News Corp plans programmatic shake-up

By Brendan Coyne | 3 April 2014
Cameron King

News Corp has made Cameron King its commercial head of platforms and products as the company aims to "move programmatic into the mainstream sales effort", according to King.

First up, King will review the company's tech stack. Currently News uses Rubicon Project for display "but the space is moving very quickly so it is incumbent on us to ensure we have the best possible partners," said King. He would not be drawn on where News saw the gaps or with whom it might work. "Nothing is committed yet. But [given the pace of change and likely consolidation of ad tech platforms] it is crucial to understand which partners can help us [over the longer term]."

While "simplicity is key" for News and its clients, a single solution, such as that recently launched by AOL and Adaptv was not necessarily the approach News Corp would take, he said.

Outside of technology, King's priority is to help drive "programmatic into the mainstream sales effort." He would not hang a number around the organisation's neck in terms of percentage of sales traded programmatically but said there was "an opportunity to automate a great deal of what we are doing."

It will not necessarily be "the bulk of inventory" that ends up being sold programmatically he said. And "in three years time the term programmatic will cease to exist, it will just be called advertising".

"We don't have a mandate to say we will trade 60% of inventory programmatically by 2016 and we don't want to put numbers in anyone's head, but we need to position ourselves well around high growth areas and [programmatic] is one."

The broader challenge facing publishers was and their sales teams was understanding the space, he said. "It's a special type of unicorn that has to understand everything in digital advertising, giving the proliferation of products available.

"It makes it extremely challenging for sales people trying to deeply understand clients' businesses and at the same time the broad range of products available in any depth. What was the [technological] territory of someone else is now their responsibility."

Sales people now had to have an appetite to understand that side of the business as well as the traditional side. "That is a real challenge."

News has ramped up training and education of sales staff to help them better understand the technical side, said King, but agencies needed to change their mindset too, he suggested.

"They can suffer from the idea that it is [purely] a remnant channel - cheap inventory - so we have a perception challenge to ensure that the market knows there is a broad range of inventory choices.

"If you follow that automation will happen, then brand [advertising] has to follow. So that perception change will be a big challenge over the next 12 months."

Fresh back from AdTech in the US, King said that perception problem remains in the US, which is generally thought to be 12-18 months ahead of the Australian market. "So until the market accepts that it will be a great way to buy quality inventory, is a 50% [of inventory sold programmatically] benchmark likely? The jury is out."

The immediate focus for King is to ensure the sales operation is looking properly at "holistic yield management... and using the channel in the most appropriate way if offering direct and indirect and applying the appropriate pricing structure."

He said that some publishers experimenting with programmatic don't fully understand what they are selling by channel and how it should differ. "So we are building out analytics as to what we have to sell, what people are buying and how we migrate them to achieve comparable yields to direct channels."

King added that the notion of 'premium' inventory "was in flux, because agency data might place value on inventory that is different to the inventory that we place value on."

King will also remain head of commercial innovation at News Corp and will report into digital director of sales and strategy Neil Robinson.

News is still seeking a replacement for former publisher trading desk head Evgeny Popov who left for RadiumOne in January.

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