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Q&A: Frost Prioleau, CEO Of Simpli.Fi Demand-Side Ad Platform

Frost Prioleau is CEO of Simpli.Fi, a demand-side ad platform based in Fort Worth, Texas, that handles all kinds of online advertising from desktop display to mobile to the hottest new platforms, Connected and Smart TVs. TVRev talked with Prioleau about the huge jumps in ad spend his company is seeing especially on Connected TV during the pandemic, what kinds of programming is working best, and whether these shifts in spending by brands are likely to continue.

TVRev: What is Simpli.Fi?

Frost Prioleau: We’re a demand-side platform. The (companies) people tend to know in our space are Trade Desk or MediaMath, or Data Zoo, which Roku bought almost a year ago. We’ve been busy for 10 years. We have about 350 people. Early on, people were just raising a ton of money and blowing it on things like, renting a house in the Hamptons, and then having all the ad agency buyers and media planners out to their house in the Hamptons. And we said, “Hey, we’re not gonna compete with these guys on parties.” 

TVR: That feels very 1999, doesn’t it?

FP:  Yeah. And this was in 2012. So we said, we’ll be the guys who bring programmatic advertising to local advertisers”. There are things we did that made our offer particularly good for local, basically more granular data, which is good for customizing campaigns and optimizing them. We started off placing programmatic advertising on websites like everyone else, then it moved to mobile. And because we are very focused on local customers, mobile was a big deal for us.

But the big story in our world (more recently) has been Connected TV. The first leg was website display, the second leg was mobile, and the third leg of growth for this whole programmatic world is Connected TV. We’ve been waiting 10 years, but (ad spend) started moving over before COVID-19.

The inventory rose just because viewing has gone up. At the same time, it’s just had a moment from the advertisers figuring out, “Oh, my gosh, everyone’s watching streaming! I need to move some budget off of linear.” Advertising has not been booming since COVID-19 hit,, but that is one part that has been booming.

TVR: Some of that might have been all the suddenly unallocated spending on (cancelled) live sports. This was a place to go. Streaming actually benefited, right?

FP: True. And as far as people who spent and didn’t spend. if you’re in e- commerce, they kept spending. Quick-serve restaurants shut down and then came back, we saw auto go down and then come back. Travel still hasn’t budged. Entertainment is a segment that hasn’t budged. We’ve seen some regions come back. The East has gone down to where the West is, but Central has gone up. And then on media types, we’ve seen CTV rise, even though we were down in April like 28% year over year. But even during that month, our Connected-TV spend was up 100% and for the second quarter was like 80% year over year. So Connected TV was one of those things where there’s winners and losers and it’s definitelygoing to continue to grow while other types of media advertising are a bit down.

TVR: What kinds of programming is working?

FP: Early on, programmatic advertising was called a race to the bottom, where publishers are going to put their lousy inventory. And that we saw was a pattern we’ve seen in all the media types. Desktop display, it was first lousy inventory. And then publishers figured out that actually, more and more advertisers want to buy that way, and they could monetize their inventory at higher prices that way without paying a bunch of expensive salespeople. So we saw the quality of inventory in browsers go up. Same thing in mobile apps. First, it was kind of the dregs and then quality went up where we see 80% or 90% of all of those two media are exchanged programmatically now. With Connected TV. it’s had that same (cycle) but faster, so we have a ton of inventory on networks such as Discovery Channel or Home and Garden TV or Food Network. There’s a whole mix, but the inventory for those who want to be on good (outlets) is very much available.

TVR: How do you navigate the challenges of white-listed or black-listed content, especially as many brands want to avoid pandemic or other negative news.

FP: In some ways, TV is a little easier because if you’re on Home & Garden or Discovery Channel or Food Network, you’re not, for the most part, coming up against against controversial news items. In real time bidding today, we for the most part do not get the show-level information. We get network-level information, we get Discovery Channel. We don’t know if it’s on Shark Week or some other program. But they can buy the network, they can choose pretty well. For advertisers who don’t want to be on news next to Coronavirus stories or what have you, they take out the news but there’s so much other content.

TVR:  Who’s benefiting most on Connected TV? Is it Home and Garden TV’s doing great because everybody wants to see how they can fix up the place now that they have to stare at the walls all day?

FP: We see a lot through Roku, we see a lot through Samsung Smart TV, we see some PlayStation as well. And then we can track channels like Pluto; we see a lot of content coming through the Pluto app. And then within that, we certainly have seen a lot of advertising on for home and garden products. That’s been one of the strongest through this whole situation.

TVR: So you said Q2 saw an 80% rise in Connected TV ad spend. Is it on target to do that this quarter too?

FP: Of course, things evolve. For the entire year, we’re about 100% up for 2020 year to date over 2019. This month (August) is running about 100%, about doubling, for us year over year. There are a few moving parts helping that. The lack of sports, you have a lot of advertising dollars looking for a home. We don’t do a ton of political advertising, but we’d expect over the next couple months we’ll see more political. And then with the Upfronts down this year, that also has money looking for a home. We expect all that will be helpful between now and the end of the year.

TVR:  Any sense of how durable the shifts may be?

FP:  We think nothing nothing’s going back. We’re not alone is viewing it as an acceleration, like so many other trends that we’ve seen accelerated. The general feeling in the industry is that this was going to happen, that the advertising dollars would follow where the eyeballs were going, just like they’ve done countless times in the move from print to online to mobile, etc. This is just making it happen over the course of five or six months, what might have taken a year or two otherwise.