Q&A: The Weather Company on in-app bidding and the ‘watershed moment’ coming to programmatic in 2020

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The Weather Company, an IBM Business, helps consumers and businesses best prepare in the face of weather. Jeremy Hlavacek, IBM Watson Advertising’s Head of Revenue, aims to deliver the most effective ad tech solutions to achieve this mission.

Hlavacek recently sat down with Andy Berman, head of publisher sales in North America for Facebook Audience Network, to discuss the democratization of weather, balancing in-app experience with monetization, and what he’s excited about in ad tech for 2020.

Andy: It’s been four years since The Weather Company was purchased by IBM. What has the relationship allowed you to do that you couldn’t before? 

Jeremy: We’ve been able to accelerate the growth of data and tech solutions to marketers, as well as leverage Watson within The Weather Channel mobile app. An example is Flu Insights with Watson, a first-to-market feature within the mobile app that leverages AI and machine learning to arm consumers with 15-day flu forecast, risk assessment, data and prevention tips based on zip code.

Andy: An AdWeek article on IBM and Weather referred to your efforts as “the democratization of weather.” How are you achieving that, and how do ad tech partners help?
Jeremy: The Weather Company bridges the meteorological divide, offering timely, accurate forecasting services across the globe with the launch of a new global high-resolution atmospheric forecasting services (IBM GRAF). The model helps democratize weather by offering farmers both in Kansas and Kenya the equal opportunity to receive hourly-updating high-resolution weather forecasts.

Advertising within the app is one way that we drive revenue to support the democratization of weather around the world. Ad revenue helps fund the science, content, forecasts and technology used to create digital weather products. Effective management of our ad tech stack also allows us to maximize revenue with the minimal number of ad units on our properties.

Andy: What’s the experience users have with The Weather Channel  mobile app? How do ads fit into that experience? 

Jeremy: Our goal with The Weather Channel app is to reach the consumer across all touchpoints with an immersive weather experience. Native advertising is a seamless way to fit monetization into that experience. We try to strike the right balance and find that well-executed native ads can add incremental value in an organic and user-friendly way.

Andy: What’s one new technology you’re looking to implement on your ad tech stack in 2020 and why? 

Jeremy: In-app bidding is one technology we’re looking to implement. Programmatic has signaled that bidded media buying is now a preferred way to transact. The ability to fairly auction inventory in real-time to the highest bidder is a good business model. The key to the success of this model is to include transparency in the auction. A fair auction allows more new dollars to enter the ecosystem, which is beneficial for all participants.

We have a large and growing global in-app audience, so finding the most effective ways to monetize is critical for the business. Adding more bidders to our app ad stack is a great way to increase monetization because it drives CPMs.

Consumer use of apps continues to grow. It’s important that bidding expands within the apps so that the market can continue to grow. Publishers can then sustainably produce high-quality content in apps to meet consumer demand.

Andy: With so many ad tech partners in the industry, how do you decide who to work with? 

Jeremy: There are many great ad tech partners that can add value to the IBM Watson Advertising portfolio. We spend a lot of time with key partners, making sure we feel confident that they represent the cutting-edge in ad tech. It can take work to find differentiated products that truly drive the value of our business, but at the end of the day, we relish the challenge.

We took time to validate how Facebook Audience Network would support our goals with bidding and native ads. We see that Facebook can bring the scale and technical acumen needed to support monetization against an audience of our scale.

Andy: When you think about the digital advertising industry in 2020, what excites you, and what keeps you up at night?

Jeremy: For the first time, the digital advertising industry will begin a new year representing  the largest share of the global advertising pie. It’s a watershed moment that has been years in the making. It is both incredibly exciting and also somewhat nerve-racking.

All of the blood, sweat and tears that have been poured in to this industry over the years to create incredible technology and innovation will be fully validated with digital spending at the top. At the same time, we are still learning how to use all of these digital advertising tools. It’s more important than ever to operate in a clean and transparent manner that is fair to businesses and consumers.

My hope is that in 2020 the industry continues to drive growth and excitement by innovating in a responsible and ethical way.

Andy: If 2019 was the year of programmatic, what do you predict will be an industry focal point in 2020?

Jeremy: The programmatic market is approaching a level of maturity, where the ecosystem will be cleaner and more efficient. Both buyers and sellers are looking to optimize the supply chain and increase transparency. When the industry is confident that the ‘plumbing’ is working correctly, it will unlock a new phase of innovation.

Overlooked aspects of digital advertising, like creative, will garner more attention. With clean data and a clean supply chain, targeting should be better than ever. Advertisers will then be tasked to deliver the right message to the right consumer at the right moment. This is a critical piece of the art and science of advertising that I expect will get more attention in coming years. The best days of programmatic are ahead.

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