in terms of how deals come about in a programmatic setting. Having the right people on their team was very beneficial.

9:54: Selling against demos is a new thing for Newsy. It’s a good opportunity, Blake says, in cases like where one advertiser wanted to buy 25-34s and another wanted to buy 18-24s. They could have those conversations at the same time.

9:56: Any native sponsored content? You’ll see it when it’s there, Blake says. It’ll be about 20% of Newsy’s ad revenue next year, very much in demand from advertisers. Blake says he’s “a big church and state guy,” and sponsored content is developed by a distinct sponsored content team.

9:57: “If there’s somewhere to watch something, we want to be there.” Newsy is on about 600 platforms, as a result, says Blake, and each one is different. DMP is helpful with off-site distribution. Editorial is looking at ways to get content spread farther. “There’s nothing wrong with sharing videos,” Blake says. “We see syndication as a marketing opportunity.”

10:00: Ad frequency issues? Ops works hard to cap inventory, but it’s a challenge. Users complain when the same ad comes up too frequently. But this is a problem in linear, too. “Moms are important. That’s what I found out by watching the Olympics,” Blake quips.

10:05: Ian Davidson from OpenX is taking the dais to present OpenX’s sponsor session about “Real-Time Guaranteed and the Evolution of Deal ID.”

10:08: Why wait to find the advertiser’s audience? Start there instead. This is a challenge, not necessarily the way publisher do this with their current workflow.

10:09: Guarantees make things predictable. Most people are sticking to the model where the advertiser gets 100% in programmatic guaranteed. But RTB tells us there’s power in enabling choice on the advertiser’s side. Flexibile guarantees can be helpful.

10:11: Why do anything less than 100% fill? Allows advertisers to optimize for changes in real-time. Also lets DSPs re-allocate spend in smaller digits and across more places digitally.

10:16: Publishers need a sort of escrow system for audience. The publisher can forecast in much the same way they can in direct. That allows for seasonal shifts in the marketplace.

10:18: You need to empower choice and assure guarantees for both publisher and advertiser.

10:20: The goal/problems OpenX is addressing: CPM predictability, more efficient buying models with increased fill rates, and direct relationships between buyers and selelrs.

10:22: Rob is asking Ian about reconciling the granularity of targeting with the desire for performance, on the advertiser side. Ian said an audience sync will help, versus PMPs (which he says should be layered on top). The DSP might need to alter their algorithm to assure higher fill rates, he adds. That’s a conversation for pubs to have with DSPs. Combining different publishers’ inventory to assure scale in niche audiences could be an opportunity.


1:32 pm: We’re back in the main room, where Rob and Gavin are revealing some of the highlights of an exercise we unleashed on work groups last night before dinner: We asked each group to come up with an idea for a startup that would solve the one problem that everyone in the group was tearing their hair out over. 

1:35: First up? The viewability workgroup gave us AdMobsters: Every ad will be viewable, guaranteed. Discrepancies are a huge pain point in viewability meaurement. And publishers feel like the onus is on them to manage viewability, when in fact it affects everyone. “If you can figure out how to monetize discrepancies, like a discrepancy network, we’d have something,” Rob jokes.

1:40: Next up–the “small and mid-size teams” workgroup came up with Smooth Operations: “We will find your ad ops unicorn.” Okay, so, ops recruitment! There’s no specific app for recruitment and testing, which would be helpful. “So I’m hearing, like, and ad ops Tinder,” says Rob. Maybe there’s a part ops can play as a group to communicate ops needs to HR?

1:43: Third idea: Pagelytics–page layout analytics for UX and revenue generation. After all, you typically have to break those two factors apart separately.

1:46: Fourth–Eyeball: “Machine-learning viewabiity prediction in real time.” “Good, you’ve got almost every term you need in there for a startup,” Rob quips. The idea is you have a container for all the viewability companies to forecast viewability.

1:49: Fifth idea–TacoTech: “Lettuce beef up your ad products and wrap it in a turnkey solution.” This one had an interesting core premise that piqued our curiosity: “No integration of third-party ad products.” How’s that work? Well, the idea would be to connect publishers with the right vendors, or other resources, to develop custom ad products from scratch. You need a frame of reference, an accelerator.

1:52: Sixth idea–S2N (Soup to Nuts): “A self-identifying program that allows consumers to opt in to additional services and rewards.” The group had talked about their efforts in acceleration membership, and how they didn’t work.

1:53: Seventh–Pixel Control: “Viewability into pixels that are rolled into third-party tags.” Discrepancies, again, are an ops problem, and often you have to buffer to deliver in full. The concept is that the publisher should be able to see the pixels that are wrapped, then wrapped again. It’s not just tag management, but tag prioritization.

1:56: Eighth–Loose Sense: “Offering transparency by eliminating the guesswork to scale PMP buys.” Sounds vaguely familiar to what some folks have been hearing from vendors, no? The challenge (well, one challenge) is trusting who you put into the unified interface.


3:30 pm: We’re coming back now from a really solid round of breakaway sessions, which we can’t tell you about right now on account of the fact that the whole point of breakaways is that publishers can speak candidly about their experiences in a confidential setting. Here in the main room, Rob is about to present AdMonsters’ Digital Media Leaderhips Awards to April Schiffman, Sr. Director, Global Ad Operations at ESPN, and Maria Breza, Regional VP, Client Services, East at Pandora.

3:37: Rob recalls his first AdMonsters event, which was also here in Austin. One of the first people he met was April Schiffman. “She took me under her wing and showed me how to party,” Rob says.

3:40: Rob says there are certain people whose names come up over and over when there’s an industry problem that demands expertise. And for a long time, when certain issues have come up in conversation, people have commented to Rob, “Well, have you asked Maria?”

3:43: It can be really valuable to understand the agency side of the biz in the ops world, and Chandon Jones has helped bridge that gap, says Rob. Chandon will be speaking tomorrow as the morning’s keynote. Rob’s handing Chandon his DMLA right now, though.

3:53: Long story short, April and Maria have both had pretty labyrinthine career paths. To boil it down, they both have stories about taking ownership of a niche need, staying in that role as its importance grows, and moving on to manage, in various roles–while both accepting and turning down (with varied results) a bunch of different opportunities over time.

3:56: April refers to “super-doers”–people on your team who can go really hard in the midst of the chaos, but who don’t have a vision for the big picture. Maria agrees that that’s one of the first habits she has to train out of new managers. Neither April nor Maria has a dedicated mentorship program, but they both go out of their way to advise colleauges.

3:59: One great way mentorship can work is when a more junior person approaches a more experienced person and asks them straight up to mentor, says Maria: “I don’t think anyone says no to that.”

4:00: Be direct and be timely in all your feedback as a manager, says April.

4:02: Maria was a dance major in college and had an easy time bringing other liberal arts types to her hiring manager. As a manager herself, she learned it was important for her to hire people who had very sharp skill in areas that weren’t necessarily her own wheelhouse areas–as opposed to people who were generally like her–but it took her a while to learn this.

4:08: Audibility is a new metric MOAT and Pandora are having, which would be far more useful, she says, than viewability pixels on audio ads.

4:13: Question: Is it better, career-wise, to work for a series of startups, or one larger, more established company? Maria says she was able to acquire a lot of skills quickly when she worked on teams of 10 or fewer, in smaller startups. April adds there are still a lot of opportunities to explore other lines of work in a larger org, although in a large company there’s much more of a chance you’ll be focused on one thing for most of the time.


9:07 a.m. Tuesday: Back for Round 2. This morning’s keynote is a “fireside chat” between Rob and UM’s Chandon Jones, who’ll be illuminating what publishers need to know about ops on the agency side.

9:08: Rob asks Chandon where he sits in the whole agency landscape, which is changing all the time, hard for outsiders to keep up with. Chandon agrees that it is always changing, and sometimes challenging to track when you think about agencies, regions and holding companies. And Chandon says he’s noticed people move around from one company to another, and he’s thought about what it means that he stayed at the same company for nine years.

9:11: Rob’s asking Chandon to walk us through a media plan. Chandon explains ops sits at all points across Cadreon. They plan to stay on top of things and to send things in advance. You need to have assets in place for various partners that clients need to work with.

9:13: “Two things that affect my job negatively are bosses and clients,” Rob says. He asks Chandon what a meeting with an agency and client is like: “It seems like they make you run through hoops, and you’re on the ad ops side, saying, ‘Yes, we can do that.'” Chandon elaborates that each client has “their own internal politics,” and that can trickle into the agency team working with them. He hopes to take an educational role with clients and point solution providers: “There’s a method to our madness.”

9:16: TV people come in sometimes and expect digital to be automated: “Why isn’t there an ‘easy’ button to get this done?” Ops has to educate and explain what digital can and can’t do.

9:17: Rob’s curious about how much media planning is done programmatically versus buying into specific publisher properties. Chandon says there’s no universal answer to that. Rob points out that people actually go to college to learn advertising, but most advertising jobs involve a lot of Excel and nothing glamorous, and junior sales people tend to say yes to everything, no matter how improbable. (“Sorry if any of you have media planners in your family,” Rob says. “That’s good,” Chandon says after a meaningful beat.) Chandon says he aims to get his people in on the perks that can come with working at an agency.

9:24: There are inefficiencies throughout the process, with various teams involved, but Chandon says he’s trying to reduce any inefficiencies he can for anyone working under the same holding company.

9:26: Rob asks if Chandon gets paid more for adding more tags. Chandon says they have these conversations with clients: “Of these 36 things you want to add, what are the top five?” There are a lot of things that are important to track, and some are essential. The rest the team can strategize. Rob points out that if the agency goes back to the client and tells them the big-name publisher they want to advertise with won’t allow 37 tracking pixels, the client will have to re-think what they need. The publisher pushback is leverage.

9:31: Talking about the “pain in the ass” aspect. Rob: “If everyone says yes down the line, it’s not going to get better.” Chandon: “And we say no a lot.”

9:32: UM axed all Flash a year ago during “Flashageddon,” Chandon says. Some of the smaller creative shops didn’t have the talent to go fully HTML5, but there was really no wiggle room on UM’s side.

9:35: “A lot of the time, if we’re late with the tags, it’s because we don’t have the creative,” says Chandon. Late creative is a consistent issue, something to deal with. The media agency and the creative agency are usually not the same company, and late creative affects everything. It’s important to keep having these conversations across teams and to educate everyone on who needs what and why. “We have Tagging 101 lessons with the media team,” he says. There are times when people have to stay late or work over the weekend, but Chandon wants to keep it to an absolute minimum. The Olympics were one such exception, but the Olympics aren’t a regular occurrence.

9:40: “Our job is to stay five steps ahead of the game. We need to know what questions to ask.”

9:42: “Thank you for all the discrepancies,” says Rob jokingly. “There was verification, and then there was viewability. What’s next?” “Ad blocking,” says Chandon with a bit more gravity. “We’ve just put out a POV on it.”