Comcast's FreeWheel Media Is Bringing the "Now" to the Upfronts

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Cover image for  article: Comcast's FreeWheel Media Is Bringing the "Now" to the Upfronts

Pity the media buyer.  Perfect products and tools are always just around the corner.  Hours are invested absorbing company presentations, looking for tools that will help clients -- clients with problems that are immediate and need solving today.  And yet agency and brand executives find themselves running in slow motion towards a media nirvana -- perfect efficiency, transparency, scale and audience-based targeting -- that always seems to be available next year or quarter.

That's why Brian Wallach (pictured above right), Senior Vice President of Comcast's FreeWheel Media, says that the event his company is hosting for around 150 key industry executives is called the NowFront.  "There are a lot of other companies out there working on solving buyers' problems and showing them what they're building towards -- what the industry can look forward to soon," he explains.  "The difference is, at FreeWheel, we're talking to buyers about products that are available today.  Our market positioning is, 'Now you can.'  While we're always innovating for the future, FreeWheel Media is not about what's 'coming soon.'  We are bringing audience-based, data-driven media to marketers right now."

It's a product that has been years in the making.  Once a collection of ad-tech companies, assembled and nurtured by Comcast, FreeWheel is now comprised of three business units.  FreeWheel Publishers works with media sales organizations, including MVPDs, programmers and digital publishers, providing linear and digital technology to support those publishers' ad sales businesses.  FreeWheel Advertisers manages technology for agencies, helping them to plan and buy across screens.  FreeWheel Markets represents the pool of converged TV and premium video inventory that sits in between those other two business units.  It is designed so that buyers and sellers can connect directly on different transaction types, and on all the relevant screens for video, from linear television through OTT, tablet, mobile and others.

Neil Smith (pictured above left), General Manager and Senior Vice President of FreeWheel Markets --- who has been with the company since 2012 -- points out that while advertisers may be able to access some of their marketplace's inventory from other sales organizations, by working with the Markets team they also get access to data and measurement solutions.  "We help advertisers gain a deeper understanding of audiences whether they are viewing on linear TV in their living room, or on a digitally connected device in or out of their homes," he says.  "We have access to a large footprint of household-level data from various sources, and it's really differentiating our offering and adding value."

"It's important to remind your readers that our offering is complementary to publishers' own sales efforts," Smith added. "Our intent isn’t to shift budgets away from their direct sales teams.  It’s to help them access budgets they can’t get in cases where advertisers need aggregated audiences -- and enough scale -- to reach targeted audiences.  The goal is to reclaim what were traditionally television budgets that were headed to digital media.  Ultimately, we're trying to create the best matches of supply and demand to drive the marketplace and make it as easy as possible to transact."

For Wallach, the key is the benefits that advertisers will see as they add FreeWheel Media solutions and video inventory to their national buys.  "We don't operate in the world of long-tail digital video where there are brand-safety and fraud concerns," he says.  "Our inventory is premium, and while we're aggregating inventory we're very transparent around the types of publishers you'll see in our solutions.  We have the scale that produces outcomes -- whether sign-ups or registrations or sales or more product usage or new customers -- and when combined with data and insights, we're able to help brands be as effective as possible with every dollar that they spend."

"That's the reason we're entering the Upfront season this year," Smith interjected.  "We've been selling these kinds of audience-based, data-driven solutions now for a couple of years, and they need to be part of the Upfront discussion because they're scarce.  There's only a certain amount of a certain audience on, say, an OTT platform.  With marketers increasingly more interested in reaching those audiences, they need to start thinking about mitigating risks to access those by buying in the same way they do with their traditional television investments."

Wallach's team, comprised of executives with backgrounds at national programmers and agencies, and aggregators and programmatic companies, is equipped to make transactions easy for every type of buyer, and will all be at the NowFront event.  Speakers at the event include Marcien Jenckes, President, Advertising, Comcast Cable; FreeWheel executives Claudio Marcus, General Manager Data Platform; Dave Clark, Executive Vice President and General Manager of FreeWheel; and Smith and Wallach, along with executives from Data Plus Math, Nielsen, Horizon Media and others.  Wallach and Smith also promise a touch of celebrity, with one panel being led by podcast creatorGuy Raz, host of the podcasts TED Radio Hour and How I Built This.  One panel at the morning event will focus on data, and another will discuss how brands with cultures of innovation are building the future of TV in a "Now You Can" world.

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