Undertone Zeroes In On Its Platform With Hiring Of Former Rovi CTO

undertone eric franchi george durdenWhen Undertone released its programmatic platform Virtuoso in September, the goal, according to co-founder Eric Franchi, was for it to eventually become the primary console of brands and agencies that want to purchase high-impact ad units, or ads that use unique formats designed to snag the audience’s attention.

The onetime ad network has hired George Durden as its SVP of technology to help facilitate this. Durden, who most recently served as Rovi Corporation’s EVP and CTO, will oversee all technological initiatives at Undertone, though his immediate focus is building out Virtuoso.

As AdExchanger previously reported, Virtuoso plans to add an enhanced data and analytics offering in 2015. This is one area where Durden’s experience at Rovi should come into play.

“Rovi, at its core, was a data company at massive scale,” he said. “The skills I established dealing with large-scale data systems and analytics will be important to what we’re trying to accomplish at Undertone.”

Essentially, Undertone is trying to develop a platform play – which also plays into Durden’s skill set. “In a lot of cases, organizations have a collection of technologies that are point solutions bonded together to create more comprehensive solutions,” he said. “What I’ve tried to do in my career is build simple platforms where tech and functionalities are well-integrated and scalable.”

Ad-tech companies have increasingly focused on combining their tech into platforms. The former ad network ValueClick, which rebranded as Conversant, was working to do precisely that when it was acquired by Epsilon. That integration work continues, according to Epsilon execs. Similarly, Omnicom’s analytics and marketing technology arm is also working to become a platform, according to its CTO, Charles Butler.

Integration, while important, is easier said than done.

But Durden insists Undertone has had a head start in gearing up for this.

“The level of investment is key there,” he said. “Undertone started investing in integration a couple of years ago and has been moving down that path.” Durden added that he’s ensuring the Undertone platform has an architecture that allows it to extend “so we don’t find ourselves trapped in a corner.”

Much of Undertone’s programmatic capabilities come from its June acquisition of Upfront Digital Media, formerly Legolas Media. As a result, Virtuoso has an offering designed to allow clients to transact in both an open exchange environment and a direct sales environment.

The combination of programmatic and the direct sales process has been very popular recently, with Rubicon Project spending roughly $30 million on Shiny Ads and iSocket.

Franchi said these acquisitions, on the surface, seemed mostly like publisher-centric offerings enabling those publishers to harness tools to expose their inventory to a programmatic direct environment. “Our customers are the brands and agencies,” he said. One of Undertone’s key clients is IPG’s media investment arm MAGNA GLOBAL, though Franchi didn't disclose the full number of Virtuoso clients.

While other ad-tech companies, like Sizmek, have seen their revenues lag due to a downturn in high-impact ad units, Franchi insists that's not the case with Undertone.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing parts of our business,” he said, adding that Undertone has been pushing its high-impact units into mobile. “Mobile leads a lot of our growth and drives differentiation,” he said.

 

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