Moe Ismail, FreeWheel: “Change is constant”

“Change is constant”

It can be said that the only constant in our industry is change. There’s no shortage of new innovations, technologies, buzzwords and terms being introduced. With the advertising industry undergoing its most significant change yet and consumer consumption habits changing rapidly, we need to think carefully about the path ahead. We need to ensure that what we’re rebuilding is right for the consumer, right for organizations, and brings us towards a better future.

In the latest episode of our Identity Architects podcast, InfoSum's VP, Corporate Marketing, Ben Cicchetti, sat down with Moe Ismail, Executive Director, Product Management, at FreeWheel, to discuss identity, market fragmentation, TV advertising, and more.

“It's an industry-wide challenge. We're all responsible. I can tell you that for FreeWheel specifically, we see our role in the TV ad ecosystem as finding new and better ways of connecting buyers and sellers. We’re purpose-built to help buyers and sellers find the simplest and most direct and efficient path to premium video ad inventory at scale. If you look at it from the grand scheme of things, the TV ad industry is very complex, very fragmented, and continually evolving.”

Couldn’t agree more. We are all responsible for building a better future for the industry and the consumer - step by step.

“Just like the world we live in. It's complex and it continues to get complex as the world around us becomes more connected and more complex. And so, really, the antidote to complexity is to introduce simplicity, introduce more straight lines instead of jagged lines and make the TV ad buying and selling experience and process as streamlined and efficient as possible. [...] Thinking about it from a TV advertising perspective, it's really simplifying everything that's possible to reduce the complexity as much as we can.”

As a society, we're becoming increasingly digital-first - consumers now watch and consume content across multiple devices and apps as well as traditional TV. The ever-changing nature of the TV landscape has presented a multitude of challenges.

“I really think that the primary challenge of traditional broadcasters is less about eyeballs and more about the rapid changes in distribution. Not too long ago, they had a single distribution channel, linear TV. Today, they have at least a dozen if you're thinking about all the apps and device types where their content is distributed and consumed. I think it's really incredible how traditional broadcasters have been able to adapt their business to cater to consumers’ evolving habits to evolving technology and bandwidth capabilities, and it's still evolving today, and I think as a result, consumers in the US at least actually watch more premium TV.”

If it’s not eyeballs, what is the main challenge for broadcasters?

“Large traditional broadcasters primary challenge is how do they treat that disparate and seemingly fragmented audience across all of these endpoints, across all of these devices, across all of these apps, across all these distribution partners as one single whole, as one single entity instead of dozens of silent components. And I think that's a technology and an identity challenge at its core.”

Absolutely, it's vital to meet consumers where they are and adjust to consumer habits. In response to these changes, broadcasters have implemented digital-first strategies and developed streaming apps that have created logged-in addressable audiences and enable the delivery of seamless viewing experiences across devices. Bringing this data together securely and understanding it holistically is where identity and technology come into play.

“I think a critical key ingredient throughout the TV ad buying process from pitch to pay is data and identity. Without that, it's really hard, if not impossible, to forecast, to target, to frequency manage, to optimize, and of course to measure. So it's going to be something that permeates and guides and influences decisions and how TV ads are bought and sold and valued. And I think it needs to be and is already becoming something that's more deliberate and, of course, more transparent to consumers.”

Thanks to multiple innovations, TV ad buying has become increasingly data-driven. We’ve also seen the rise of Connected TV, an emerging channel rich in first-party data, which is very attractive to advertisers given the ongoing deprecation of third-party IDs. But as Moe says, not only is transparency key, but it's critical that the data is secure - not just for consumers but for organizations as well. Thankfully, that is now changing, and we are moving towards a privacy-centric, first-party data era. 

“Change is constant like we kind of knew that this was happening for a long time by ad tech standards. The first inklings that we got about this was back in 2017 when Apple implemented ITP. So, really, we've been operating in a semi-third-party cookieless and third-party device ID environment for quite some time now.  So we kind of know what it means and what it looks like, and really, what we're talking about is the last bastion of third-party cookies and device IDs finally going away as well. But I think it's really important to add that it's not just the third-party cookie. I mentioned mobile IDs, but we're seeing the same thing happening with CTV IDs that used to be considered as part of that overall grouping of third-party IDs. They’re either already gone or on the way out from that third-party context.”

It has always been seen as this massive challenge, but if you reframe it as an opportunity to rebuild a better foundation and build better relationships with consumers and partners, it can be a positive thing. 

“One of the really exciting things that I've been noticing in my day to day is just the sheer amount of people who are starting to care a lot more about data broadly and identity more particularly. [...] Really this is creating a huge impetus to drive increased innovation to figure out how do we rebuild this in a safer way? How do we do it in a way that won't create the next user revolt in two or three years and I think there's lots of different ideas on how to do it, lots of different implementations if you're looking across the adtech landscape, and I think that's beautiful and wonderful to see.”

The more we can view it as an opportunity, the better. With any challenge, with any change, comes innovation and opportunity. 

Thanks, Moe, for the chat!