"It was an amazing moment in Australian media" - Pippa Leary on the APEX ascent

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 13 August 2015
CEO of Australian Premium Advertising Exchange (APEX Advertising), Pippa Leary with Michael Rubenstein President of AppNexus.

The new offering, which gives advertisers and media agencies the ability to reach large audiences via digital advertising on the “brand-safe” mobile assets of Mi9 and Fairfax, launched on 31 July and is powered by independent advertising technology company AppNexus.

CEO of Australian Premium Advertising Exchange (APEX Advertising), Pippa Leary, said while the company, which offers media buyers premium mobile inventory and the efficiency of real-time bidding, is “Australia’s first” premium, publisher brand safe mobile programmatic exchange, initial strands of its DNA were first deliberated upon back in 2009. Top level discussions continued to tick away and in 2013 things got real with News Corp, Yahoo7, Telstra and Mi9 adding their colours to the flag.

“This story really commenced when the ad networks started coming into the Australian market,” Leary explained.

“At Fairfax, we could see if our premium inventory got mixed up in the ad networks and was sold next to long tail amateur inventory, it was going to commoditise it and put the pressure on all of the inventory. So we went to the other big publishers at that time, the kind of big five, Telstra, Yahoo7, Ninemsn, News Corp, (and us).

“When we all got in the room with all the CEOs and the people in charge of the commercials, we said, ‘listen, we really think this is a dangerous development and we think that we should try and create – we know that everyone needs to sell a network, to sell their revenue and inventory - a premium network and differentiate it from these that are long tail’. And everyone nodded and said, ‘yes, great idea, great idea’. “But of course, it came unstuck because no one could agree on the technology and how the inventory would move in and out.”

An amazing moment

Due to politics between rivals and a spanner in the works with News Corp’s then-CEO Kim Williams departing, the plans fell apart. Leary said despite the best intentions many couldn’t get through the technology and, after Williams left, no one at News would put their hand up on the matter simply for fear of having it cut off.

AdNews understands that for Yahoo7, its break-off point was around some technical legacy issues to whether the right media and direction it was getting out of the US made it look too difficult for them.

News Corp was thought to be fully in under Kim Williams, but his exit put every joint venture on hold. Also back in New York, Robert Thomson, who was heading up News Corp, had just made a 20% investment in AppNexus’ rival, the Rubicon Project.

“Everyone just kind of flittered away and then politically, the whole kind of ‘old school’ became powerful again and Fairfax became an enemy rather than a friend, which to me was a real pity. It was an amazing moment in Australian media where we thought for a second there, they were going to bury the hatchet and say, ‘ok, let’s look forward’,” Leary revealed.

With open arms

Leary said when she got a call from Mark Britt, the the-CEO of Mi9, driving Nine Entertainment Co’s digital strategy, it was he who explained to Leary that with programmatic options and real-time bidding technology, it could actually be done. She said Britt, now an advisor at Nine and co-founder of South East Asian-based Netflix clone, IFlix (which scooped $US30m in pre-launch funding in April), explained how “waterfalling” would work.

“He said the publishers can put their inventory all together in a premium exchange and then if it doesn’t sell then it can fall immediately back into their (partner) marketplaces or where they want to put it in their waterfall,” Leary said.

“He really sold me on the idea and said ‘this is a great opportunity. You’re really uniquely suited to be the one person to pull this all together’. And I thought, ‘yes, this is fantastic, we’ve been thinking about it for so long, so lets do it’.”

Leary said APEX won’t live or die whether it has all of the publishers on board or not and that it’s really to create a “visible centre of gravity” in which clients and agencies start moving their spend for it to work.

So after a brief fling, it was back to the separate areas of the playground it seems. But would Leary entertain another publisher rendezvous with old cohorts? “Yes, absolutely. Look, we’ve said this really publicly. This is really open exchange and it is not being set up to benefit any of the publishers. It’s really an industry play and it’s open to all publishers so anytime, anyone wants to come back in, it’s open arms,” she said.

A reputable bunch

Leary went on to say that AppNexus also has a number of sophisticated controls around bringing ads in and out of different channels, and “a big decider” in AppNexus’ favour was that it doesn’t run a competing exchange - it only provides ad tech.

“We thought about it long term and we wondered how comfortable we would be putting data into exchange in which the person who runs the exchange was running a competitive exchange to us,” Leary explained.

While other publishers will be invited to join the group in the future, she added that the only publishers it will be reputable so it has total transparency on the domains and the URLs, the mobile web and the apps. Nothing will go in that it hasn’t vetted.

A version of this story originally appeared the latest AdNews magazine (7 August). If you want to get your own copy, you can subscribe right here.

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