Xandr's Steve Truxal: We're Not Shying Away from Solving the Cross-Screen Challenge

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Cover image for  article: Xandr's Steve Truxal: We're Not Shying Away from Solving the Cross-Screen Challenge

Before he oversaw a team of 80 product managers and product designers, Steve Truxal (pictured at top) worked in a research lab developing microchips, the types you might find in cell phones and computers, while dually earning his doctorate in engineering. Now, as Xandr's SVP of product management, Truxal has turned his attention to building innovative, video-first advertising capabilities backed by unique data insights, after tackling complexities in digital for the past eight years including fraud prevention, the establishment of header bidding, and the rapidly changing identity and consumer privacy regulation landscape. Truxal shared his perspective on building products that meet the demands of a cross-screen environment.

What do you do at Xandr?

I'm SVP of product management, and I oversee Xandr's platform products including Invest DSP, Monetize SSP and ad server, as well as our shared platform. The shared platform is the foundation of those products, but also powers a lot of other Xandr efforts. It's kind of the core backbone, and we do a lot to help drive our TV products and O&O media business. And branching outside of Xandr, the core platform supports initiatives we're working on around identity with WarnerMedia and AT&T as well. Inclusive of that are our efforts in leveraging data insights from AT&T for advertising, which resides within this team. I also oversee the product design team, a team of designers who are responsible for our product workflows and forward-thinking designs on how our products should work together. I started at AppNexus back in 2011 and spent eight or nine years working on platform products, and before that was at the management consulting firm McKinsey working on strategy for high-tech companies.

How do you work cross-functionally with other teams to solve complex problems like digital and TV convergence?

Almost all of Xandr's products are built on our shared platform, which gives us a bunch of advantages in-market and the foundation to begin to converge a lot of our products. You might imagine a scenario where we might work with a large agency holding company in many different capacities, and they might want a single bill at the end of the month, or unified reporting, or ways for different products to talk to each other, and that's made possible through a shared platform. Probably the biggest area of focus on is the data aspect. Being owned by AT&T, at Xandr data is definitely one of our key differentiators. A lot of work goes into leveraging those insights for advertising while meeting privacy-safe regulations.

Talk about the evolution of the platform from predominantly digital to investments in video, CTV and ultimately linear TV. What's been most challenging?

As far back as 2016 at AppNexus, before we were acquired by AT&T and became Xandr, we knew video would be our key focus for the digital platform. We've been very steadily transforming a lot of our products to be very video-first when it comes to media buying and selling. We still invest quite a lot in omnichannel formats outside of video since we know a lot of our key customers on both the buy and sell side are omnichannel in nature. They have some video assets, but they also have native and audio and out of home. Video is definitely key, and it goes hand in hand with our TV business and a reason why we've put a lot of efforts toward video in the first place.

We have a large TV business we're supporting for our owned and operated inventory and with our clypd acquisition and the announcement of our Invest TV product and partnerships, it gets really exciting and challenging. I think about, 'How do we start to combine those in future products that are more unified?' The clearest area to start is with data. A large buyer may bring their own audience and through a single audience upload we want to be able to tell them how to work with Xandr or apply their budgets across different channels. Audiences may overlap between digital and TV; their outcomes may be dependent on the cross-screen advertising they're doing. These are all interesting challenges because the TV and digital worlds are so different, down to the vernacular clients use. We're by no means done, we're just getting started, and it will be interesting to see what we can do in market as we converge a lot of these product offerings.

Speaking of Xandr's launch of the next evolution of Xandr Invest, what do you think is the biggest differentiator?

How we automate what historically has been done in-house with custom tools for selling TV and how we could layer in selling digital into this equation for further increasing reach. Invest DSP houses a lot of smart technology and access to connected TV from the programmatic ecosystem. But I think one of our most unique differentiators is we're not shying away from going head on at this challenging problem of cross-channel. It's not just tech, but the business relationships and media assets you need to pull it off. Add in unique insights from AT&T and you've got an even stronger offering.

A lot of people have said creating universal identity is a key challenge in CTV. What's possible right now and what's still a pipe dream?

Possibility looks like understanding your audience and the outcomes of your advertising across both TV and digital in a single platform or tool. We're already making great gains and traction. And a pipe dream – if you come from the digital space, your first inclination is to make all this linear TV fit into the programmatic ecosystem and have real time bidding auctions for it all. TV is dramatically different, from historically buying upfront six months in advance as opposed to real time within milliseconds deciding if you want to serve an ad to a publisher or not. So we need to make sure we build products that conform to the way partners want to do business. And the reverse is true, too. Digital has a lot of advantages but also a lot of challenges when you compare it to the TV side. I don't think you'll ever get away from some of the advertising practices you see on pages that degrade the user experience. But the way you can improve product for customers whether in digital or TV is through data, understanding audiences, outcomes and being able to provide tools that help buyers and sellers plan and execute more effectively.

Last question. What are you watching on TV in quarantine?

A lot of COVID-19 news right now, to be honest. My wife and I also love Homeland, John Oliver, and Altered Carbon. And way too much Storybots for the kids.

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