Mobile Ops Talk: Ad Ops Insider Q&A With Bryan Moffett, National Public Media

The Rise of Responsive Web and Pains of SDKs

After years of buildup, 2011 finally felt like a tipping point for mobile in the digital advertising community. If you work on the publishing side, last year probably felt like a time to build – a chance to upgrade your technology stack for mobile environments, select partners, test platforms, define your processes and train staff.


If you were still sitting on the sidelines last year, there’s no better time to start your own year of mobile than right now, and fortunately the AdMonsters community as a whole has far more experience in this area to help guide you.

To get you started (and to promote the upcoming OPS Mobile conferences – April 19 in NYC and May 16 in London), Ad Ops Insider interviewed some of the most prominent leaders in the mobile ad ops space on what they think matters right now, what they struggle with, and how they’re adapting to Ops in a cross-platform world. Today we’re talking with Bryan Moffett, VP of Digital Strategy and Ad Operations for National Public Media, the sponsorship sales unit for National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Services. Last year Moffett contributed a byline sharing his teams’ trials and tribulations putting together an NPR iPad application that launched alongside the tablet.

From an Ops perspective, what’s your biggest challenge in mobile right now?

Figuring out a cohesive strategy that encompasses apps, mobile web, tablets (10-inch and 7-inch), and responsive design. We have several mobile properties and apps in our queue, and all are at various stages of advancement, with a patchwork of ad serving tools. Do we try and find one vendor to do it all? Do we go best of breed for each? Or do we cobble together a less-expensive solution that we might outgrow? Responsive design looks like the way forward for publishers in the mobile web and tablet space, but it will pose a new set of challenges for Ops.

Talk about the SDK integration process required for mobile rich meda – how do you address in-app rich media creative executions and to what extent if any have you found the SDK aspect of mobile to be a challenge?

It’s definitely a headache. We use Medialets for all in-app rich media. Limiting to one SDK does help ease the pain, but there’s still a lot of testing, regression testing and panic around iOS updates. So far the buy side seems content to give up some control in this space and work with our custom formats, but I suspect that is going to change very quickly as advertisers and agencies settle on technologies and get more experience in this space.

What learnings or best practices you would share with the Ops community around vendor selection or SDK workflow? Do you think it’s effective to work through an optimizer and let them deal with the SDK updates, or have you found it better to deal with the vendors directly?

It’s been very critical for us to deal directly with our vendor, and in particular, for the vendor to have a capable integration team. We push out a new update to one of our apps about every two-to-three weeks, so we need fast response and testing help. Much of the testing happens in a bit of a black box, and we’re at the mercy of the vendor to really make sure the SDKs are working, counting impressions, etc. One thing I plan to beef up this year is our tech abilities to help with that troubleshooting.

Compared to in-app advertising, what’s your perspective on mobile web? Do you consider that separately from in-app, or is it all mobile? Is your approach more to do with the technical aspects, or based on how you’re selling mobile ads right now?

For mobile web, I prefer to keep things simple – straightforward ad calls to a simple ad server (we use stock DFP), and then leverage rich media creative builders to make compelling ads. So far we haven’t seen much pressure to do compelling rich media in the smartphone mobile web, but I suspect that will change soon as better rich media tools and larger screens come online (like 7-inch tablets). For our sales universe, we keep iPhone and iPad separate, but then lump Android web and in-app into the same category as mobile web.

How much does your organization think about HTML5? Are you planning any update or release that will move your content into an HTML5 format? If not, why not – if so, what’s been the driving factor?

A. When the iPad launched, NPR made sure the majority of the NPR site (including audio and video) was done in HTML5, and has also experimented with HTML5 presentation and responsive design. One example is the NPR webapp, best viewed in Chrome, and another is the new Music Events portal, which is built using responsive design, These all posed problems for ad serving – mainly in finding the right type of sponsorship for the presentation.

Our audience expects NPR to keep a low commercial profile, so finding that balance between impact for a sponsor and intrusion on the audience is always our biggest challenge. PBS, which we also represent, is working on responsive design templates that will provide a good video experience on any screen, and should have that out early this year.

Do you think HTML5 will enable true cross-platform campaigns in the next 12 months for your business, or are you looking at HTML5 to solve other issues for your business?

I think within 12 months we will have a good cross-platform display ad solution for mobile, tablets and the desktop through responsive design and some banging on DFP, but that the app world will still be an outlier that requires a different approach.


OPS Mobile

Interested in learning more about mobile advertising? OPS Mobile will bring digital advertising leaders and ops professionals together to discuss and develop best practices for operational excellence in a world of connected devices. Register today for OPS Mobile, AdMonsters’ mobile advertising conference, which will be held April 19, 2012, in New York.