Spafax Networks’ Automated Platform Connects Buyers and Sellers of DOOH Media

Spafax Networks’ Automated Platform Connects Buyers and Sellers of DOOH Media
By Nurlan Urazbaev, editor of digitalsignagepulse.com

In my October 02, 2012 article “Seven Hurdles to Success…“ I described the lack of comprehensive, reliable media-buying tools for placing digital signage DOOH campaigns and mentioned the “aggravation of aggregation”. I wrote, in particular:

“The past three years have seen several DOOH ad space aggregators go out of business. The visible reasons were lack of scale in the ad space offerings, absence of reliable ROI measurement and the high overhead of behind-the-scenes multi-network campaign fulfillment and coordination, which all happened to be manual.

As a result, the first aggregators were not able to sustain enough demand from agencies and their clients.

The feedback I have been getting from the agency/media houses side suggests that there is still an acute need for an aggregator-type facility that would offer combined ad space from a large number of quality networks, brought to common denominators in media research, planning criteria and audience/campaign ROI measurement.

The next reincarnation of DOOH aggregators should avoid the mistakes of their predecessors and build their platforms on the principles of automation, standardization and accountability.”

The weeks following the publication showed that a long-sought solution to the cross-network DOOH media buying inefficiencies may be coming our way sooner than many expected.

Among other companies developing the next generation of multi-network campaign placement tools, Spafax Networks stands out, as it seems to tackle all major issues in a systemic, logical way that makes sense to the media-buying world.

Spafax Networks is part of WPP’s tenthavenue. The companywas created specifically to find a high-tech way to connect media buyers and sellers in DOOH space, similar to what Doubleclick did for online display advertising.

The fact that this initiative was born inside the world’s largest advertising and PR agency holding (WPP) deserves special attention and gives it a better shot at success. It is the first time that a solution originates from within the advertising community, and not from a digital signage technology or service provider.

According to Patrick Bonomo, EVP of Spafax Networks, the SN: Xchange (SN: X) platform will offer automated cross-network DOOH campaign planning, buying and execution. ‘Near real-time’ inventory updates will allow for real-time bidding (RTB). The planning process will be facilitated by standardized metrics obtained via Nielsen audience impressions ratings and further enhanced by consumer behavior data for the targeted locations.

Every cross-network campaign executed by SN:X will be accounted for by proof-of-play and campaign performance reports that can be broken down to single ad play occurrence level.

When specific campaigns have consumer engagement elements (e.g., via call to action, interactive content or mobile), advertising ROI measurements, such as cost-per-action and cost-per-transaction data, can be enabled through 3rd party providers (outside of the SN:X).

While the methodology, the workflow and the integration of the metrics and analytics were conceived by Spafax Networks, the technology engine for SN:X platform was built by Vistar Media, who customized their existing software product for Spafax Networks’ proprietary solution.

Mr. Bonomo is reluctant to use the word “aggregator” to describe the Spafax networks platform. He prefers to refer to it as a “real-time bidding DOOH ad exchange”, or a consolidated DOOH ad network.

One of the key components of the SN:X is Vistar Media’s API (application programming interface) that connects to individual content management systems running the participating DOOH networks.  This API addresses the current lack of interoperability standards in the digital signage industry. It allows Spafax Networks to insert an ad into a specific network’s schedule, enforcing required playback at required times and locations, regardless of which software is used to operate the network.

Several cross-network digital place-based media campaigns have already successfully run through the SN:X system, however Spafax Networks did not disclose any networks or names of advertisers.

Below is the full interview with Patrick Bonomo.  Stay tuned for my overview of the new generation of DOOH aggregators, ad exchanges and ad serving platforms (Coming soon…).

NU: How would you name and describe the SN:X platform? What does it do? What problem does it solve?
PB: Spafax Networks comes to market with a buying solution for digital placed-based media which we have called SN:X.  As advertisers continue to look for new digitally-capable screens to include in their addressable media plans, Spafax Networks is using a solution that can serve inventory — via a Demand-Side Platform (DSP)— in the previously uncharted territory of digital placed-based networks.

Our product leverages technology that brings together a DSP (Demand-Side Platform) for buyers and a SSP (Sell-Side Platform) for sellers in one platform.

Our solution — SN: Xchange (SN: X) — leverages years of research, media insights and data analysis capabilities to build intelligent inventory and embraces DSP technology which brings the enhanced capabilities the digital world has to offer at the intersection of physical location.

The benefits for buyers and advertisers include providing close-to-real-time reporting, allowing for centralized sizing of creative for multiple networks, ensuring creative rotation rules are established and followed across multiple networks, allowing for campaign optimization (near real time) within campaign flights, automation of performance reporting and third-party auditing for discrepancy resolution and verification. It also provides an important added benefit; a predictive and adaptive tool, which allows the media to be evaluated in the same way as other media, with impressions and estimated reach measurements.

The benefits for sellers include finding more buyers to meet the untapped opportunity to sell their inventory.

NU: How do you differentiate your platform from the existing tools that are claimed to aggregate ad space from numerous DOOH networks and thus make life easier for media buyers?
PB:  We do not see ourselves as an aggregator but as a Network, one of the main differentiators is Vistar Media’s API (application programming interface) which is connected to the vendor’s content management software (or CMS) and provides information down to the screen level, or location level captured by longitude and latitude.

One of SN: X’s primary values to the DOOH industry is bringing new advertisers and media budgets o DOOH. The SN:X  platform creates this bridge where existing tools do not.  Now with a standardized communication for ad serving, we are able to buy programmatically (just as online buying is done).  This effort will allow the media vendors (publishers) in DOOH to finally monetize their unsold inventory, increasing revenues and enabling growth for the industry.

Existing technologies are not focused on connecting the vendor’s CMS to one centralized platform for seamless buying and verification.  Our reporting functionality allows for third-party auditing and in-flight optimization, and is built around providing a comprehensive reporting suite to maximize media efficiencies.

One critical difference which elevates our solution beyond the ” aggregators” in our space is Spafax Networks’ use of reliable recognized data sources which inform buying decisions at the intersection of consumer targeted behavior and location along the consumer’s path to purchase.

NU: What are the components of Spafax Networks system? What groups of users (e.g., media planners, media buyers, agencies, DOOH network operators, etc.) is each component designed for?

PB:
For buyers:  SN: X uses a DSP built by Vistar Media for digital OOH. There are standardized metrics for buyers to evaluate media types and audience delivery powered by prominent research and data analytics firms. Our identification of Intelligent Inventory matches this data to inventory within the SN: Xchange. The core Vistar DSP is open to other buyers, however we have built additional tools using our research  products and media insights that sit on top of  the DSP. The add-ons are our proprietary solution that planners or buyers can use by working with Spafax Networks.

For sellers: we offer the API interface DOOH network operators can use to include their inventory within the platform. With ads being served through the SN: X platform, standardized reporting and 3rd party verification are now possible.  We are also including the recognized ratings such as Nielsen On Location Report within SN:Xchange. These data sources allow us to provide standard marketplace audience measurement.

For planners: the SN: X has additional audience intelligence to review plan delivery for optimized go-to-market plans. This intelligence is matched to inventory through several filter sources, which helps to calibrate data and create a rating index which can be tied back to other media plans.

NU: You mentioned that you are working with Nielsen and other media research companies. Could you please elaborate on what exactly you are trying to accomplish with their data?
PB: We are working with Nielsen to create capabilities to run campaigns based on behavioral targets.

Spafax Network’s mission is to identify, deliver and track a consumer journey wherever people engage with media on-the-go. To deliver on this mission we have developed a targeting tool powered by best-in-class research companies and methodologies.

This approach enables us to build our products with a level of standardization and verification seen with other media types.  As advertisers and media agencies seek to break down the silos between screens, our product brings new solutions for inventory opportunities to market and extends digital and broadcast activity.

As we look to the future, we feel that what will truly drive adoption of the emerging media offerings is the development of a common currency with other media types. We see great potential for aligning out-of-home screen experiences not only with digital budgets but also screens inside the home and handheld devices.

NU: You indicated that Spafax Networks uses Vistar Media’s product. What is your relationship with this company?
PB: Vistar Media is a Venture Capital-backed media technology company specializing in digital serving capabilities and operational processes for media buying —Vistar Media provides 3rd party ad serving through their automated demand side platform for digital place based media.

We are a client of Vistar Media and are using their technology to power our buying solution.

While the idea of a 3rd party ad server is revolutionary for digital place based media, it is standard practice in online display advertising and search. We have worked closely with Vistar to absorb the learnings from the digital display and search arena and apply them to DOOH.

NU: You mentioned that Spafax Networks will provide per-campaign proof of play.  What specific metrics will be used, who will conduct those measurements and what tools will be used (manual surveys, semi-automated or fully automated?
PB: The reports will include: impressions, audience, verification of play, schedule pacing, creative rotation data.

NU: What is the timeline for the deployment of SN:X?
PB: SN: X is operational, with buys and reporting already running through the system. We have already deployed for some of our long-standing clients with much success.

NU: Can you name the networks that have already agreed to submit their ad space to Spafax Networks?
PB: We have met with all of the top digital placed based media vendors and have secured relationships with numerous vendors in each of the key environments.

NU: You mentioned real-time bidding, which implies updating inventory levels in real time. Could you please give an example and walk us through how real-time bidding would take place across several networks?
PB: Real Time Bidding is a term akin to display advertising bidding, the DOOH RTB process needs to be kept in context within the landscape, understanding the application of RTB is currently within our process as “Near” real-time Bidding. For educational purposes, it took more than 10 years for online advertising to start operating on a real-time basis.

That said, our solution expands the growth of the infrastructure currently maintained and is technology based on APIs.  The integration between DOOH network CMS and Vistar’s API enables the same ad request-ad response mechanism that drives online media buying.  How close that ad request is to the actual play time of an ad depends on the sophistication of a network’s technology platform.  In addition, the SN:X platform  can provide advertising ROI analysis outside of the SN: X. The data is extracted from the system at the screen level and therefore has the capability of matching to transactional data.

NU: Once the media buy is closed and the creative is uploaded, is the actual campaign scheduling and placement automatic or manual?
PB: The campaign scheduling, serving and tracking is automated just as it is in any digital display ad serving

NU: How is the campaign executed across multiple networks? Software specialists say that at the moment the lack interoperability standards for cross-network data processing do not allow automatic cross-network DOOH campaign execution and reporting. Have you solved this problem, and if yes – how?
PB: Yes campaigns can be executed across multiple networks, within the same campaign at the same time.

One of the major aspects of the SN: X is its function as an exchange.  It is connected to the DOOH publishers via an API allowing the systems to speak to each other in an automated way, and to deliver campaigns based on campaign rules.

NU: How is Spafax Networks going to generate revenue?
PB: We are a media network, and as such we look to bring value to buyers which can come in the form of both inventory matching as well as value added services such as standardized metrics, proof of play or identifying audience’s buys.

NU: As we know, previous attempts to build media buyer-facing tools for planning and executing cross-network DOOH campaigns have not been very successful. What is the initial market response to the emergence of SN:X?
PB: Marketplace response has been extremely positive from advertisers, advertising media agencies, media vendors, and research firms, with many noting that the SN: X is an fully comprehensive approach to solving many of the issues that have been holding back the growth of the digital placed-based media sector.

***

Background market research for this article was conducted using http://digitalsignagepulse.com – The only multi-source, fully searchable archive of major digital signage and DOOH news and resources.

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