What on Oath: Global adtech platform chief reveals market plans following AOL-Yahoo merger

CMO chats with digital advertising guru, Tim Mahlman, about the company's demand- and supply-side plans, plus programmatic's future and ad fraud

Tim Mahlman
Tim Mahlman


Content and competing with Google and Facebook

Another selling point Mahlman highlighted is Oath’s open approach to platform development and integration.  While quick to dismiss claims the group is setting itself up as a direct third competitor to the Google/Facebook duopoly in the online ad market, Mahlman nevertheless positioned its open approach as a differentiator.

“We are making sure we’re open to working with all partners and ensuring those buying through us know exactly where their inventory is going, so they can have the confidence we’re protecting their brand as well as the consumer experience,” he said.  

The other way Oath positions itself is through content. Mahlman claimed both Yahoo and AOL made smart investments to ensure media is at the forefront.

In Australia specifically, AOL’s product mix locally has purely been on the supply side, from display to programmatic TV. Moving forwards, Oath is looking at introducing more publisher brands locally alongside HuffPost, such as Techcrunch and Engadget.

“Content is very important to us – in fact, it drives all of our business,” Mahlman said. “Unlike some of those we compete with in some cases, the consumer is first, whether it be media or platform side. Our charter is what we believe we can do with these entities coming together.”  

It’s this quest to be open and content-led that Mahlman also hoped will encourage third-party publishers to unite with Oath on the supply side.

“Instead of working with 30 different marketplaces, they can come down to three or four,” he said. “As a marketer then, which one do you want to partner with? Obviously, the one that has an open door policy that wants to partner with you and let everyone benefit as a result.”

Ad viewability, fraud and programmatic’s promise

One thing Mahlman agreed hinders industry development is inconsistency around ad viewability, fraud and programmatic trading. While Oath is working with a number of third-party verification players and industry bodies to improve the situation, he also called for a more unified approach.

“It reminds me of the time in the late 1990s when adserving was an issue: Every deal you ran was using AdForce, or DoubleClick and a mix could mean a discrepancy of 15 per cent. It slowed down the rise of digital media because we were making it too difficult for advertisers to work together,” he said. “Verification companies need to get it right, because it’s a big piece particularly in the era of trust.”

Mahlman is also keen for further innovation in the programmatic advertising space. One idea is evolving the supply business away from real-time bidding and to a ‘futures’ market, much like the financial market systems available today.

“There is blockchain technology that helps with transparency for advertisers but also allows them to start creating bidded segments for future buying schedules that locks in that inventory. It still allows it to be run in a programmatic manner,” he said. “Because of the way things are being served out it’s actually creating a latency to achieve this. But we’ve definitely started building on the side ways we can evolve the business.

We’re trying to find a simpler message with Oath. It’s not about the technology, it’s the audience. And we have the audience

Tim Mahlman


“If I think about a market like Australia, we could then be in a position with some of these technologies to start to root out inventory no longer considered real. And what if we could get to a point where you have a true supply/demand marketplace with these brand partners?

“We want to accelerate through our R&D to stay a step ahead of where we are.”  

Meanwhile, one thing Oath has done in Australia and the US is roll out header bidder technology that allows a bid to be determined before it hits a DSP’s waterfall and served from the server rather than the webpage. This cuts down latency issues as well as costs.

“Three months ago, we rolled it out in the mobile app world and it’s becoming the forefront of how developers want to have ads served,” he added.  

Stop the confusion

Whatever path Oath takes, one thing Mahlman agreed the adtech industry as a whole needs to do is stop confusing the market.  

“Every time I give a quarterly business review with Verizon executives, I’m usually talking about a new platform part of the business. While our executives find it very exciting, their advice is to stop the confusion,” he said. “They’d have more confidence in the programmatic world but with change happening so frequently, it’s hard for an executive to stay up to date.

“We’re trying to find a simpler message with Oath. It’s not about the technology, it’s the audience. And we have the audience.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu        

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