Mark Zagorski, CEO of DoubleVerify, joins Cross Screen Media CEO Michael Beach to share his insights on the future of video ad effectiveness and fraud prevention in the midst of the shifting consumer landscape. Watch our latest ScreenBytes Executive Interview here and read the full transcript below!
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Michael Beach: Well Mark, welcome to ScreenBytes.
Mark Zagorski: Hey, thanks. Great to be here.
MB: Excellent. I will start you off with an ice breaker we like to ask all of our guests, what was your first job and what lessons have you applied to your career?
MZ: Oh, it’s a great question. My first real job where I had an official paycheck where they took taxes out was when I was a busboy at a truck stop in Elby’s Big Boy in Erie, Pennsylvania. I was the opening busboy, so on weekends, I had to come in at around 5:30 AM and shovel the pathway and then deal with all the early morning truckers who were coming in to get their breakfast.
It was an interesting first job for a kid, but it taught me a few things. The first is, I never want to have a job like that again, so anything I could do to get the hell out of there would be important. Seriously though, it taught me about how cogs in a machine work. When you’re a busboy, if you know, there are multiple critical links in running a restaurant, and if any one of them fails, the whole system falls apart.
I think that whether you’re in a restaurant or a digital ad business, it’s still the same. If any critical link fails, whether it’s engineering or client service or a product, the whole machine falls apart. There’s no more important cog than another in a machine. Every cog that connects to each other keeps that thing rolling. That was probably my first sense of “You’re not the only person in the world.” Everything needs to work together well for the whole system to work together.
MB: I love that. As a child of Ohio, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a Big Boy, so I can appreciate that. How’d you get started in the media space, and I guess more importantly, how’d you end up leading a publicly-traded company?
MZ: I didn’t initially go into media after school. I was in the fashion marketing business. I worked for J.Crew Group right out of grad school and was a marketing analyst, but really got the internet bug early and worked at an agency, one of the first digital ad agencies, which was Modem Media Poppe Tyson, which was the source of the first online banner ad ever created.
All of this disaster came out of the agency where I started, and that was 20 years ago. It’s funny, Modem went public back in wave 1.0, I think it was 1999, they went public. It was my first experience in a public company. It was also one of the first experiences I had in digital media. 25 plus years later, I guess I am still in digital media, still at a public company.
But this time, instead of being a junior employee who got some options that ended up being worthless, I’m a CEO.
MB: Do you mind giving our audience a sense of where DoubleVerify fits in the ad ecosystem?
MZ: Think of DV as a software platform that is really focused on driving outcomes for advertisers by looking at two things. Ensuring that their ad spend is delivered efficiently so that it’s not wasted on fraud or ads that can’t be seen by human beings, or aren’t seen by humans, that are bots. And ensure that those ads, when they are delivered, are delivered in a digital environment that aligns with who they are as a brand, right? It’s brand safe.
Think of ad delivery optimization and brand safety. We’re basically a platform that does that for major brands all around the world and we do it across both the open internet, so think of regular websites, wherever someone may advertise, as well as the closed or walled gardens. The social networks, CTV platforms, et cetera. We do that for programmatic buys, for people who are buying programmatically, as well as people who are buying direct.
We’re an analytics platform. They ping us before that ad even gets rendered or delivered to ensure that it is being delivered to a real person and a real environment and done so in a brand-safe way.
MB: Well, who’s your primary customer, and what’s the balance overall between buyer and seller?
MZ: Yeah. We work with both buyers and sellers in the digital space. A majority of our customers are our major advertisers and agencies, so the brands that are doing the spending. However, we do work with platforms and with publishers. Folks that are also looking to better clean up their inventory. If they’re a platform to make sure that the inventory they have coming in from publishers and from other third-party sources is fraud-free, meet certain viewability criteria.
From a publisher perspective, we help them do the same, to make sure that their inventory is packaged up the right way. For the most part, over 90% of our revenue comes from buyers who are interested in ensuring that their buys are brand-safe, viewable and delivered to a true audience.
MB: Our worldview and really the reason for our company, we believe the future is cross-screen so most of our customer base is either coming from the linear side and trying to become more digital or starting off on the digital side and are trying to combine linear. Do you find that most of your customer base are digital CTV and are trying to combine it with linear, or are coming from the linear side first?
MZ: We’re a digital-first company, right? We started off analyzing banner transactions and then moved to mobile and then it was video and mobile video. Now that video has evolved into connected television. When our advertiser partners look at us, they’re really looking at a company that has evolved over time in the digital space and now has moved as television has become really a digital media, right?
They’re looking at TV in the same way that they’ve looked at all of their other digital media, which is, “is it viewable? Is it being delivered to a real human being? Am I delivering an ad in an environment that’s fraud-free as well?” Most of the folks that we’re dealing with are not traditional linear TV buyers; they’re coming out of the digital spectrum.
However, as I’m sure many of the people that you’ve talked to have seen, there’s this mashing together of linear departments and digital departments because of the fact that TV is TV. Whether I’m watching it through an IP connection on a laptop or a mobile phone, or I’m watching it on a screen with a cable box plugged into it, consumers don’t make a distinction anymore.
Advertisers need to be thinking that same way, which is, This is a sight, sound and motion experience for a consumer and they don’t care how they get it, so we as an advertiser need to be thinking across all of these things in a very seamless way.
MB: Yeah. The one thing no matter what perspective they’re coming from, they both want to buy CTV and we’re finding that demand is outpacing supply. First, are you seeing the same thing? Second, my assumption would be that that kind of environment is ripe for fraud without a platform like yours, would you agree with that?
MZ: Yeah. In my previous life, I ran a company called Telaria, which was very focused on CTV. We were a sell-side platform in CTV, and we worked with folks like Hulu and Pluto and fuboTV and 2D, so I’m familiar with the evolution of where CTV has come, particularly ad-supported CTV. What you’ve noted is right on, which is there’s way more demand than there is supply right now.
It reminds me of the early days of social, which is kind of like, “Oh my God, I don’t care. Everyone’s going there, I just need to advertise there. I don’t care what it is.” It really is a seller’s market in many ways. Because of that, it’s created a couple of challenges.
The first is a lack of transparency for buyers, particularly if they’re looking to buy programmatically because sellers just don’t need to provide as much information as they have had in the past, which is like, “Hey, I can just sell you Pluto, or I can just sell you Hulu. I don’t need to give you any specifics, particularly if you’re buying it programmatically because you’ll buy it anyway.”
There’s a lack of transparency there. What that also leads to is what you noted before as well, which is there’s definitely an attraction because of a lack of transparency for fraud to seep into it. It’s the combination of huge amounts of demand, limited supply, lack of transparency, and the fact that the CPMs in connected television are so much higher than they are in any other digital media.
It’s kind of like if you’re going to rob a bank, do you want to rob a bank that only deals with dollars and coins? Or do you want one that has only hundred dollar bills running through it? If the CPM of a mobile ad is five bucks and the CPM of a CTV ad is 40 bucks, and it takes the same amount of work to bust down that door to steal it, I’m going after $40 for every impression, right?
The combination of a market environment, which is ripe for bad behavior, plus the fact that if I get away with this bad behavior it’s worth a lot more to me than in other spaces, it’s a challenging situation. In the last year, we saw over 1800 fraudulent CTV applications that existed. These were apps that had either illegitimate content, ran multiple ads in the background as users downloaded them.
The interesting part is, this type of scheme, plus that of what we call spoofed URLs, so these are URLs that may be showing video, but it’s video that’s actually ending up on someone’s mobile phone, they make it look like it’s coming from a CTV device. We see 500,000 fraudulent device signatures a day. A day. Think of the scale of what we’re looking at here, and this is millions and millions of dollars.
This is a big deal. The interesting thing about this, and I know I’m belaboring this fraud discussion, but the interesting thing about this is all of these methods that people are using for fraud in CTV are the same things that we saw in mobile and the same things we saw on display.
It’s like people rob the banks the same way that they did a hundred years ago. They walk in with a gun and they ask for money, right? There’s been no interesting new ways for people to rob banks anymore. They may come in with a different mask or a different note, but it’s the same way. We’re seeing the same thing on CTV. It’s like people used to spoof URLs to look like mobile because mobile CPMs were higher.
Now they’re spoofing URLs for CTV because CTV is higher and they’re creating false apps, just like they did in mobile. It’s a lot of the same stuff over and over again. The reality is that as buyers become more sophisticated, as our platform becomes more sophisticated, we’re able to root out a lot of these issues. I don’t think they’ll ever go away, because fraud is always a challenge, but we’re getting better at chasing these things down.
MB: Yeah. They’re dusting off their 2013 year of mobile playbook. Well, we’re recording this the first week of May and the IAB is holding their annual NewFronts. I’m interested, especially with your perspective coming from Telaria, how has the marketplace changed over recent years?
MZ: I think particularly when it comes to CTV and cross-platform video, there’s been a maturing. It’s gone from a, “Wow, this is experimental. A neat thing for us to try out,” to, “this is a must-have in our portfolio of buying.” We just can’t ignore it anymore. It’s not like, “Oh, let’s try some CTV or let’s try some mobile video.”
It’s, “No, we know that our market is so fragmented and people are looking at and engaging with video on so many different screens that we have to be in all these places, or we’ll not get the reach that we wanted.” We know that household penetration of traditional cable connections continues to decline every year, to the point where if it’s either this year or next year, a majority of households will not have a traditional cable connection in it.
To reach a majority of U.S. households, you’re going to have to layer on CTV and digital. I think the NewFronts now are much more cognizant of that and saying, “We’re not just an adjunct to your big upfront buy. We’re like an equal complement to what you need to do.” I think when you look at the attitudes of the sellers, they’re more professional.
When you look at the investment that the parent companies are making into the NewFronts presentations, these are the real deal. It’s like the old upfronts. They’re bringing stars out on the screen. It’s a big show. I think you’re going to see NewFronts and upfronts jam together. Now, look, even companies like DoubleVerify are engaging NewFronts as we launch new products that cover connected television.
We just did a presentation with one of our big partners, Reckitt, at the upfronts to launch our Authentic Attention solution for CTV and video, which is all about measuring engagement across multiple screens and seeing consumer attention. I would say it’s funny. They are NewFronts, but at the end of the day, it’s really becoming much more of a traditional upfront kind of approach.
MB: Earlier in the season, we had Dr. Karen Nelson-Field from Amplified Intelligence on the show, and she walked us through their worldview on measuring attention beyond impressions and even just reach. Do you see that as the next logical step after viewability and fraud measurement, or is there another metric before attention?
MZ: I think when we think about attention, we’re measuring real human interaction, right? Not bots. Then we’re measuring viewability, so how much people are viewing. Then that evolves into how their attention or their engagement is with that ad. I think when you start thinking about where this all wants to go and where advertisers really all they care about is, what is the outcome? Right?
Advertisers want to measure outcomes across multiple screens. When we think about attention, I think attention is a key proxy for outcome. Like how engaged a user is, I think is just as important, if not more important, than the demographics of that user, right? Because demographics were always a proxy for trying to drive an outcome. I know men buy beer, so I’m going to try to reach a lot of men and so I’m going to buy Monday Night Football because that reaches a lot of men.
Well, a lot of men don’t buy beer, so wouldn’t it be more relevant to not just measure the demos on that user, but measure how engaged they are with the ad? What the attention level is, how much that ad can be seen and viewed. I think it’s another important factor in driving outcomes and looking at the combination of quality of an ad placement across multiple screens, plus the attention that it gets via engagement, are definite drivers of an outcome, which is what advertisers want.
Think quality plus attention equals outcome. I think we’re rolling towards that point where advertisers are looking for multiple proxies, particularly as things like cookies and individual identifiers go away, which get rid of proxies like age and gender and demographics and individual information that won’t be able to be mapped up in the digital world like it was in the past.
MB: Well, as you look out five years from now, what does the future of video ad quality and performance measurement look like? Second, what do you expect your customers to keep doing, start doing, and stop doing?
MZ: Okay. On looking into the future, I think there are a couple of considerations to think about. One I already mentioned, which was the idea of having individual identifiers on consumers across multiple platforms is going to get tougher and tougher, based on privacy rules, based on technology gardens, putting up walls between moving data from one place to the next.
The big challenge for advertisers in measurement is going to be, “How do I create consistency and a consistent metric across multiple different screens and multiple different engagements when I can’t track an individual user?” I do feel like new metrics around contextualization, around engagement and attention, all of those things are going to become really important as we look to find out more about the what, the how, and the where, and how they impact performance and outcomes versus the who.
It’s always been about the who, and as the who becomes harder to measure across platforms, I think the what, the how and the where are going to become much more important. I think that is one thing to think about. The second is the true shift towards IP-delivered television is not just already, I think a done deal, it’s beyond a done deal. It’s over.
I believe all television, whether it’s linear or on-demand, whether it’s ad-supported or subscription-based will be delivered through some type of IP connection. If it’s not all, a vast majority of it. Again, that opens up bigger opportunities for measurement, but it runs into the same challenges that we’ve seen around privacy and walled gardens.
It’s the mashing of this huge opportunity for advertisers on one hand that everything will be addressable because everything will be digital, with the fact that there are roadblocks being put up every day, either technological or privacy-driven roadblocks to make that happen.
I think that’s the long way of saying there’s a great deal of consistent measurement opportunity based on the fact that TV will be delivered in the same way that banners and mobile and everything else is going to be delivered, and even digital out of home will be delivered, right? Which is via an addressable IP connection. The challenge will be how we link all of these screens together when we know that there are going to be challenges around privacy and walled garden blocking of data movement.
I think that’s what the future may look like. When we think about the second part of your question, I do think they’re going to start to look for consistent metrics and measurement across every platform they go against, and not just video platforms, but across social, across mobile, across display. Consistent metrics I think, again, are going to become a bigger and bigger deal because everything’s going to be IP-driven, right?
Everything’s going to be delivered through the same digital protocol so there should be consistent metrics across everything. Looking for a standard is something they’re going to start doing. What I think they’re going to stop doing, and I think this is probably more of an optimistic hope than a direct expectation, is looking at media in silos. I have a TV buy over here. I have a CTV buy over here. I have a mobile video buy over here.
I do think they’re going to stop looking at their advertising spend in those ways, because I think companies that are looking for a holistic reach and engagement and performance metric across all their media will have much better outcomes than those that don’t. You can’t think holistically across screens until you stop thinking about them as separate individual channels. It’s one way.
Users don’t look at that one way. Users don’t look at their engagement like, “Oh, now I’m going to linear television.” No. They’re like, “Oh, I’m watching the show. I happen to be watching on my phone. When I go home, I may watch this same show on my connected television.” Consumers don’t look at media in the same way advertisers look at media.
Advertisers need to stop looking at media spend in the same way they have in the past.
MB: What’s one thing that nobody in the industry is really talking about that you think could have a big impact?
MZ: Since we started talking about linear TV, there has been an increased growth of linear-like formats in the digital space that are live. Whether it’s live gaming or live platforms like Clubhouse, or even just live streaming of events. That live aspect of IP-delivered digital content continues to grow and it continues to fragment into lots of little user-generated live streams of gaming or of discussions on Clubhouse, et cetera.
That is going to be a huge growth area of consumer engagement, which means it’s going to be a huge growth area of advertiser desire, right? Anything that takes consumers away from the traditional way of engaging with media is going to take time away from a place where advertisers can meet people. Places like Clubhouse, places like Twitch, where you have live gaming or live discussions going on, are places where advertisers are going to need to want to be, but are very concerning for them from a brand safety perspective.
Because something that could seem as brand-safe as a discussion around advertising or games that are e-games, rated E, can turn really bad really fast if discussions spin out of control. I feel like there’s going to need to be a seven-second delay like the old TV, like the award shows you have a seven-second delay in case someone swore.
I think where we’re going to end up is we’re going to need to come up with some type of seven-second delay for these live streams, whether it’s gaming so the advertisers can say, “Whoa, this is someplace we do not want to be around. Pull our ads out of the next portion of this section.” Because you can only have so much metadata around a content area that will protect you if someone totally veers off course. I think that’s something that advertisers aren’t thinking about.
They’re excited to rush into these new venues of live discussion, cross-screen engagement of live streams. All of the stuff, they want to be there, but they’re not thinking about the fact that they’re live and live can get really ugly really fast. I foresee a seven-second delay button coming around somehow in the digital world as well.
MB: I will be fascinated to see how that combines with gambling on e-sports because they’re talking about that’s the next big thing and they’re trying to reduce the latency of the stream. That’ll be fascinating. Well, Mark, I’ll get you out of here with one more question we ask all of our guests. If you could have everyone on your team read one book right now, what would it be and why?
MZ: That’s a good question. I’m not a big business book reader because I think that they’re much more self-promotion than they are self-help. I read a lot of science fiction, and one that I read that was pretty recent was a book called Feed and it’s pretty relevant. It’s about how people become so interconnected to social media that they lose the ability to think for themselves. When the feed gets cut off, all society collapses.
The reason I’d have my team read that is don’t get so caught up in social media when there’s this life going on outside and that’s really what matters. That should be where we’re thinking about how we make this better, not just the screen better as well. Not a great business book answer, but a life answer that I thought was a really, really interesting take.
MB: That’s very pertinent with what’s going on in the world today, for sure. Well, Mark, I’m grateful for your time and I know our community’s going to love the conversation, so a huge thanks for joining us.
MZ:Absolutely, Michael. It was great talking today.
MB: All right. Thank you.
See the rest of the ScreenBytes executive interview series here!
Mark Zagorski joined DoubleVerify in 2020 as Chief Executive Officer, responsible for oversight of global company operations, expansion into new markets and strategic product innovation – including DV’s CTV/OTT video capabilities. Mark brings over two decades of digital marketing and advertising technology leadership experience to the role, with expertise in CTV/OTT, data analytics and digital advertising optimization. Prior to joining DV, Mark served as the CEO of Telaria (NYSE:TLRA), where he was instrumental in establishing the business as the leading video and CTV monetization platform for premium video publishers. At Telaria, he led consistent growth in revenue and enterprise value, and spearheaded the company’s successful merger with Rubicon Project (NASDAQ:RUBI) – resulting in the industry’s largest independent sell-side advertising platform. Previously, Mark served as CEO of eXelate (Deloitte’s 2014 fastest growing tech company in NYC), where he led the sale of the company to Nielsen and subsequently assumed the role of Executive Vice President, launching the Nielsen Marketing Cloud. Prior to eXelate Mark held C-Level leadership roles at local digital media pioneers WorldNow (acquired by Frankly) and MediaSpan (acquired by Naviga). Mark earned his B.S. in Finance from Gannon University, where he also holds an Honorary Doctorate and his M.B.A. from the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business. He has been named one of AdWeek’s Martech Superstars, Cannes Lions Judge and an E&Y Entrepreneur of the year Semi Finalist.
Cross Screen Media is a marketing analytics and software company helping brands, agencies, and networks succeed in the Convergent TV space. Our platform creates a common currency across linear TV, digital, and CTV views so ad buyers can build a single optimized plan and sellers can prove the value of their inventory. For more information, please visit our website.