Julian Tol is the Founder & CEO of Brandscreen Inc., a digital media trading platform.
AdExchanger.com: What problem is Brandscreen solving?
JT: The problem we solve is the reduction of transactional friction. Generally speaking, the industry suffers from over-complexity, with online display sales systems built on top of offline technologies. There's poor visibility for buyers, and declining yields for sellers. Brandscreen's starting point is that everything we do is about 'Automating the Transaction'. We use the line 'a Reuters screen for media industry' to make it clear that we are an end-to-end solution. We transmit the insertion orders and clear funds for both sides of the transaction.
Do you consider yourselves a demand-side platform? What does your competitive set look like?
Yes, we operate a DSP, but Brandscreen technology is broader than that. We operate an end-to-end system for electronic trading. We transmit the orders, we exchange the data packages and we clear the funds for both sides of the transaction. The agency platform is branded BRANDSCREEN DSP. The publisher platform is BRANDSCREEN SSP. I think the term 'DSP' is still evolving. If you ask an agency, then almost everything they use to buy media is a "demand side platform', whether it's Brandscreen, AdMob or Adwords. I suspect that the term 'DSP' will keep evolving to mean something broader than it does now, where we start to refine the label based on buy types, media channels and trading tools. With regard to our DSP platform, our competitive set include x+1, DataXu, MediaMath, InviteMedia and Turn.
One of Brandscreen's key differentiators is the integration of Reach/Frequency 'brand buys', with RTB 'performance buys', into a single buy-side platform. When Reach & Frequency optimization drives the buy, it works like this: A buyer enters geo, gender and age data alongside reach and frequency goals and other campaign parameters. Using live connections with ratings data providers, with ad servers for avails, and agency's custom rate cards for prices, Brandscreen presents a media schedule optimized for most efficient delivery of R&F goals. The schedule can be customized with the buyer's preferences, and eventually bought and trafficked on screen, end-to-end. When response optimization drives the buy, we rely solely on RTB. Our real-time bidders operate in the major exchanges, and we optimize for CPC or CPA using multiple data sources and our own proprietary machine-learning optimization processes.
How does Brandscreen's revenue model work?
We charge a straight transaction fee - to either the sell or the buy side, but never both. When inventory is loaded through BRANDSCREEN SSP, the seller pays a sell-side trading commission. The seller accounts for the fee as part of the cost-of-sale, and the agency pays nothing. When the buy is made in one of the real-time exchanges, the agency pays a buy-side trading commission. We always show counter-parties all components of the transaction, including agency discounts and commissions. We work on the basis of complete transactional transparency.
How has your own background led to the development of Brandscreen?
My agency background has led me to (try to) keep it simple. Agencies have so much going on, and we are a small but important part of their overall world. People find our logic and UI straightforward. We don't over-complicate the process.
What's your target market? In that you're based Australia and the U.S., what are your geographic plans, if you will?
Our aim is to work for a handful of leading agencies in the US, UK and Australia to start with. We've actually built the platform in both the US and Australia, so the DNA of both those markets is built into the system. Our intention is to focus on getting the business to scale across all English-language markets globally within a relatively tight time-frame. Geographically, we follow our agency customers.
In display, what are the key differences between the Australian market and the U.S.? Is it different for mobile and video?
There is probably a higher general awareness about data-driven media buying and transaction automation within the US market than anywhere else in the world. I am in awe of the innovation and entrepreneurial energy that our industry is showing right now. I feel privileged to be a small player in this space at such an exciting moment in its history. The closest comparison is probably the era when real-time trading platforms were introduced to the financial markets. As for the difference... Australia is dominated by five big publishers sharing well over 50% of ad impressions. Average CPMs are higher. Very little inventory flows through exchanges. Overall though, the markets are pretty similar, and this also applies to mobile and video.
Please discuss Brandscreen's data strategy or offering.
We have deals with comScore and Nielsen on the Reach/Frequency buy-types, where we mash ratings data with ad server data with our own search data... and optimize accordingly. We are fully integrated with the major enterprise ad servers, and we are progressively building links with sell-side partners such as Rubicon. In the area of RTB, we have integrations with Omniture and an increasingly long list of third party data providers and exchanges.
What milestones would you like to have Brandscreen achieved a year from now?
In a year from now... we want to have a small number of large agency clients running 20-40% of their display ad spend through the platform. In terms of milestones, that would mean having employed the Series A funding with enough speed and agility to have successfully scaled up operations in three of our target markets.
How are you funded? Any plans to seek financing in the future?
Three years of R&D has been funded by the founders (via a previous trade sale in 2005), plus a small group of tech angels. In 2 weeks from now we kick-off a Series A round, where we aim to raise $6M to scale up operations. Interest has already been strong. No one else has automated both the Reach/Frequency (brand) optimization, alongside RTB (performance) optimization. Automating both brand and RTB performance gives Brandscreen a unique and defensible competitive advantage.