Ooyala Expands Social Integrations As Video Viewing Becomes More Personalized

Jay Fulcher, OoyalaStreaming video distributor Ooyala, one of the first video technology companies to take advantage of Twitter's addition of rich media embeds into users’ feeds, is working on similar integrations for LinkedIn while expanding its publishers' abilities to post and target live video on Facebook, the company told AdExchanger.

"As you get beyond the mainstream TV audience, video viewing is becoming more personalized," said CEO Jay Fulcher in an interview. "Whether it's a tablet or another device, the opportunities to do a much better job of creating a nexus between the consumer and content and brand, is unique. That personalization of video is becoming even more so with the rise of mobile usage."

The theme of personalization goes hand-in-hand with "platform" agnosticism from which Ooyala and its rivals hope to benefit. Ooyala started supporting Twitter Cards for video player embeds in January, with ESPN. It has since added Bloomberg videos and is in the process of adding Twitter Card support to its other publisher partners.

Sudhir Kaushik, Ooyala's director of product management, pointed to the "decoupling of content from context" that is a hallmark of social media.

"In addition to the heightened consumer experience around watching ESPN sports highlights within Twitter, the ads are right there as well and the viewer is watching this video the way they would any other way," Kaushik said. "The pre-roll plays within the Twitter stream and, from a platform perspective, it's agnostic as long as we get back the beacon that tells us the ad was viewed. It could be on a PC, a phone or a Roku device. It doesn't matter."

For Ooyala, the use of Twitter Cards and the ability to embed publishers' video players and their ads on other social networks solve a lot of the problems around real-time ad targeting (which remains a challenge for agencies) and the fragmentation of audience visits (which is a big headache for publishers). "An agency like a GroupM is trying to figure out how to efficiently spend and place a $5 million Unilever ad campaign," Kaushik noted. "They'll debate whether to allocate that spending on an ESPN web page or on a Bloomberg iPad app. Because we can tell GroupM, ‘Here's what the audience is watching in real-time, here's how engaged they are,’ they have much a clearer idea of where to go with their spending and targeting."

The blurring of the lines between screens is a theme that's been running through any number of analysts' reports on the video space. The share of tablet and mobile video views grew 19% in Q1 compared to the first quarter of last year, according to Ooyala's Global Video Index, which relies on data gleaned from Ooyala's publishing partners encompassing 6,000 sites and apps across 130 countries and roughly 200 million unique viewers.

Despite the growth recorded by Ooyala's system, mobile and tablet video viewing have a long way to go, as these devices collectively drive slightly more than 10% of all online video plays. Last year, mobile and tablet views accounted for just 4% of the video-viewing pie.

Ooyala has seen considerable growth in a relatively short time frame as well. While many of the other established players in the space like Tremor, BrightRoll, Videology, and Yume all started before or around 2005, Mountain View-based Ooyala didn't release its first product in the marketplace until about four years ago. It was officially founded in 2007 by former Google product manager Bismarck Lepe, who gave up the CEO seat in August 2009, and Sean Knapp, who was also previously with the search giant. Lepe remains with Ooyala as a board member.

The company has more than 260 staffers spread across offices in Silicon Valley, New York, London, Tokyo, Australia, and Mexico. As part of its international expansion, Ooyala raised more than $70 million through five funding rounds – the most recent was last year's $35 million funding from Telstra Applications and Ventures Group, the investment arm of Australia’s telecom giant, Telstra.

"We've never pivoted – never been an ad exchange or an ad-serving company, though we have that capability," Fulcher said. "We work with all the prominent ad-exchange companies and have deep integrations with all of them. Our proposition is being able to provide big media publishers, consumer brand companies and, more recently, large server providers – cable operators and telcos – the ability to reach all video content and ad management. The reason this proposition is working is because, in the near future, all video will be served over IP. And we're the company that manages those digital assets and provides the analytics across all screens."

While the company has attracted major publishers – ESPN and Bloomberg declined to comment for this article, saying they do not discuss their vendors publicly – executives on the buy side have been impressed as well. Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group, looked closely at Ooyala when he was heading Publicis Groupe's VivaKi Ventures unit. But lately, it's the focus on Twitter and Facebook that has helped build Ooyala's presence this year.

"They are, in my opinion, the leading online video platform on the market period – with impressive and full support of all things video, including live streaming, HD, measurement/analytics, social hooks, and device/OTT support," Hanlon told AdExchanger. "Ooyala has done an elegant job of shortening the space between a tweet and a full video play, and it has made Twitter that much more of a potential multi-media platform play – especially for branded media partners like ESPN and Bloomberg. It's a hugely valuable development for Twitter, and you wonder if they are capable of replicating it in-house eventually, or need to depend on video expertise from folks like Ooyala to do it."

As the video landscape's growth continues to provide greater need for Ooyala's services – and that of its rivals – the question it faces is what happens if and when Facebook and Twitter decide to take more of these functions on. At that point, will Ooyala find additional use a complement to those efforts? Or will it become a potential acquisition target for a Facebook or Twitter? In any case, Ooyala and the video-ad players have at least a year or two before that question becomes less hypothetical.

For now, Fulcher and Ooyala are content to try to beat back the company’s rivals with challenges over who has the best data. Last month Fulcher, responding to a previous letter in Adweek that was penned by a group of agency executives, including GroupM's Rob Norman and Starcom MediaVest's Amanda Richman, posted his own letter calling on AOL, Yahoo, and the other "NewFront" presenters to match the improved creative they showcased with deeper data.

In the blog post, Fulcher told agency execs what sort of data he feels is the key weapon in marketers’ video-ad arsenal. “Knowing how people are watching, sharing, and discussing content is critical. But we should also be asking where they’re watching, for how long, and what programs they will want to watch next.”

Asked what prompted his message, Fulcher said, "It seemed like the season for open letters and it seemed like it was begging for a response. We have a credible opinion around measurement. Basically, we're trying to prepare for this new world, where audiences that are fragmented across a variety of screens and there is a need to address that from a data perspective. That's what we want to see others do as well."

 

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