Oath Integrates Its Ad Tech Assets – But What About The Verizon Data?

Oath is attempting to deliver on its promise of becoming an alternative to the duopoly. But a question remains as to how compelling its proposition will be to buyers without the full complement of Verizon data at its disposal.

On Monday, the Verizon-owned company unveiled the long-awaited fruits of a year’s worth of hard labor: a unified ad tech stack under a new brand name, Oath Ad Platforms, that combines assets from BrightRoll, ONE by AOL and Yahoo Gemini.

The result is a consolidated stack that comprises a unified DSP and a search/native marketplace, along with programmatic access to Oath inventory through its SSP and around 40 exchanges.

The platform also includes a few new bells and whistles, such as connected TV inventory via the DSP and new ad formats, like one shoppable unit that lets ecommerce marketers promote flash sales.

“Oath Ad Platforms is the culmination of years of experience, powerful assets and deep work over the last year, bringing together product, data and talent,” Jeff Lucas, Oath’s head of Americas sales and global teams, told AdExchanger.

Product, data and talent – if only it were that simple.

The talent

Late last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Oath’s CEO, Tim Armstrong – chief shepherd of the vision to help Verizon become a dominant force in digital advertising and media – is preparing for his departure from the company.

Why?

Mapped out on a white board, the Verizon/AOL/Yahoo mashup is a no-brainer. Combine Verizon’s handset data on its more than 100 million wireless subscribers with a platter of content consumption data, AOL and Yahoo login data, Yahoo search and Mail data and SDK data derived from Flurry, and you’ve got a scaled contender to compete against Facebook and Google.

But Verizon has been less forthcoming with its subscriber data than was anticipated back when the AOL and Yahoo deals were struck in 2015 and 2017.

According to the Journal, Verizon has been willing to give up anonymized data on its subscribers – gender, age, language and the like – but more detailed information, such as browsing history or a list of the other apps users have on their phone – are off limits without an opt-in … and only around 10 million people have opted in to Selects, Verizon’s loyalty program, which doles out rewards in exchange for access to user data for advertising purposes.

Toss in the increasing awareness of and sensitivity about consumer data use and privacy protection – combined with a new Verizon CEO, Hans Vestberg, who’s more interested in building 5G networks than becoming a digital media powerhouse – and Armstrong was hamstrung.

It’s easy to point fingers, but there isn’t really a villain here. At one point, Verizon was obviously sold on getting into the content and advertising space; otherwise, it wouldn’t have spent more than $9 billion over two years to buy AOL and then Yahoo. But the power of Verizon’s conviction seems to have fizzled somewhere along the way – and perhaps quite early in the process.

“It became clear that this was never going to happen – that a lawyer was just going to shut this down,” said one former AOL employee who left shortly after the acquisition.

Which begs the question: Is the vision behind Oath a failed execution of a good strategy, or just a failed strategy?

“If it’s the first, that’s one thing,” said the former AOL staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But if it’s the second, that means this is a signal that it’s not possible to really combine telco data with an ad tech infrastructure.”

The data

It’s premature to hand down a verdict on whether a telco can make it in the media and advertising biz, though. AT&T is only just getting started, and Oath is still plugging away.

There’s also still a lot of goodwill directed at Oath and its potential as an ad platform. Advertisers are looking for other scaled and credible places to spend their ad dollars beyond Google and Facebook.

Oath is held in high esteem as a publisher. And one digital media executive at a large media agency even said that, over the past six months, Oath has become its top-performing partner for certain clients, particularly travel brands.

It’s possible that even just a little Verizon data in the mix goes a long way.

“We’ve all been asking for Verizon data forever – just like every client has,” the executive said. “As an answer, the strategy Oath seems to be taking is one of ‘fluoride in the drinking water,’ meaning that you can’t go into the DSP and specifically target Verizon users, but they’re using the handset data they do have to model profiles along with data from other places.”

So, what’s in there, exactly?

According to slides from a sales deck shared with AdExchanger, Oath pulls a smorgasbord of deterministic data from Yahoo, Flurry, AOL and Verizon and combines it with probabilistic modeling to create audience segments for targeting.

Oath claims to have access to addressable person-level data for around 400 million records pulled from a blend of Yahoo and AOL login data and Verizon CRM data. It’s also got device-level data mapped to more than 2 billion devices, derived primarily through Flurry’s SDK footprint.

First-party consumption data comes from content holdings including Yahoo News, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports as well as HuffPost, TechCrunch, Engadget and Tumblr; from mail and search data courtesy of Yahoo and Microsoft’s media portfolio across Skype, Xbox, Outlook and MSN; and from SDK data via Flurry and ONE by AOL: Mobile.

Oath also has location data for around 270 million users, based on a combo of AOL geofencing, GPS data from first-party SDKs and Verizon verification.

It’s nothing to sniff at, but is it enough to propel Oath into the duopoly’s league?

“That’s where it’s wait-and-see right now,” a media agency executive told AdExchanger. “They’re really pushing it as a sales team, which is understandable, but whether it will fulfill its potential still remains to be seen.”

 

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