TV Will Be Bigger Than Ever: Q&A With WideOrbit's Eric Mathewson

Eric Mathewson, CEO of WideOrbit, started his career in another numbers-intensive industry: equity derivatives at Kidder Peabody, where he focused on hedging transactions for venture capitalists and founders of Silicon Valley technology companies. During that time he says he gained “a strong appreciation for the importance of systems and databases for enabling consistent profits in exchange-based transactions.” The rest is history, as he used capital gained in his Silicon Valley ventures to launch WideOrbit in July 1999 as a way to facilitate the buying and selling of media.

Mathewson has some very clear ideas about media transactions, and his company WideOrbit is becoming the de facto go-to system for processing media transactions. I asked him the following questions:

Charlene Weisler: What exactly is WideOrbit?

Eric Mathewson: WideOrbit is a software company that develops systems for managing the backbone of media companies. We run their programming and ad systems, which handles all their scheduling programming, yield optimization, the accounting of their orders, invoices, and everything else a typical enterprise resource planning software system does. We’re managing 3000-plus stations and more than $30 billion in annual ad spending, primarily in North America.



CW: How dominant do you think television in the traditional sense (the TV set as hardware) will be five years from now for viewers?

EM: When we look at IPG’s ad market data five years into the future, television will have a larger footprint than all the combined elements of digital content delivery, including audio and video. From our perspective, I’m not sure it matters what the composition of content consumption will be.

CW: Is there any new technology that we may not foresee right now, but that could be disruptive to the media space?

EM: There will always be new technologies and behaviors that might be disruptive to traditional forms of business. Consumer habits change surprisingly slowly, though. Take on-demand viewing, for example. While it’s likely that anyone reading this article uses a DVR as their primary method for consuming video, live TV viewing minutes in the U.S. still represent over 90% of total minutes watched. This is a full 15 years after early adopters started to have the ability to time-shift their viewing.

CW: Can you give me some predictions on what the media landscape will look like five years from now?

EM: When I started WideOrbit in 1999 with a background in the Internet, it was obvious that the future was going to be a transition from analog linear delivery of content to IP-based delivery. My Silicon Valley pals thought the transition would take about three to five years. I thought it was going to take 10 to 15 years before people were consuming most of their video or audio over connected IP devices like a connected TVs or mobile phones. Now that WideOrbit has been operating for 15 years, I still think we’re 10 to 15 years away from seeing the majority of video content delivered to individual IP devices rather than as a traditional linear broadcast stream

The automation of advertising transactions is increasing at rapid clip. A huge portion of digital sold today is via real-time bidding, and we’re starting to see that port to mobile as well.  Digital video is getting there, but is still mostly transacted & targeted weeks in advance. TV does not have RTB yet, though we’re poised to see a dramatic increase in programmatic sales automation.

Finally, there has been a ton of consolidation the last four to five years in the broadcasting sector. I expect it will continue over the next five to 10 years, although the bulk of it is probably behind us.

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