TechBytes with Kumaran Sambandam, VP of International Demand Partnerships at RhythmOne
Hi Kumar, tell us about the major milestones in your career as an Adtech professional?
I was a part of the digital advertising industry in 2006 with AOL — when ad servers and networks were a big thing, like AI is a big thing today. I had the opportunity to move to mobile advertising in 2011, which gave me a holistic view between desktop and mobile, and its unique offering in digital advertising. I then joined Mobfox to drive it from an ad network to ad exchange. I earned the opportunity to grow the business to $50 million, and I was instrumental in getting a successful exit. It was an exciting learning experience to efficiently build Mobfox’s ad exchange business from scratch to $50 million with less than 50 people.
We saw some of the biggest M&As in MarTech and AdTech in 2019. What cue did you take from these tech M&As to build a roadmap for your industry for 2020-2024?
A few years back, a lot of the AdTech companies understood that data is a key component of success. However, most of them did not invest in data. AdTech is still a very attractive business because of the scale it can generate within a short span, but investors are now focusing more on profitability than revenue. M&A activity consists of consolidation, and others are very strategic acquisitions. The important areas I would build into my roadmap are converting data to actionable value for clients, building an efficient revenue generation model and providing more control to clients.
What does your Ideal Customer Profile look like?
An ideal customer profile includes an agency or advertiser who uses a third-party DSP or propriety DSP that runs advertising on desktop and mobile. From there, we can curate the respective audiences and media to make their programmatic buying more effective.
You have been part of the high-growth Marketing and Advertising industry for more than 10 years now. How much have Digital Advertising practices evolved through the internet, dotcom and now social media and AI era?
Advertising played a key role in internet growth — not only through funding content generation but also by allowing small enterprises to be discovered globally. The internet era created the entire digital advertising channel, while the dotcom era enabled marketers to accurately measure and attribute success to Marketing campaigns. The social media era enabled advertisers to accurately target and retarget users at scale.
Every era provided a significant advancement which helped advertisers to increase their Marketing spends and more importantly measure and grow ROAS accurately. Today, there are a lot of companies with tremendous data, but they don’t necessarily make it actionable or drive value out of the data. This is where AI will be very helpful. To give a few examples, AI might be able to discover new sets of customers, enable device messaging strategies, build creative in runtime, enhance dynamic creative optimization and more.
We hear that Amazon and Facebook are almost unbeatable in the Advertising industry. Google (though its Search and YouTube) recently announced its revenue break-down. How are these tech giants impacting your business and changing the nature of consumer behavior across physical stores, mobile and online shopping platforms?
In my view, Google, Amazon and Facebook helped the digital advertising market grow in many ways. For example, Google Analytics was available to small publishers — who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to website views in the early days. Today, anyone can run Video Advertising for as little as $100 and reach their target audience — which wouldn’t be possible if Facebook wasn’t there. Apart from them eating others revenue, I would say they created a market for themselves and thrived in it for obvious reasons.
Having said that, due to their wealth of data and audience reach, they were able to provide better results for advertisers compared to other independent players. However, the industry is large and has various needs — and this provides the opportunity for companies outside of walled gardens to succeed. Companies like Tremor International offer unique value in more than one way to clients and publishers that wouldn’t be available within the walled gardens.
We’re seeing a rampant adoption of AI, Blockchain, and RPA in the Voice and related tech businesses. What approach do you take in digitally transforming your operations with AI ML and RPA techniques? Have they borne you satisfactory results?
One of the main use cases of Blockchain in advertising is bringing complete transparency to media buying transactions. There are multiple hurdles here: Would walled gardens be willing to adopt and provide transparency? Is it cost effective assuming transactions happen within a limited timeframe?
AI surely has a wide range of use cases. For example, RhythmOne’s exchange is using ML in allocating the right traffic to DSPs and estimating the possible winning price. As RhythmOne tests with ML in other areas, I am confident that ML will help us significantly increase efficiency.
RhythmOne is a force to reckon with in the modern Programmatic AdTech industry. What unique challenges and opportunities are you currently looking at, in the APAC market?
APAC presents tremendous potential, but also comes with a variety of challenges. APAC is mobile-first, which is good in many ways but is also very fragmented. A proportion of server cost against the transaction value is relatively higher in APAC. Setting up an office locally in China, the single largest homogenous market in APAC, is a challenge because the server firewall makes it hard.
On the other hand, adoption of new technology is quite fast in markets like India, Indonesia and South Korea — which makes the market very interesting. With a significant presence in APAC, Tremor International firmly believes in digital advertising growth in the region.
How is the APAC Marketing and Advertising tech industry standing up in competition against North America and EMEA? What are you doing to penetrate in newer markets?
I wouldn’t want to compare markets, as every market is different in its own way. APAC is very strategic to us, and growing in the APAC region is one of the key goals for Tremor International.
Tell us more about your Product Development approach and how it engages with your current Sales and Customer Service departments to solve unique challenges that your APAC customers often raise.
As a unit, we take a customer-first approach. We intend to develop products which facilitate our clients and publishers to transact programmatic buying and selling more efficiently. For APAC it is no different, as we see the region as more performance oriented. We are building various metrics for our APAC partners to help them achieve their campaign objectives. In addition, we are scaling up our ability to reach more audiences segments within APAC.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
Kumaran is a experienced Senior Vice President with a demonstrated history of steering a start up to a successful exit for a digital adtech company. He has strong Business development and Management professional skilled in Digital Strategy, AI, Business Planning , AdTech.
RhythmOne drives real business outcomes in multiscreen advertising. Its highly-ranked programmatic platform efficiently and effectively delivers performance, quality, and actionable data to demand and supply-focused clients and partners – and its influencer marketing offering fosters action and awareness by connecting brands with influencers who create and distribute branded content to engaged consumers.