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Ten Questions With IAB President Patrick Dolan

Patrick Dolan is president and COO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, or IAB, which midwifed the idea of standardized advertising units in online display ads into a reality that still governs that side of the online ad business.

These days, the IAB has moved far beyond display ads. It runs the New Fronts, the annual showcase to advertisers of online video programming featuring companies such as YouTube, Hulu and Conde’ Nast. This year, for the first time, the NewFronts are being split between New York and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles event is now set for Oct. 8 and 9 in Hollywood.

More recently, the IAB has launched a separate event, a programming showcase similar to the NewFronts, for the burgeoning podcast business, a marker of how far that industry has come in recent times. The next edition of the IAB Podcast Upfront is set for Sept. 6 in New York.

More generally, the IAB is working with industry leaders in online video, virtual/augmented reality and the blockchain to create common standards for the respective industries.

I talked with Dolan about IAB’s current initiatives at last week’s VidCon, where 30,000 fans, brands, creators and media companies gathered to celebrate what’s become a very big part of the media landscape, and thus a source of great interest to the IAB.

TRV: What brings you to VidCon? 

PD: We just released a major research paper that we did internally around what we call the 21st-Century brand. And we look at this phenomenon of how these new upstart brands are challenging the legacy brands and figure out what’s going on. And what we realized, not specific to this particular event, but overall, you have this flexible supply chain. It’s very inexpensive to create products and services through optimizing the capacity of the supply chain. Marketing is part of that.

Our expertise is in marketing and we wanted to see what was going on. We realized these new brands are digital natives. THey’re basically utilizing all the marketing technology that’s been developed with digital publishing over the last 20 years. They’re kind of an inverse part of our ecosystem.

When you look at that, how they are marketing. It’s based on data, based on direct relationships with their audiences. Connecting with that audience isn’t the same as what used to happen in the old days: you’re not driving up to a store, you’re partnering with them, and providing goods and services that they want.

When we look at this convergence of influencers, media, technology, marketing, we’re seeing that there is a blurring between Madison Avenue and Hollywood. You’re connecting the dots, with YouTubers and influencers in the middle. It’s an interesting space and we’re trying learn more about it and connect with it.

Our NewFronts, which is where our digital content producers will preview their new video content for buyers, that has been more traditional. The first week, the YouTubes, and Hulus, and Conde’s (Conde’ Nast), but what we’re seeing in the second week, and we’re moving it to L.A., you’re getting more influencers, more integration, media, we decided we’re going to take our NewFronts to the West Coast where a lot of this is  happening. There’s this convergence. We’re looking at this as more the creator side. But this integration is an interesting phenomenon and we’re checking it out.

TVR: Brian Solis said earlier today at the conference that companies are spending around 10 percent on influencer marketing. Have you seen anything like that from your members? 

PD: I haven’t really seen any data on that. But see that it’s a trend and when you look at new-media companies, they’re not just restricting themselves to  these outlets. THey’re bundling various components together to create value, create experiences for their audiences.

TVR: What are you seeing how influencer corner works? Is it delivering value? 

PD: It’s all very new but what’s interesting, the thesis is that brands that are successful with direct-to-consumer have utilized direct-marketing technicques. It’s the older measurement models, they’re seeing how every piece of media, advertising that they’re using is driving the needle in terms of success. They like to be very close to the dial on that, dialing back this, dialing back that. It’s basically moving away from that traditional (ratings and metrics). That whole attribution model and concept before that we were thinking of is changing. Now where it’s going we’re trying to figure that out.

TVR: Nielsen has spent a lot of time trying to find the Holy Grail of the Gross Rating Point, it’s almost a GUT, Grand Unified Theory. Is it even possible to create a cross-platform tool to measure all engagement? 

PD: The industry’s been working on it for many years, with limited success I would say. Maybe there’s not a silver bullet. It’s just the complexity of the digital ecosystem.

TVR: With Instagram’s announcement of IG TV, there are more online-video options than ever. From the IAB’s standpoint, when it was in the display ad universe, it was all about creating standardized ad units. There’s not a standardized ad unit in this space, is there? 

PD: No, there’s not. We’re certainly trying to create a lexicon, or some sort of shared definitions. We’re all about that people understand what they’re getting. If there are models out there that they’re captured and standardized as much as possible. But when you get into these different platforms, it would be great if the industry all came together. But it takes a lot of coordination and desire and movement in one direction. Right now, there’s a lot going on and it’s very difficult to do that.

TVR: IAB has been part of standardizing ad units in AR and VR. You’re also have a venture trying to figure out things in the space. What’s your interest in these areas? 

PD: A lot of it just trying to capture what’s happening. catalog what’s going on, learning what the technology can do. It’s an extremely fluid moment. In convening all the folks that are working on it in that community and continue to try to advise them on the benefits of standardization. But it’s still very early days.

TVR:  AdLedger is the umbrella group that’s looking at advertising and the blockchain. What are you doing with that?

PD: Well, again, there’s so much going on regarding blockchain at IAB and the IAB Tech Lab, but we are currently letting the market drive things for a while, so there are no standards yet. The promise of an agreed-upon ultimate truth regarding transactions is the ‘Holy Grail.'”

TVR: Sounds like you’re riding the whrilwind right now, trying to impose some order. It must be a crazy time for the IAB now. 

PD: I think it’s a lot of fun. There’s such a change happening that I haven’t felt since the early days of the Web. Just the dynamics, beyond marketing and commerce, how business is conducted. The supply chain is changing, and how consumers are consuming media and making their purchasing decisions,             it’s a very exciting time, so it’s fun to be part of it.

TVR: Was talking about ATSC 3.0 means for networks and broadcasters being able to track their audiences now, and 5G mobile and its implications. Any thoughts on what a two-way experience means in the local broadcast space, and in mobile?    

PD:  Not my expertise but could say as far as data and addressability you’re going to see lot more of that. It’s going to have a profound effect on how you can advertise using video, so I’d say look for more of that.

TVR: Data privacy has been a huge issue in recent months. What role does the IAB have in helping the industry deal with these controversies? 

PD: The IAB has many self-regulatory programs. We’ve been informing all of our members on GDPR and how they need to be compliant. We’ve been working on a framework and protocol with IAB Europe so that the consent and other signals around compliance around GDPR are distributed around our coalition of companies. That’s been very important in moving that forward.  Making sure there’s transparency, control, these are the basic concepts around our self-regulatory program for behavioral advertising for six or seven years. These are considered the gold standard in Washington. We’re very aware of the issues and trying to work to make sure we get to the right balance. Don’t want to benefit certain companies at the expense of the web and want to make sure that privacy is getting protected. Making sure there’s a good balance there is what we’re trying to do.

TVR: Leading up to the May 25 deadline for compliance with GDPR, there were a lot of reports that many companies weren’t ready to meet all the new rules. A month later, what’s your assessment of how the industry is doing now in terms of compliance? 

PD: I would say that May 25 was a very exciting day (laughs). I would say that people have been conservative about their approach. They take it very seriously. The ones that may not have felt they were ready Day One have been moving forward very carefully and making the appropriate changes, if they haven’t already. But it’s still early days.