A consortium built by some of the nation’s biggest media outlets to win new kinds of advertising is quickly changing its course.
Founded in 2017 by Viacom, 21st Century Fox and Time Warner, OpenAP was initially designed to help marketers figure out ways to buy advertising based on reaching segments of audience that aren’t defined as easily in current negotiations with TV companies. Once the company could define the parameters for sponsors eager to reach moviegoers, car buyers or families expecting babies, so the thinking went, the easier it would be for them to get more return on the investment put down on a program on one of the owners’ networks, like “The Daily Show” or “The Masked Singer.”
Now, says David Levy, OpenAP’s CEO, advertisers will soon be able to make purchases through OpenAP as well. And that new feature will turn it from an entity now managed by Viacom, Fox Corporation and NBCUniversal into a stand-alone operation. The company plans to launch a broader market for advanced advertising on October 1 that will allow for the purchase of digital video, among other types of inventory.
“We are moving to a transaction-based model more typical of other marketplaces,” the executive tells Variety in an interview. “Advertisers can either come to us centrally and buy an optimized deal across all the publishers, and they’ll do the billing with us, but they can also continue to work individually with the publishers. Those deals will still run through OpenAP, but all the billing with happen at the publisher level. It depends on how the advertisers want to transact.”
As part of the new strategy, OpenAP is making some new senior hires. Ed Davis will be the company’s chief product officer. He joins from Fox Networks Group, where he was executive vice president and chief product officer for advertising. He has enjoyed stints at ESPN and DirecTV as well as True[X], an advertising technology company that was acquired by 21st Century Fox in 2016. Brittany Slattery will be Open AP’s senior vice president and head of marketing and communications. She joins from the measurement company Comscore. Both will report to Levy.
The moves are some of the first big ones since Levy came aboard as CEO of the operation in May. Not to be confused with the David Levy who is the former president of WarnerMedia’s Turner cable unit or the David Leavy who serves as chief corporate operations and communications officer at Discovery Inc., OpenAP’s Levy is a veteran of the ad-tech world who – if things work as he hopes – is poised to play a role in a reworking of TV advertising as more consumers watch video in ways other than sitting down in front of a living room set at a particular time and date. Levy had been at Fox Networks overseeing all digital ad revenue and advanced ad products, and was the co-founder of True[X].
One senior media-buying executive says OpenAP is making moves that will accommodate a broader array of marketers than its original business would have allowed. “We had no particular intent of using a seller’s platform to buy media at this late date. We have buying systems that we want to use for that and planning tools we want to use for that,” says Jonathan Steuer, chief research officer of Omnicom Media Group, one of the largest buyers of advertising time. “If you want to connect your platform to our set, we are fine with that. They are in the early stages of starting to do that, and that change is very accommodating of the broader market.”
“The most recent steps are all good. Whether that gets them to where they want, well, it’s too early for me to bet on anyone as the one who’s going to get it right,” he adds.
The maneuvers show OpenAP moving on after one of its founding companies decided to withdraw support for the venture. After AT&T acquired Time Warner, its newly christened WarnerMedia unit said it would pull out of Open AP in favor of its own efforts devoted to providing data to advertisers in a unit called Xandr. Viacom and Fox Corporation remain part of OpenAP’s board of directors along with NBCUniversal, which joined in April of last year. Univision is also part of the operation, offering support in May of 2018.
“Look, it’s always difficult to work together as competitors. It’s never an easy thing to do,” says Levy. “What you want is a group of companies that are as closely aligned as possible so you can move forward quickly. If something is not fundamentally aligned with the business objectives of the rest of the group, it could affect our progress and monetization. We all realized there was a misalignment in the path forward.” With the current team, he says, “we can run fast, move quickly, be nimble and build great products.”
Open AP also has a relationship with NCC Media, the national TV advertising sales operation that is a joint venture of Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications. Certain NCC clients can take a customized audience segment they’ve defined with OpenAP and use it to buy advertising among NCC venues, says Levy.
He believes the company’s work will help redefine the ways TV commercials are purchased. “Advertisers are working with us and member networks to define an advanced segment, for something that is beyond a standard demo, and getting a guarantee on that advanced segment,” he says. “It’s a major shift in the market. “