Interview with Matthew Wasserlauf, CEO and Founder, Torrential
Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What inspired you to find Torrential?
My role in the tech industry was born out of an epiphany I had in 1998 at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, CA. Jeff Weiner (now CEO of LinkedIn) was walking us through CityWeb; a digital product merging the worlds of Warner Bros. with Time Inc. in a never-seen-before, internet destination that absolutely blew me away. “You mean I can click on a video of Jennifer Anniston in Friends and buy her sweater?”
I was sold.
I told myself at that moment that I need to figure out this world of web video.
Six years later, I would start BBE and go about building the foundation of the Online Video industry. My role and journey in technology then solidified.
After selling BBE in 2010, the next logical place to go was figuring out the world of “mobile video.” To do that, I partnered with Doug McCurdy and Tarun Yadav, both instrumental in my building BBE, to found Torrential. Five years later we sold Torrential to ITN, an unwired broadcast network.
It’s been an amazing ride.
What is Torrential and how does it fit into a modern CMO’s tech stack?
Torrential is and was a mobile video platform that opened the doors for major marketers to the world of premium video. From the onset, Torrential has been serving video ads into the apps that provide the mobile devices their full episode player (“FEP”) video programming. What that led to is the fast scaling world of OTT (“Over the Top”). OTT is the inventory of premium video that CMOs most covet in media today. CMOs pay a premium rate for this inventory as it represents today’s best programming with high viewability, accessed increasingly by the 18-34 millennial demographic.
What are the core tenets of your business model for mobile advertising ecosystem?
The core tenets of Torrential’s business model is a CPM to advertisers for 100% viewable media aligned with the mobile video’s highest demand programming. Torrential, today ITN Digital, represents all of the FEP’s premium network programming and provides a one-stop solution for advertisers seeking to leverage the best mobile video has to offer.
What are the challenges to modern-day video advertising? Why should brands reconsider their mobile ad-tech budgets?
Mobile Video has created its own obstacles that advertisers are now having to plan for and guard against. Some of the earliest mobile videos were “gaming” where advertisers were presented the most scale to buy an audience. While gaming was certainly fine programming and highly engaging for the audience, it wasn’t the best presentation for marketers and forced the ad messaging to an audience that was less than receptive.
Additionally, other providers presented content that was sketchy in nature (terrorist video, profanity, etc) with YouTube headlining this roster. Marketers including P&G and AT&T had to step in and lead the industry’s efforts to clean up the mess. Even other publishers drove “fraudulent” traffic across mobile video further upsetting the ecosystem. Marketers over the past few years have had to really re-assess their efforts in mobile video and the result has been a resetting in the space that has put a great many actors on notice.
How does AI fit into your advertising and video technology offerings? What are your major differentiators in this tech-heavy landscape?
AI has been held up as something of a panacea for advertisers that has yet to really be fleshed out. AI, which stands for Artificial Intelligence, is fast evolving and could present an automated solution to root out the bad versus good inventory that exists not only across mobile video but also OTT in general.
Tell us about your predictions on TV advertising versus the web and social media advertising technologies? How do you see them converging in the future?
TV advertising remains the go-to for most major advertisers and has been provided a longer sunset as mobile video endures its growing pains that I mentioned above. While TV advertising will remain an important medium in the greater mix, its importance will diminish as millennials access video across devices. Certainly, social media is driving this phenomenon.
The earliest form of convergence of TV advertising and mobile video can be seen in the emergence of OTT. Examples of providers in OTT such as my company ITN Digital and Gannett’s Premio are good examples of this. Major media companies from Comcast to Hulu are also becoming major players that are driving OTT. This convergence will only grow as the audience shifts from traditional linear TV toward device driven media consumption.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a CEO?
AI, as mentioned earlier, is the technology that’s automated processing and can help provide solutions to the myriad problems that exist in the digital ad ecosystem today. One good example is in the simple instance of data-targeting. A publisher, let’s say Amazon, will sell a new Mom a baby’s crib. Deploying AI or “artificial intelligence” tools, Amazon can use this sales data to now advertise, promote and sell this new Mom baby clothes, toys and any other such things as the baby grows up. All of this data targeting will become more widely deployed in the coming years and as a CEO, I am preparing my companies for that future by opening up my platforms to these new capabilities.
For advertisers, data-targeting in particular and AI, in general, will be a pre-requisite to doing business going forward and as a CEO, it’s imperative to leverage these new tools to build your company in advertising.
Which marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?
The Sales and Marketing Automation Tools we use today are growing. A couple of examples of these tools include ad-serving and tracking and data tools. Programmatic buying and selling is another example that is emerging in advertising and AI is another. The digital advertising industry is inundated with these automation tools and some consolidation would be healthy. Still, automation is a trend that will only grow in importance as the industry scales.
What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in marketing operations for 2018-2020?
Marketing disruptions that I predict will impact the Ad Operations space over the next three years are Original Content platforms and blockchain. Original Content, headlined by Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV, will emerge as a prominent marketing channel and the ad tech necessary to distribute, track and measure will emerge over the next few years. NewTV will have to contend with a myriad of smaller players in addition to the major tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and YouTube. Amazon is also planting its flag in the ground here, and like everything else they do, they must be taken seriously.
Blockchain will also emerge over the next three years but its impact is harder to predict. With a lot of trust lost across the digital video industry, Blockchain can go a long way toward fixing this. Expect a lot of new companies and start-ups to pop up in this exciting new sector over the next three years.
What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?
There are a number of start-ups I’m keeping a close eye on. For starters, I advise a marketing Influencer company called #paid. The company is based in Toronto Canada and is moving quickly now in the States. They market a great many new YouTube stars with an exciting platform. A second start-up I’m watching is Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV. NewTV raised a billion dollars. Yes, billion with a B, and is seeking to produce the next generation of mobile video content. Very ambitious and very exciting. Finally, I’m intrigued by Fresno, a start-up founded by Rob Goldberg which is bringing the video marketplace great new content distributed across Facebook and all the new social nets. There’s a ton of exciting companies out there.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
To inspire my people to work with technology, I compel my engineers to create as simple and easy a product as possible and work at building relationships between my tech people and everyone else. My companies always adopted the attitude that if our company didn’t use our technology, no one else would. With that as a mantra, we’ve always set out to ease our customers into adopting our technology and wherever possible, customizing that tech, to meet their needs specifically. Mastering the relationship side of technology has always been the winning formula for our companies.
One word that best describes how you work.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
There are a few apps, I absolutely cannot live without. The first is MyFitnessPal. After selling Torrential in 2016, I lost 40 lbs. by focusing on my health and wellness using MyFitnessPal. I track everything I eat and document all my exercise via this App. 40 lbs. later, I’m healthy and feel great. I simply cannot live without MyFitnessPal. The second App I can’t live without is “Notes.” I document EVERYTHING. I have hundreds of notes which outline most everything in my life from my goals to the byline I’m writing right here. It’s all in my notes on my mobile phone. Can’t live without it! Lastly, I can’t live without my social networks: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. They are the future of distribution and media and I’m a media and distribution guy. I remember presenting to Facebook in 2006 when their head of sales walked me to the elevator. He asked me if I was on Facebook and I told him I wasn’t. He explained to me that if it was Facebook that I wished to sell partnership with, it was probably a good idea to get on Facebook. As soon as I got back to my office, I got on Facebook and haven’t looked back since.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
My biggest shortcut or productivity hack is my mobile phone. I simply do everything on my phone. I remember in 2004 when I started BBE, I bought a mobile phone at the Sprint store in the Flatiron district and told myself that I wouldn’t need an assistant or anyone else for that matter because I’d organize myself with my mobile phone.
15 years later, it’s proven to be my best hack!
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
Just finished Grant by Ron Chernow and the Book really changed my life. You cannot understand this great nation, The United States, without a firm understanding of the Civil War and the great General that brought the War to its close. I strongly recommend Ron Chernow’s Grant.
In addition to Grant, I read anything I can get my hands on about Blockchain. As I mentioned earlier, I believe Blockchain will have a profound impact on the digital advertising industry and I’m fascinated by those prospects.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received came from Jim DePalma, my mentor and boss from my days at CBS.com in the late-90’s. When I started BBE in 2004, I asked Jim, who is a financial guy, by training, how I should go about raising the necessary capital to start the company.
He asked me if I could sell.
“Of course I can sell!”
“Then you don’t need to raise any money,” Jim explained. Just sell and you’ll have the revenues as your capital.
It was exactly what I did at BBE and it was without question the greatest advice I ever received.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
Emotional Intelligence. That’s my secret sauce. I have worked very hard over many years to build strong relationships with good people. I’ve made it my business to stay close and work in partnership with those good people and it’s manifest into two successful companies that have laid a foundation for the multi-billion dollar online video industry.
Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Jeff Bezos— would love to learn his story and answers to these questions
Thank you, Matthew! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Matthew Wasserlauf is known as the visionary who revolutionized advertising by enticing television advertisers to invest their marketing dollars online. In short, he is the OG of OTT. He founded Broadband Enterprises (BBE), the industry’s first online video company and co-founded the mobile video platform Torrential. He currently works with television production company ITN, the leading unwired broadcast network. Matt is often used as an expert resource and byline contributor in the exciting world of OTT.
Torrential is tomorrow’s broadcast television for a mobile-first, multi-screen world. Our innovative, mobile-first Open Syndication System (OS2) video technology platform connects agencies and Fortune 500 brand advertisers with millions of “always-on” consumers through premium media, original programming and big data across smartphones, tablets, CTV, online, and television.
Torrential provides its diversified client base of agencies, brand advertisers, content creators and media companies with transparency and measurable results, while enhancing the overall digital experience for people.
Founded in 2013 by proven entrepreneurs and former BBE executives Matt Wasserlauf, Doug McCurdy and Tarun Yadav, Torrential is headquartered in New York City.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.