MediaOcean Makes a Splash

How the new company is creating a common currency for media buying and planning 

Billing, trafficking and processing ad orders are the plumbing of the ad business.They rarely get anyone excited and you assume they will work fine, but, boy, if they don’t flow properly, life isn’t good.

That’s why the deal that formed MediaOcean in 2012 — when Donovan Data Systems and MediaBank merged — is one of the most significant landmarks in the ad business in 2012.  The two competitive suppliers of media-buying processing systems became one in March 2012, and in the months that followed, the new company started rolling out its integrated platform to marketers. MediaOcean is nearly ubiquitous at U.S. agencies and processes more than $130 billion in media billing. 

Raison d’Etre for Digital

The overarching goal with the merger was to extend the reach of both company’s services into the digital side of the business, which desperately needed it, says CEO Bill Wise. Oddly enough, the processing of media buys is one of the few areas of advertising where TV is more efficient than digital. While TV may lack the levels of accountability and attribution of digital venues, the system of placing and delivering ads is easier. The digital world, with disparate systems and a plethora of players, has been a more complicated one for the plumbers to engineer. 

Late last year, MediaOcean launched to its agency partners the newly integrated operating system for processing media buys, as well as new tools for buyers and sellers with its automated RFP process. What’s more, MediaOcean has big goals for 2013 as well — to expand worldwide and to incorporate media planning and post-buy analytics into its system.

Analysts are impressed with the potential. “Much of 2012 was spent integrating MediaBank and Donovan Data Systems and I imagine we’ll be hearing much more from them in 2013,” says Daniel Salmon, Equity Research Analyst for Advertising and Marketing Services at BMO Capital Markets. “But already, we’ve seen new innovation in their SmartRFP app to help streamline the buying process and offer innovative new ideas like a recommendation engine for ad inventory. The company is in a unique position in the market.”

Finding efficiencies in digital

After the merger was finalized in March, MediaOcean set to work combining the two systems into one, a process that took a little less than five months. The goal was to simplify workflow because the lack of standards in digital had made the buying process highly inefficient, Wise explains. For a simple ad insertion, an agency often needed to “touch” 13 different companies from the ad server, to the exchange, to the data company, to a brand safety company to the publisher and more. “The driving force behind the merger was to take the efficiency we have created in traditional and apply it to digital. That is the single only reason the merger made sense. To create a common currency and workflow for digital.” 

That new workflow is the Prisma operating system that MediaOcean introduced in late 2012, with customization at each agency partner. “If you are a buyer using Prisma, you don’t need to log into DART or Atlas,” Wise says. “We have built the APIs into the ad server. What Apple did for the smartphone in creating an app store we want to do for advertising. We have created an operating system where any app can sit on top of all that, like BlueKai or Ad Safe.”

Put simply, a media buyer no longer needs to have multiple software programs open to process orders. Everything lives in one system and on one dashboard, which simplifies the process of buying and processing ad insertions. 

From Buying to Planning

The legacy of MediaOcean lies in media buying, and the next step will be to add planning and optimization into the operating system. This year, MediaOcean is aiming to layer in planning tools as well as analytics to capture both the before and after aspects of purchasing media.

That incorporation of planning tools can widen the base of media partners because the planning process is when agencies conduct their inventory discovery, Wise says. At the moment, companies like Hulu and Pandora aren’t in the system, but ideally they would be, making it easier for media buyers to spend digital dollars with those services. “Agencies don’t do well on manual processes, so we want to automate it, and dollars will follow eyeballs,” he says. Similarly, Wise hopes to expose more online video inventory to TV buyers via Prisma, and MediaOcean is also in talks with various online video technology companies to incorporate their tools into the system.

Then there’s the data side. MediaOcean is adding in data from sources like comScore, as well as first-party data and proprietary data. That’s key to success because data — the new black, some say — has become vital in all aspects of the buying process, from planning to real-time tweaks, to post-campaign analysis. “We want to help our clients absorb all the data they’re sitting on, from first party, to third party, to offline, online, clickstream. There is an opportunity to create a common standard and we think we can do that,” Wise says.

The term “data management platform” is a popular one and there are several different varieties, BMO’s Salmon says. “Again, because of its legacy as the dominant agency work flow software provider, MediaOcean has a unique opportunity for selling this type of concept to agencies.” 

 On the vendor side, MediaOcean rolled out a vendor-facing portal last year that now houses 44 of the top 50 digital publishers, and 163 publishers overall. Media sellers can also access the company’s new SmartRFP system from Prisma. The SmartRFP tool lets buyers input their RFP needs into the system, and vendors respond directly to RFPs from agencies instead of relying on sending tons of emails. “We build automation into the entire RFP process in our system. So that starts with the buyers putting in all the parameters, and audience options, and then it automatically gets sent to publishers,” Wise says. “That’s an example of how we’re a buying and a bill pay company, but you need to plan buy and optimize in the same system, so let’s automate the RFP.”

Technology partners say the integration is helping their businesses. “What’s critical to the growth of the advertising ecosystem is the ability of all players in the space to interconnect,” says Lorne Brown, president and CEO of advertising software company Operative. “The easier it is for buyers, sellers, and technology media providers to transact, the more powerfully the entire industry can grow, and the more deeply brands can engage with consumers.”

The merger will let MediaOcean enter more international markets, Wise says. The company currently processes ad spend in the U.S., UK, Germany, France and Canada. The goal for 2013 is to reach 200 markets. That process calls for another massive layer of integration. “The big hurdle to overcome is how to create a platform which at its core is a global platform, and then can you localize for currency and language. We are building an underlying advertising platform that needs to be customized at a local level but isn’t a local platform, and that’s only possible because we rearchitected around Prisma so modules can be added.” 

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