Programmatic is enabling the transition of OTTs to open internet: Tejinder Gill

The Trade Desk India general manager spoke exclusively to IndianTelevision.com.


Global technology platform The Trade Desk helps marketers advertise on the ‘open internet’ i.e., outside the ecosystems of Google and Facebook. The Trade Desk can deliver campaigns across a multitude of devices such as computers, mobile devices, OTT, connected TV (CTV) to reach quality audiences at scale via video, audio, display and native ads.

Founded in November 2009, the company launched in India almost a year ago, setting up their leadership teams in Delhi and Bangalore. It immediately integrated with leading OTT players including Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, SonyLIV, MX Player and Voot and publishers to enable programmatically-driven advertising and bring transparency to the purchase of online inventory.

The Trade Desk is only a demand-side platform, meaning it optimises and solves for advertisers only. It helps them understand the break-up of their media investments at scale in a complicated supply-side ecosystem that has up to seven to eight partners. Its most important USP (unique selling point) is that it offers marketers more choices to advertise outside the established walled garden ecosystems.

Helming The Trade Desk’s business in India is Tejinder Gill who is responsible for the business growth strategy, executing the company’s vision and long-term goals and leading the product development. He is spearheading the expansion of programmatic across digital, audio, video and connected TV for Trade Desk. Gill has more than 17 years of experience, starting his career in 2008 with Yahoo, he was later part of LinkedIn’s leadership team for six years and Truecaller’s executive management team for nearly five years.

In conversation with IndianTelevision.com, The Trade Desk India general manager Tejinder Gill spoke about the challenge that the company is trying to solve, online advertising trends, growth of advertising video-on-demand (AVOD), moving away from third-party identifiers and more.

Edited excerpts:

On the challenges addressed by The Trade Desk

We are all about open internet which means anything outside the walled gardens. The biggest keyword missing in India, when it comes to digital media buying, is choice. Marketers want to get a certain reach and scale that you can only get within the walled gardens. So, the vision we saw was how to build an open internet advertising platform at scale.

Let’s say, $100 is spent on advertising. Almost $53 goes to Google, $28 goes to Facebook and the remaining $19 is shared among the rest of the players which includes any player other than these two. The biggest reason that marketers are looking for a third choice is that these platforms make their own rules. They withhold data and the inability to measure performance in these walled gardens has led to a lot of frustration among marketers.

I have observed that 70 per cent of the time spent by a user is on the open internet while 70 per cent of marketer’s budgets are spent on walled gardens. This is disproportionate. The biggest challenge for me is to educate marketers and partners about the benefit of the open internet and how we can solve for reach and scale.

Think about the open internet as a bunch of different islands and walled gardens as continents. However big you are, you will always remain an island. Our platform makes these islands come together, and talk to each other so that everything is more accessible. The future will see all publishers come under the open internet umbrella. And programmatic is enabling this transition.

Publishers still have direct sales teams to sell their premium inventory and sponsorships but the bulk of their inventory is now available on programmatic. That means all their pipes are connected to us. We’re building a marketplace where advertisers can pick and choose any inventory they want. They can use any measurement tool or any data partner that they want.  Individually, you can never win the game of scale, but together the open internet is a very strong value proposition for marketers to move away from walled gardens.

When I joined the company 16 months ago, and the next month we complete a year of launch in India, programmatic talent was a big issue. We addressed this with Trade Desk-Edge Academy certifications, and interestingly, 40 per cent of members who have taken the certification in Asia-Pacific (APAC) are from India. I have built a diverse leadership team across Delhi and Bangalore since then.

We’ve done strategic partnerships with publishers, OTTs and connected TV manufacturers to be the platform of choice for marketers. This includes partnerships with Samsung TV, OTT platforms such as Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, SonyLIV, Voot and MX Player and audio streaming services such as Gaana, JioSaavn, and Spotify.

On the rise of programmatic video advertising

The OTT consumer base has gone up in the last two years. There are new players entering the global and local markets creating more competition. While linear TV has been there for many years, consumer trends are changing. Some consumers are opting for cutting the chord as a result of the adoption of OTT platforms. OTT offers a seamless viewing experience across devices making it the preferred platform for consumers and building an attractive reach and scale for marketers.

Online curated content platforms (OCCs) are offering premium high-quality content. An OTT platform attracts a large and diverse audience. The biggest difference between a user-generated content platform and an OCC platform is brand safety. Since curated content will be safer and more positive in nature, brands will want to invest in it. It also helps that you can put a data layer on top of it that delivers better performance, measurement and offers real-time insights to marketers.

The biggest difference between linear and OTT platforms is the application of data intelligence. Linear TV has always relied on third party intelligence. The impact of an OTT campaign is measurable and you can take the insights and apply them to any other campaign.

It is also more controlled. For example, suppose you want to target a consumer only three times a day then you can apply a frequency cap. If you want to target him once on Disney+ Hotstar, Voot and SonyLIV then you can adjust your parameters accordingly. This translates to a better consumer experience.

The one thing that marketers love about programmatic is optimising their media dollars and talking to the same user across the media funnel. This means that whether I’m watching TV, mobile, laptop, OTT or audio, the same message will be played in a different format across.

A study we did last year in partnership with YouGov found that 55 per cent of Indians prefer to see an ad versus paying for content. This indicates that the future business model for OTT platforms will be one that will be supported by subscription and advertising.

Our founder Jeff Green predicted three years ago that Netflix will embrace advertising. Today, international players such as Disney+ and Netflix are planning to launch ad-supported models.

On moving away from third-party cookies

Third-party cookies are a three-decade-old technology and a shrinking part of the internet. Now, we have to think of a more sophisticated solution and we’ve created our own identifier called UnifiedID 2.0. It is a string of numbers and letters that cannot be reverse engineered to reveal the identity of the user, say for example his email ID.

If third-party cookies go away, what are the scenarios that marketers arrive at? Walled gardens get more control over the internet. Paywalls keep consumers from accessing content. Consumers having to login multiple times to access the internet.

That’s why the future will have multiple identity solutions that will be interoperable, meaning that these identity solutions will work across the ecosystem and will need to talk to each other. Our identity solution has got a lot of adoption in the Western market and we’re hoping APAC will start running it soon.

On the trends in programmatic video advertising

There are a few trends that I see.

Connected TV (CTV) will drive the next phase of growth. We expect CTV to hit 40 million devices in the country in the next two years. This means that budgets will start moving from linear TV to connected TV.

Marketers will start asking everyone about more real-time business outcomes. Marketers will move away from metrics such as CPA (cost-per-action), CPC (cost-per-click), CPM (cost-per-mile) and start measuring in more detail. For example, in-store footfall.

A cookie-less future is good. It is happening for the benefit of the entire industry. Advertising will be able to target with more precision enabling brands to present different ad opportunities at different points in time. I think this is a new approach for the future.

Five years ago, when we launched programmatic the idea was to automate the entire paperwork also known as programmatic guarantee. That’s not the real advantage of programmatic. Programmatic is all about decisioning i.e., it is about choices. If a marketer wants to buy audiences who may reside on OTT, mobile, CTV then he can find them across channels and devices. That’s the biggest trend that will drive programmatic in India over the next two years.

Decisioning is different from upfront media buying. In upfront media buying, an advertiser blocked the front page of a Times of India or a 15 sec slot on a channel. The advertiser would pay upfront and get the ad displayed.

In a real-time environment, the advertiser wants more control. He wants to pick up the right audience, at the right time and at the right price. The advertiser can control whether that ad should reach 1000 or one million consumers and pay for the reach that he wants. The journey of the ad needs to be mapped. That’s why I say decisioning will take precedence over the existing programmatic guarantee.

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