In the new role, Byrne will head Zefr’s marketing and sales organizations. He’s also tasked with forging relationships with ad-agency holding companies and major brands as well as leading the company’s expansion into Europe. He will work with co-CEOs Rich Raddon and Zach James to steer the company’s strategic direction.
In addition to Byrne’s hiring, Zefr announced that EVP and head of global sales Brian Atwood will be promoted to chief sales officer, reporting to Byrne.
Prior to joining Zefr, Byrne most recently was president of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, before resigning unexpectedly in September 2016. At FNG, he oversaw national ad sales and revenue-generating strategies for domestic entertainment and sports TV businesses, including Fox Broadcasting, Fox Sports, FX Networks, National Geographic Channels and their digital extensions.
“For the majority of the content I’d been selling for my career — premium entertainment and sports — there’s been significant fragmentation,” Byrne said. “When you look at where the opportunities are going forward, part of what made this attractive was the tech capabilities of Zefr, in their ability to curate packages. They are essentially creating a premium-content experience on YouTube.”
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Byrne had served as an adviser for six months prior to his being recruited as president (his official start date as a Zefr employee was Sept. 5).
“It was the try-before-you-buy model,” joked co-CEO James. “We weren’t sure we’d be able to attract someone of his level. Toby has been talking to brands for some time – when we go in with our offering to big brands, he’s someone they have trusted for years. He’s able to say, ‘This is the offering I was losing out to in TV.'”
Byrne first joined Fox in 1996, rising through the ranks to be named president of ad sales for Fox Broadcasting in 2010 and president of ad sales of Fox Networks Group in 2014. Byrne began his career as a media buyer at Omnicom Group’s BBDO in 1993.
Zefr’s BrandID contextual-advertising system analyzes millions of YouTube videos to determine the nature of the content, and the company also offers rights-management tools for the platform. Zefr has benefited from the brand-safety concerns that reared up earlier this year at YouTube — after advertisers discovered their spots in some cases were running with objectionable content, including white-supremacist and terrorism videos.
But according to James, “Brand safety was child’s play. The biggest opportunity is contextual advertising… We’re not just blacklisting videos that aren’t safe. We know every single video and the context for them.”
Byrne’s main job will be explaining that story and selling the system to Madison Avenue. He’s based in New York City, but said he will “be out west quite a bit.”
Zefr, based in Venice, Calif., is backed by investors including IVP, U.S. Venture Partners, MK Capital, Shasta Ventures, First Round Capital and Richmond Park Partners.