Real-Time With Live Nation's Finnegan, Levine On Entering Programmatic Marketplace

Live Nation, a live events promotion company, this week announced the appointment of Mike Finnegan as VP of programmatic and product innovation, a new position at the company. He joined Live Nation from Xaxis, where he served as its director of product development.

Real-Time Daily caught up with Finnegan and Jeremy Levine, SVP of digital sales at Live Nation, to talk about the company’s decision to enter the programmatic fray.

Real-Time Daily: Live Nation is an interesting player in the programmatic space. You are a publisher, but not in a “traditional” sense. Why enter the market?

Jeremy Levine: We are a digital publisher that also has technology and a lot of data. We’re also a content producer. Programmatic was the next natural progression in terms of having a unique offering and leveraging the primary data that we have.

RTD: Is Mike the first executive-level person Live Nation has appointed who is focused on programmatic?

Levine: Yes. We obviously [already] do some targeting … but we felt the time was right, and that the marketplace is ripe, for an offering like ours.

Programmatic certainly hasn’t reached its maturity, but it is out of its infancy. We look at this as the beginning of a tech product opportunity, and programmatic audience segmentation is the first step.

With the advent of beacon technology … the ability for us to create opportunities for brands to talk with consumers where they are is a huge long-term opportunity.

Mike Finnegan: To add: In 2014, programmatic is not only low-cost RTB advertising. That notion hasn’t even been around for a year yet in the industry. Live Nation knows where we want to play within that spectrum, and finally people are getting caught up.

RTD: To clarify, you think programmatic has not yet reached maturity, but is out of its infancy?

Levine: Maybe it’s a toddler or in grade school. 

Finnegan: [I agree that] it’s out of its infancy, but nowhere near close to maturity.

RTD: Mike, what’s the definition of “programmatic” as it relates to your job?

Finnegan: Using technology to be able to connect brands to audiences. We have the audiences and we have a media footprint

[We’re] thinking of programmatic as a business; getting out of the old IO-based buying and at the same time making sure ads are delivered … to reach specific audiences.

Levine: I’ll add: [We’re thinking of] programmatic through the lens of data. We’re creating a protocol -- if you will -- where we will be able to efficiently leverage data for advertisers to get their message in front of the right audience.

RTD: Will you use programmatic tech across all of the media you’re in? In-venue, mobile, desktop, video, etc.?

Finnegan: Not everything will be under the portfolio of programmatic. There are a lot of things Live Nation has that [are unique] and go above and beyond creative … 

I hope “programmatic” in my title isn’t too siloing.

Levine: Building on Mike’s point: [When] creating custom content opportunities, custom sponsorships, etc., there’s always going to be that direct, face-to-face conversation.

We look at programmatic [as] a complementary way to access data and audiences.

RTD: How are you dealing with the fear that adding programmatic to your offering will cannibalize your direct sales efforts?

Levine: It’s a great question. We’re happy because we do have lots of brand partners we work with -- healthy relationships, healthy CPMs. Based on the value proposition we will bring to the marketplace, we see -- through talking to the marketplace -- the thirst isn’t for old-school ad network “let me see how low CPM I can get.” It’s: “Let me get the best quality audience I can get, and I will pay high CPM for it.”

We see this and want to be part of raising the tide, if you will, in terms of the value of this type of inventory.

Finnegan: [The goal is to] build good experiences for brand advertisers.

RTD: How will you sell programmatically? Open exchanges? Private exchanges? “Programmatic direct”?

Levine: We’re going to be very strategic and methodical, especially in the early days. It will be very controlled; we’re not looking to put our data and audiences on the open marketplace.

Over time, that may evolve, but the idea of bringing Mike on board was never to just open up to the world. It’s very premium. We look at it that way, so we want to maintain that level of control to be able to satisfy our core partners without getting into a DR game. 

RTD: Will there be any RTB?

Finnegan: We’re at the point where nothing is completely off the table, but what our brands want is what we are going to do and build audiences for. I would expect a lot of that to be the premium nature of audience and inventory. [So “programmatic direct” is the most probable route], but there could potentially be some controlled private marketplaces.

RTD: Do you have any SSP (supply-side platform) partnerships?

Levine: We do, and we’re having those conversations and getting those pipes lined up. Not ready to announce anything yet.

RTD: How long has programmatic been on the radar at Live Nation?

Levine: I’ve certainly been keeping an eye on the things the past couple of years. I would say in the last year is when I really started to think seriously about figuring out a programmatic strategy for Live Nation.

Mike and I have been talking since the end of 2013 -- almost a year -- and the more we spoke … it became more and more obvious to both of us that A) this is something that fits strategically in the evolution of Live Nation and B) that Mike is the right fit.

RTD: Does Live Nation work with Xaxis?

Finnegan: To a degree. There was a media partnership. [But] most of [my coming to Live Nation] was just getting to know Jeremy and falling in love with the organization.

RTD: When will Live Nation’s programmatic offering roll out? What’s the timeline?

Levine: Right now, we’re having conversations with partners and building software internally. Realistically, we’re talking six months to really be out there.

[As I previously said], we really want to be methodical and strategic. We’re not in rush. We want to do it right and be smart and bring value to the marketplace.

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