Michael Strober of Turner on TV and Ad Automation

By Archived Rubicon Project Archives
Cover image for  article: Michael Strober of Turner on TV and Ad Automation

Jay Sears, Senior Vice President of Marketplace Development at Rubicon Project recently spoke with Michael Strober, Executive Vice President of Client Strategy and Ad Innovation for Turner Ad Sales about TV and ad automation. The two appeared at a program on the topic at Dmexco in Cologne, Germany in September. (You can view a video of the program below.)

(TV and ad automation was discussed at the Dmexco conference in Cologne, Germany in front of an audience of nearly one thousand people. Pictured left to right: Jay Sears; Michael Kahn, CEO of Performics and Global Performance Practice Lead -- Publicis Media; Rhys Nölke, Senior Vice President Strategy of RTL Group; Jamie West, Deputy Managing Director of Sky Media, and Michael Strober. Follow the links above to read Jay's interviews with them.)

JAY SEARS: What do you read to keep up with politics, art and culture?

MICHAEL STROBER: The Week -- it’s my go-to and is a great snapshot of the most important stories of the week.

SEARS: What do you read to keep up with friends?

STROBER: Mostly emails or texts.

SEARS: What do you read to keep up with the advertising, technology and TV industries?

STROBER: Harvard Business Review to understand the macro-business, up-and-coming business trends and practices. Wall Street Journal, CMO Today, Ad Age and Adweek for the day-to-day within the industry.

SEARS: What’s your favorite TV commercial of all time?

STROBER: Airbnb’s “Is ManKind?” is one of the more recent commercials I found fascinating. The narrator is pitch-perfect and speaks in prose, while the imagery of the baby walking to the door speaks to the child-like wonder of discovery and the value of tolerance. It is incredibly powerful, and it helped to establish the company as a leader of a brand new category.

SEARS: When you speak about TV ad automation, how widely or narrowly do you define this?

STROBER: The need for automation in digital is very obvious -- what with all of the different platforms and systems needed to execute buys -- but in national linear TV, traditional buying is very efficient for an agency. Meaning, they transact billions of dollars fairly easily. However, as new data sets are introduced into more targeted TV buys that move beyond the Nielsen demo, automation will become more necessary for transacting.

SEARS: With regards to advertising automation impacting TV, what are the three biggest trends you expect to impact companies in 2016 and 2017?


  1. Greater transparency with audience-based buys. With the proliferation of platforms and networks building their own data-led solutions, there exists a real need to be able to truly articulate the value of a buy to advertisers in terms they understand. Advertisers should be able to understand what data their partners use, where their inventory comes from, and at what rates inventory is secured.
  2. Tying TV investments to business outcomes.  Attribution in the television space has evolved over the years, and we are at a moment where data and analytics are available for advertisers to understand how their TV buys are driving their business. This means going beyond just being able to hit Nielsen-based demographics, which we have been working with.
  3. More education about the difference between programmatic in digital and TV. Data, analytics and technology are the keys to programmatic, and these are not typically areas in which media buyers and sellers are proficient. It’s a new language, and we need to ensure that people are learning it.  This won’t happen quickly, but it is imperative if we want to advance programmatic TV.

SEARS: With regards to advertising automation impacting TV, what are the three most overblown topics that you wish would just go away?


  1. Automating workflow.  Television advertising as a whole is a highly efficient process already.  We have 40 years under our belt. There are many players today who primarily focus on solving this part of the process. However, while this can help streamline a process, without data and analytics decisioning much of the value of programmatic is lost.
  2. The robots are coming for our jobs.  With any new technology that comes to the fore, there’s always a skittishness about if it could replace people’s jobs. That’s not going to happen. While platforms and technology are great and will be adopted, at the end of the day it’s about humans making better investment and selling decisions.

SEARS: Describe your company or division and then tell us the top three opportunities you are working on to advance TV automation.

STROBER: My team is tasked with both capturing client insights to better power advertiser decisions and drive business results, and developing next generation ad capabilities, notably around audience targeting and advanced TV solutions.  So, it’s really our clients that are helping us understand where we should be investing in to advance with more data-driven TV ad solutions. Time and again we hear from them the need to move award from traditional demographics to psychographic targeting of audiences that closely align with their individual business.

That said, part of the mission of Turner Ignite, which I co-head, is to re-imagine advertising: How do we improve the ad experience while also driving ad effectiveness?  Just focusing on the data and numbers misses the point of advertising in the first place, which is creating a connection with an audience. I believe that combination of data and content has enabled us to really lead the market in adopting a cross-portfolio view of how we deliver value to advertisers, and is what will power the next generation of TV advertising.

SEARS: Yes or no? If ad spend can be automated and data driven, it should be …

STROBER: Sometimes. There’s no question that ad spending should be data-driven across the board today. However, there’s still something to be said about delivering powerful and impactful brand storytelling. Sometimes that can be aided by technology, but ultimately a more high-touch process is needed. For example, Turner’s Native Plus product replaces regular commercial pods with a longer-form branded piece of content -- delivering that into the right environment is more art than science to make sure it works to drive exposure and ROI.

SEARS: The majority of ad technology and TV technology companies have struggled (relatively small, unprofitable or both). Of the poor performers, what are the commonalities between them that have contributed to this weakness?

STROBER: I think the issue is two-fold: lack of transparency and solutions that only tackle parts of the problem. On the transparency piece, while platforms are important in order to bring some of the disparate technologies together, many are still a black box when it comes to things as how they build estimates and what kind of data they use for planning purposes. That said, we are still very early in this thing, and creating predictable, data-driven models will take time.

SEARS: Transparency -- on media costs, on data, on inventory -- continues to be a lightning rod issue. Should transparency be a negotiated benefit for the advertiser client, yes or no?

STROBER: Yes.  We live in a world where everything can and is measured. Television has always been a medium that has transacted on negotiated rates, ones which both sides understood thoroughly. Today, where there are too many platforms to count with their own ways of measuring a view, it’s become even more imperative for greater transparency. This should start with standardization, so that advertisers are not left with trying to figure out what the value of their investment with one company in one medium is compared to others. If we can progress with better cross-screen standardization, this will allow for greater investments in advertising -- on TV and otherwise.

SEARS: Please answer the following statements yes or no.




(Video above: TV and ad automation was discussed at the Dmexco conference in Cologne, Germany in front of an audience of nearly one thousand people.)

SEARS: If you had your own TV talk show, what would you name it?

STROBER:That’s a hard question, but if I had to host my own talk show, I’d call it The Pursuit of Happyness.  I think the world could use more uplifting, happy stories that enable people to take a break from the hustle and bustle of their lives and the world in general.

SEARS: A young family member has come to you seeking career advice. They must choose one of the following careers: ad agency executive, media company executive, ad technology executive or company marketing executive. Which career path do you recommend and why?

STROBER: A media company executive -- not just because I work for a large media company. We live in very dynamic time in our industry, and a lot of the innovation is coming from the media companies. Many already have great content that audiences desire, and there’s still a lot of opportunities to capture by finding new models and experiences to deliver to today’s consumers.

SEARS: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

STROBER: I can’t pick only one! I’ll go with The Inn at Pound Ridge or The Barn at the Bedford Post.  I really enjoy the ambiance and the feel-good environment they both have.

SEARS: Thanks, Michael!

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