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HIRO: personalizing video, targeting ads

“Programmatic has a personal side,” I wrote back in May 2015, predicting that it would prove to be not just about trading ad inventory, but also about aggregating data at great volume and velocity in order to personalize the customer experience.

HIRO Media, the Tel Aviv-based video distribution platform, is proving that concept. “We’re full programmatic, from distribution to monetization,” said co-founder Oded Napchi in a recent telephone conversation. “As far as I know we’re the only one” in the video space. “Once you enter the network, we can identify you,” he went on. That meant delivering personalized video content first of all, then relevant advertising around it.

“We define HIRO as an online video eco-system,” he said. In distinction from a service like YouTube, which invites users to a single platform for video viewing, and social video platforms like Facebook, HIRO takes a network approach. Relying on the insight that much video content is consumed casually–occasionally you set out with the intention to watch a specific video, but much consumption is random and serendipitous; “a thing you happened to watch”–HIRO distributes content excerpts from major producers like the BBC, the Discovery Channel, and Mark Burnett Productions (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” etc) across a network of partner channels which can reach as many as 400 million viewers. (The Hub spoke with David Balsar, CEO of one of HIRO’s partner channels, Electric Sheep, in this recent podcast.)

“You want content to find you,” explained Napchi. If the viewer likes what he or she sees, clicking through will route them to the full video on a branded website. Network cookies record users’ viewing histories, enhancing the possibility of targeting relevant advertising around the video (above and beyond the subject of the video itself).

In practice, this means delivering excerpts from a video series like Mark Burnett’s “The Uppercut” on a partner site with the right audience–in this case, for example, the New York Post. Intrigued viewers click through to Uppercut TV, where they can not only consume complete videos, but see advertising personalized for an audience Napchi calls “retrosexual,” and which Uppercut TV defines as people who come to a website “where men can be men.”

For a less testosterone-weighted example, consider Fashion One, HIRO’s most successful platform outside the US, where celebrities like Carla Delavigne front the curation of fashion videos and related advertising.  Just click on a fashion icon to get started.

The branded websites are HIRO’s, Napchi said, although they’re designed and built in partnership with the content owners, and ad inventory is priced and sold on a programmatic RTB basis, making it–according to HIRO–“easy and effective to serve up the right ad, at the right moment, to the right viewer, for rich results.”

Effective use of programmatic for both distribution and monetization of content has implications for the wider digital advertising eco-system too. “Of course we think about ad blocking,” said Napchi. He doesn’t see any point in fighting ad blocking with anti-ad blocking technologies: “If people have the desire for a feature, you can’t fight it.” 

“The internet is free because there are ads,” Napchi said. “Once you block ads, there’s no free internet.” After all, monetized views far surpass paid views for online content. One overlooked reason for the increased popularity of ad blocking, he said, is a surge in malware. Users are investing in the technology because they’re being bombarded with malignant or unwanted content (“I use an ad blocker at home,” said Napchi, to block pornographic popups: “I have young children.” Other reasons are perhaps more obvious:

  • Ads aren’t good enough; aren’t targeted enough; or cause browsers to crash.
  • Publishers are greedy; they serve too many ads.

HIRO is committed to avoiding advertising with pornographic, religious, or gun violence-related content (and not crashing browsers), and believes that if ads are well-targeted, viewers will like them.  But, said Napchi, “a big clean up is needed on all sides. Viewers need to get the malware off their devices; publishers need to deliver welcome, clean ads, and not too many of them.

“It’s back to the basics of the past,” he said–Napchi has a background as a television station manager and showrunner. “Simply be good.  People appreciate it when you give them a good service, a good product. Good content, with a legitimate ad before it. Even if you didn’t know you wanted it.” 

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