Microsoft Gains as One-Stop Shop For Cross-Platform Ad Campaigns

Scott Ferris, SVP & GM, emerging media, Microsoft Advertising and Publisher Solutions Group

Scott Ferris, SVP & GM, emerging media, Microsoft Advertising and Publisher Solutions Group

March 12, 2010 – As Google garners much of the publicity surrounding Web players’ efforts to crack the TV ad market Microsoft is quietly transitioning from its positions in the silo’d worlds of TV and Web to what it hopes will be a leading role in the emerging cross-platform arena.

So far, in the wake of major acquisitions of aQuantive in 2007 and Navic Networks in 2008, Microsoft’s Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group (APS) has built its business in the online and TV spaces as more or less separate operations, with mobile a distant third. But, according to Scott Ferris, senior vice president and general manager for emerging media at APS, the company is integrating these acquired platforms in preparations for the coming era in advertising, when Madison Avenue will be looking for solutions that facilitate fully converged ad campaigns.

“We’re on an evolutionary path,” Ferris says. “The market has been stove piped into different segments for a long time, but the Internet provides an open architecture that will overcome this segmentation. We see ourselves obfuscating those divisions. We don’t want advertisers to worry about targeting different audiences from online, mobile and TV.”

Presently, a lot of Ferris’s efforts are tied to the TV advertising space occupied by Navic and its Admira technology platform, which leverages the immense amount of set-top data amassed by Navic to support efficient placement of ads based on how specific TV programs match up with specific categories of viewers. In its first big TV contract win since the Navic acquisition APS has teamed with NBC Universal to support ad placements in portions of the national and local ad inventory on offer through the media giant’s many broadcast and cable outlets.

Under terms of the newly launched initiative Admira is providing agencies working with NBCU new planning tools for data-driven targeting and segmenting of specific audiences. For small to midsize agency clients the alliance is also providing automated planning, buying and billing processes.

“There’s a real need in the marketplace to overcome the limitations of relying on the Nielsen rating system as the primary guide to TV advertising decisions,” Ferris says. “A large share of programming is overlooked by advertisers because there’s no way to substantiate audience measurements if the programs aren’t covered by Nielsen. We’re shining a light on what’s really happening with viewership across all programming.”

The first agency to be announced as a participant with the Admira platform is VivaKi, the Publicis Groupe operation that encompasses Starcom MediaVest Group, Zenith Optimedia and Digitas. “The Admira product delivers an enhanced level of forecasting, planning and execution to data-driven media buys, and this equips our media teams to make more strategic investments that improve our client’s performance and ROI,” says Jack Klues, managing partner for VivaKi. “It is a technologically enhanced approach that respects the essential elements of our marketplace and maintains a level playing field between buyer and seller.”

Ferris says at least one other big deal is in the works. “This will involve another family of networks,” he says. “We’re in discussions with, I’d say, the top six media companies representing some 150 channels of programming.”

Already the ability to bring together disparate platforms from different acquisitions is benefiting the TV play, Ferris notes. “This is different from old Navic model,” he says. “As part of the Atlas acquisition (the technology suite from aQuantive) we obtained the Atlas VOD placement platform, which allows us to build a portfolio for placements in the on-demand space.”

As APS works the TV space Ferris makes clear the company’s expectations are that the long-term play will be from the Web side as content moves to IP and on-demand, time-shifted viewing gains ever more prominence.

“Our vision is that all media is going to digital, and consumers will access content on demand,” Ferris says. “The Web is going to be the matching engine between what an ad agency wants to buy and what media wants to sell. We believe we’ll be one of two or three companies that can really deliver on the scale with technology on the backend that connects the dots.”

The Web side of the APS business, anchored in the Atlas product suite, recently took another big step in this direction in a deal with Interpublic Group, under which Interpublic will adopt Atlas as the preferred ad-server solution for IPG entities, which include agencies such as McCann-Erickson, Deutsch and The Martin Agency. IPG companies manage about $30 billion in global media billings, according to industry estimates.

The Atlas ad-serving technology is offered through the online unit of APS, Microsoft Advertising, which includes an ad network reaching 164 million consumers worldwide. Atlas, the Microsoft answer to Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick three years ago, enables agencies to manage, track, optimize and unify their online media marketing campaigns across display banners, rich media, search, video and Web sites.

IPG says it has launched a company-wide introduction of Atlas to IPG’s North American agencies. The rollout includes in-person demonstrations and webinars, as well as training and integration.

Microsoft believes it has the inside track to take the TV advertising market to the next level with its vision of a seamlessly integrated multi-platform placement system, notwithstanding Google’s clout in the online ad networking space. “Their Google TV ad network operates on the same type of auction model they use with their online ad network, which is not what we do at all,” Ferris says. “Our platform is designed to be accretive to how agencies and networks work together, whereas Google TV takes the inventory seller out of the equation.”

But it remains to be seen whether Microsoft’s agenda will be a fit in the evolving model pursued by the cable industry through Canoe Ventures. “We’ve worked closely with Canoe in terms of collaborating in the strategy development process,” Ferris says. “We have the campaign management tools and backend ad decision engines that could provide support for their efforts. And we’ve talked to them about our Navic data base asset as a potential panel for national advertising.”

The question is whether cable will approach advertising with the Web-centric mentality that Microsoft brings to the table. So far, as MSOs mount their TV Everywhere efforts, they haven’t begun to “crack the code of how networks and operators coexist commercially in an online video world,” Ferris says. “It’s critical that they do that soon.

“Cable has an opportunity that’s theirs to lose,” he continues. “They need to get more online centric about how they build their customer loyalty base and how they build relationships with advertisers beyond their core spot in local advertising.”

The advertising support afforded through the dynamics of the Web are a world away from TV, he adds. “In the search and online display world, in the course of a normal day we’re generating ad placement decisions at a rate of 250,000 to 300,000 per second,” he says. “And we’re approaching those velocities in gaming [in conjunction the Xbox online operation].”

This dynamic, targeted approach to placements is what will drive Madison Avenue to embrace the Web as the medium for cross-platform campaign management, Ferris asserts. “We’re there today,” he says. “It’s not that a lot of technology needs to be invented. It’s a matter of people’s willingness to partner.”

It’s still a stove-piped world, he acknowledges. But if Microsoft is right, three years hence the advertising world will be radically changed in a multi-platform environment where old approaches to placement and campaign management will no longer apply.