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Viu's Kingsley Warner on how the OTT platform works with advertisers & its partnership with HBO

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HBO Asia Networks and Viu, an OTT Video service owned by Hong Kong-based PCCW and Vuclip, recently announced a partnership to bring Viu Original “The Bridge” to HBO Networks and HBO GO throughout Asia from 26 November.

'The Bridge', based on a murder mystery plot, is a remake of the original series created and written by Hans Rosenfeldt as a joint production of Sweden's Filmlance International. The series registered more than a million viewers when it debut for Scandinavian viewers in 2012 and over five million viewers during its US premiere. The original has aired in more than 188 territories/countries and spawned localized remakes in the UK and France, the US/Mexico, Germany/Austria, and Russia/Estonia.

The Drum caught up with Kingsley Warner, the country manager for Malaysia at Viu and the executive producer of The Bridge for Malaysia and Singapore to understand Viu’s global and SEA strategy and direction, its current reach and expansion plans, its plans for new content and approach, as well as its partnerships with HBO and Media Prima.

How can advertisers benefit from Viu’s global and SEA strategy and direction?

The Viu platform provides several advertiser benefits: premium content association, premium audience targeting, contextual brand placement, a fully brand-safe environment, human audience, and near 100% completion rates.

Viu is a freemium OTT brand with 20m monthly average users (MAUs) worldwide. Our Viu freemium model provides a strong mix of free and premium videos. Our free content includes thousands of hours of current and relevant premium long-form content. Our subscription service contains the latest content from regional markets with local language (subtitles), in most cases eight hours after TV telecast, a value proposition that beats local broadcasters and OTT platforms, as well as piracy on a grand scale

Serving ads within the free service allows a free and accessible service for consumers. We work with premium brands, targeting on a segment basis in each market. The success of Viu’s freemium model is that we have been able to work with advertisers on a local and regional level, with their campaign messaging matched to our highly engaged audience. With a heavy focus on high value targeted videos, Viu offers high completion rates on all its campaigns.

The industry largely treats OTT environments as either standard digital video or TV buys, rather than as its own ecosystem with its own unique requirements. What needs to change to overcome the adoption hurdles?

Viu has plugged into all significant regional digital agency trading desks and works with all standard video formats across the digital ecosystem. Viu is an easy fit for any advertiser who wants to be seen in every market. We are a flexible platform that works on data and localization but adheres to global standards. Advertisers and agencies need to bring their brands to a digital audience and OTT players are a natural partner for that. We are seeing digital revenues growing exponentially; adoption has been quick and in most cases organic.

Additionally, we have created some very unique and successful models where we work with local TV broadcasters and ad agencies to create investment and audience partnerships where content and brands are able to reach audiences. The recent example of Viu and Malaysia’s Media Prima’s FTA Network combining forces to take Viu Original productions to Media Prima’s local free to air (FTA) audiences and Viu to its digital audiences, provides advertisers instant reach of national FTA TV, along with the long tail of digital.

Currently, content owners and distribution outlets like OTT platforms are disassociated, which means content owners are also dis-associated from data and owning the full conversion funnel. How will your partnerships with HBO and Media Prima help content owners to put their own content in front of a more targeted audience and complete the conversion chain?

Viu as a platform works on the foundation of transparent data at all points of the consumer journey and content lifecycle. The success of the Viu brand comes down to having data at all levels in the market when we look at consumer behavior as much as the content appeals. The latter is very important as we invest in content that we know will work and resonate at the consumer level. A good example of this has been the continued investment in Korean and other Asian content in SEA where we have a very clear unique selling point, 'Best of Asian’, and one of the highest, if not highest, engaged audiences in SEA on OTT.

If you take these success factors on a monetization path, then ultimately the content owners will see the success in the continued engagement of their content and continued investment from Viu.

While a content owner may not be involved in all parts of the funnel, there are very few platforms where they are. Their end goal is surely to see their content engaged and monetized, and this is where the benefit of Viu comes to the fore, on two levels, a Freemium Advertising model (AVOD) model or a market sensitive subscription service (SVOD) that has local pricing and payment options and partnerships to enable easy access and consumption.

Our partnership with Media Prima and HBO is a very strong content consumer syndication model that does just that; it gets content to the consumer across a number of levels in TV and digital platforms. While the content owner may not own the entire end to end solution of each platform, the diversification of the multiple platforms enables the consumer to see the content at pretty much any touch point in the TV and Digital landscape. The conversion chain is addressed through TV ratings as well as digital engagement metrics. From a TV perspective, Viu Originals will be seen across channels where the audience has a synergy to Viu and vice versa for the digital to TV path.

HBO Asia provided a great opportunity for its Asian footprint to exhibit the Viu Original The Bridge, a Malaysian and Singaporean version of the international acclaimed Endemolshine format of the same name.

Working with HBO, one of the premier content brands globally, was the right partner for Viu when it came to the high production value of The Bridge. For Media Prima, screening three Viu Originals in 2018 (Salon, Jibril, and The Bridge) was a compelling opportunity to take highly visible local production to its national TV audiences. Media Prima and Viu work with local advertisers, offering them a compelling storyline to match their brands. All of this is important because it provided Viu the ability to produce content at an increased value margin over what was normally seen in the market and then enabled greater access to audiences, enabling all partners the ability to monetize the content. The conversion chain can only be greater with multiple players working together.

With Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, HBO Go in the market right now, together with niche players, how does Viu win over consumers who are reluctant to juggle multiple OTT services?

Not all of the OTT players are in Asia; Hulu is still very much a US proposition and while the Hulu brand is in Japan, it’s not in a market where Viu operates. What OTT does is provide choice to the consumer, very much how pay-tv challenged the FTA TV market 20-30 years ago. Consumers are looking for choice so they will most likely engage with 2-3 OTT brand offerings.

We see Viu in the top of the consumer choice in each market. Our successful freemium business model has enabled users to come in and try at no real cost to them, especially in markets where onboarding of consumers is difficult due to low average revenue per units, low data access or general lack of education on OTT Video.

The Viu brand has been a success in each market, as not only have we seen phenomenal growth in users and engagement since we launched some two and half years ago, but some of our competitors are copying our model, and imitation is the best form of flattery.

Additionally, we have looked at each market at face value. We build each offering in each market based on pricing, content, partnerships, and localization so there is a strong resonance with the consumer on the ground. The clear winner is the local consumer as they get a service that is highly targeted at them in terms of easy access and affordability plus a great overall video experience.

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Online advertising has alienated our most valuable asset – the consumer

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It’s an understatement to say things have changed since I started my career in publishing 34 years ago, and mostly for the right reasons. The industry has moved on and some of those less palatable institutional barriers have been broken down. Yet there are certain industry behaviours that are having a real impact on original content creators, and they are so often borne from preventable consequences.

In many instances, these could be negated through the reapplication of ‘guiding principles’ that have perhaps been lost along the way.

It’s time we took a look back to make sense of what’s in front

The media industry has always been a sum of its parts, with different skills and disciplines working, mostly, in partnership. There was a sense you belonged to something special, and you knew you were directed by principles honed from many years of evolving media and advertising practices.

But it’s time to face the truth: today, consumers lack trust in digital advertising. In a quest for infinite online inventory, the crucial relationship between brand and consumer – that was built on shared values and respect – has become commoditised and jeopardised, quelling any desire for users to engage with ad campaigns. How have we got to a place where advertising that lives in the online world has all but alienated its most valuable asset – the consumer?

And no matter how many smart and inspiring examples of diversification and new monetisation models we see emerging, for original content creators, a base level of advertising remains essential.

There needs to be a change in behaviour

Many promises have been made to re-evaluate advertising practices and there’s an acknowledgement that quality and context matters. However, very little seems to have moved on and there remains limited evidence to suggest any measurable change in behaviour.

I’m not here to knock the technology that has enabled so much in modern life or the dominance of social media in which many users choose to consume news. Yet there is an obnoxious disparity around ‘standards’, accountability, and responsibility, and the right to compete fairly for advertiser funds that enable and sustain the creators of original quality journalism and content.

Despite all efforts to collaborate and support the industry’s wider call for greater parity, media owners with a long-established code of conduct and complete accountability for every single item present on their site continue to be at a disadvantage. Media organisations have always been defined by their transparent policies. So how is that an organisation like Facebook – that has such an impact and influence on the industry – is able to prosper and have a significant amount of revenue derived from online advertising, without being defined as a media business, and therefore does not need to adhere to any of the policies or codes of practice that is required by others?

As long as these organisations continue to be the principle benefactors from a type of advertising purchase behaviour, they have no motivation to change. It is only when we see a promised change in the advertisers’ behaviour, that the technology businesses themselves will be forced to re-examine their practices – meanwhile they will continue to enjoy all the spoils while residing outside of the union of all other media practitioners.

Driving better standards, and meaningful returns

As media owners, we continue to value the long-established trading partnerships centred on mutually defined policy and protocol, and relationships built on trust. These values matter.

This is a call to advertisers to check this current commodity driven behaviour, to take a moment to reflect, and work with publishers, as partners. But we also need to be sure that in striving for this goal we aren’t diluting standards, and the desire to improve accountability doesn’t just find us looking to provide a definition around practices that would otherwise be deemed as sub-standard.

Within the industry, we have in place numerous compliance guidelines. The IAB has been tireless in its efforts to bring the industry together to agree on a variety of advertising technology compliance standards. But what use are these if there is no accountability and seemingly no process to enforce compliance? While other established media channels have flight checkers in place – for both creative compliance and copy integrity – with all this wonderful technology, why does it not exist online?

And what about the extent of these standards? Premium publishers operate to much higher standards than laid out by these bodies, and always have done. They are self-regulated and they are accountable. And while I strongly support the adoption of universal standards for the good of the industry, it doesn’t change the fact they represent something that is significantly less than what we can actually provide.

At AOP, we’re committed to surfacing these challenges and we are striving to find practical answers, recommendations, and examples of best practice to help cement the future of advertising and publishing. But we must all commit to win back the trust of the consumer and return to a place of integrity – and continue to succeed as an industry I have always been proud to be part of.

Richard Reeves is managing director at AOP

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‘Project Dragonfly’: Google’s rumoured censor-friendly launch in China

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It’s common knowledge that Google, as present as it is in our daily lives, does not enjoy the same ubiquity in China, and hasn’t done for eight years.

Leaked meeting minutes from the corporation, however, suggest that could be about to change.

Codenamed ‘Project Dragonfly’, the search giant is allegedly in the midst of a bid to launch in China in an iteration that would play ball with Beijing’s hardline censorship policies.

According to a transcript from a meeting led by Google’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, ambitions for Dragonfly were to reach “the next billion” users and launch within “six to nine months”.

Gomes said that China was “arguably the most interesting market in the world today”, according to the transcript published yesterday by The Intercept, said to have taken place on July 18.

“It’s not just a one-way street. China will teach us things that we don’t know,” Gomes told staff. “We have built a set of hacks and we have kept them.

"Overall I just want to thank you guys for all the work you have put in.

"We have to be focused on what we want to enable," Gomes says. "And then when the opening happens we are ready for it."

According to the South China Morning Post, Project Dragonfly has previously been reported as the codename for a censored search app specifically for the Chinese market.

Blacklisting any websites related to human rights, democracy, religion and any other issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, the country’s internet censorship laws are considered the most extensive and advanced in the world.

In the meeting, Gomes reportedly acknowledged that trade wars between the US and China were causing difficulties in negotiations with Communist Party officials in Beijing, whose approval Google would need to launch the search engine.

Re-launching in China would open up a vast audience and a matched opportunity to scale its advertising operations globally, competing with Asia’s ad tech giants such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.

Away from China, however, the move – which would be contributing to China’s hardline stance on free speech – could be seen as a far cry from the search giant’s original “don’t be evil” policy.

The reveal of the leaked transcript also comes following a reveal of Google’s efforts to cover up a Google+ data breach, which resulted in potential vulnerabilities to private data attached to 500K users.

As noted by Business Insider, side-by-side, these revelations set a worrying trend of a very powerful company acting in secrecy, and despite its efforts to appear the opposite, unethically.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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Why agencies need to take the lead in ad tech transparency

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The world’s biggest advertisers have called time on the lack of transparency in digital advertising.

P&G’s ad chief Marc Pritchard summed it up: “The days of giving digital a pass are over – it’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.”

However, agencies can only go so far if they are tied into contracts and relationships with non-transparent ad tech partners. It’s time for agencies to be bolder and hold all of our ad tech partners to the highest levels of transparency.

Clients now have more authority than ever to demand transparency from their agencies. So, why then, has trust between advertisers and agencies declined in these past two years?

Shockingly, the ID Comms 2018 Global Media Transparency Report reveals that the level of trust this year is perceived as significantly lower than in 2016. Things are getting worse, not better.

Agency apathy

There continue to be heartening moves in the ad tech community. Just this month, six of the leading ad exchanges launched an initiative to help drive transparency. Rubicon Project, OpenX, Pubmatic, Sovrn, SpotX, and Telaria signed an open letter committing to offering a fully transparent marketplace for both publishers and advertisers

The truth is though, agencies still aren’t doing enough to hold their ad tech partners to account. Many still survive from taking mark-ups or kickbacks. Others are simply not determined enough to make a positive change.

But how can our clients trust us to be transparent if we can’t trust the ad tech platforms we work with?

The time for talking is over, it’s time for action. We believe every agency needs to develop its own transparency methodology for approving and working with their ad tech partners.

It’s incumbent on all of us to refuse to take a mark-up and to regularly review all our partners’ transparency in regard to data, audience, and tracking.

Let’s all be brave – and serve our clients better – by vetting our ad tech partners according to these criteria to ensure the highest level of transparency. If they don’t tick all the boxes, we all need to simply refuse to work with them, giving our clients the highest level of transparency possible.

The devil’s in the detail

This is all about going far beyond box ticking. In fact, it’s about diving deep to make sure you have as firm a grip on your ad tech partners’ operations as you do on your own.

So, as an industry, what should we all insist on knowing from our ad tech partners?

We need to know exactly what performance data is available to pull reports, what additional data and insight is available above and beyond the standard metrics, and if there’s a simple interface or API for extracting data that can easily plug into our own agency dashboards.

For audience targeting, we should demand: the level of granularity, particularly for niche clients or B2B; how it’s sourced, particularly in regard to third party data; and the types of targeting solutions offered, such as onsite behaviour, search behaviour, AI solutions and so on.

When it comes to access to platforms, we all need to reject black box solutions by default. It’s crucial we understand the tech inside out. We need to be able to self-serve giving us full control of campaign set up, targeting options and day-to-day optimisation.

All agencies need this level of control so that it is always clear how our clients’ ads are being served. For instance, what happens if one of your ad tech partners hits the KPI early in a campaign? If you are prospecting can you guarantee they aren’t simply using your data to retarget?

Finally, every agency must demand full transparency from their ad tech partners on what tracking pixels will be placed on site, what information they will be collecting, and how this data will be used.

If all of this sounds demanding, that’s because it is. It’s time for all of us to raise out demands on our ad tech partners to deliver the level of transparency our clients deserve.

So, are you feeling brave?

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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