FreeWheel, which employs 200, according to co-founder and co-CEO Doug Knopper, also worked with Amazon to surface short-form video ad placements in search results and as movie trailer prerolls.
Regardless of how Comcast's ownership of FreeWheel will affect its current client base, the acquisition underscores a major trend: The industry at large is moving toward addressable TV buys at programmatic scale.
Comcast's recent moves have encouraged industry insiders. Matt Bayer, VP of advanced TV at MAGNA GLOBAL, predicted last week at the Advanced Advertising forum in New York that Comcast's Time Warner Cable acquisition "will increase the amount of available impressions able to be bought at the household or audience-based level.”
Additionally, while addressable TV currently supplements broadcast buys, smartphones and tablets still accounted for 20% of all video ad views last quarter, said Brian Dutt, FreeWheel's director of advisory services, at the Advanced Advertising forum. The result, he said, will be advertisers’ continued interest in cross-platform buys and addressability.
According to Jeff Lanctot, CEO of video ad serving and analytics technology provider Mixpo and former chief media officer for Razorfish, both Comcast and FreeWheel have been "close partners for us," and called the acquisition a great development for the video ad business.
"Comcast has been quietly building a powerful multiscreen solution for several years," he commented. "The acquisition of FreeWheel signals that, in doing so, they are just as serious about technology as they are content. Through both in-house development and acquisition, they are pulling together an incredibly formidable solution."
Although many companies claim to offer a true multiscreen solution, "few can claim the scale and capabilities of Comcast. I'm looking forward to working with the combined entity once the deal closes and I'm sure major advertisers feel the same way."
In this market, "you are either the network, the content or the arms dealer," commented Ray Wang, chairman and principal analyst at Constellation Research. "Comcast wants to be the arms dealer."
Update: Comcast's history of video acquisitions that spans online video management tool thePlatform and buy-and-sell-side media platform STRATA, outlines the direction FreeWheel could take as part of the media conglomerate. Since Comcast's acquisition of thePlatform in 2006, the company has made a number of advancements to the service that include extending television and video on demand offerings multi-screen. Strata Marketing's scope, which is estimated at more than $60 billion in media billings annually, could expand FreeWheel's background in network/operator service to the brand advertiser/agency side of the equation.
FreeWheel confirmed to AdExchanger that there would be no imminent layoffs as a result of the acquisition and that the company's existing employees will become Comcast employees. "The three of us have each signed multi-year agreements to stay on in our roles and are fully committed to seeing our dream become a reality within the Comcast family," FreeWheel's three-member founding team consisting of Jon Heller, Doug Knopper and Diane Yu included in their acquisition announcement Thursday.