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Yahoo’s Mallory Armstrong on the Keys to Cross Screen Measurement

By May 25, 2022May 26th, 2022No Comments

Mallory Armstrong, Yahoo’s Head of Global TV Data Strategy, joins Cross Screen Media CEO Michael Beach to share her insights on the future of media buying and the current challenges and opportunities in cross screen measurement. Watch our latest Screen Wars Thought Leader Interview here and read the full transcript below!

MB: All right, Mallory. Welcome to Screen Wars.

MA: Thanks for having me.

MB: Give us a little background on how you ended up where you are today.

MA: Today, I am at Yahoo, and I lead our data strategies and partnerships, specifically in the advanced TV space, and a blend with how we think about measurement. My first career in digital media was at ComScore. At the time, I worked in ad operations, and ComScore was a leader and the gold standard for digital ratings.

I joined at a pivotal time in the industry. We were transitioning from web-based rankings to informing campaign-level audience validation through our validated campaign essentials product, which is now cross-screened as their CCR product. So it’s been a full circle. And that was a great foundation to start in digital media because you learn the back-end of how this space works with ad operations.

You understand the tag dynamics and ad servers and how cookies render, especially with ComScore’s own panel. So I became extremely familiar with panel dynamics and how to tie that data together and do calibration to do a model of the census.

With that data coupling, that measurement background has been with me this whole time. It helped me when I moved into BrightRoll. They recruited me to take the measurement angle from more of a product side. It was great because I went from being on the vendor side and understanding measurement deeply to flipping into the media space. Specifically with programmatic. I was very fortunate that BrightRoll was one of the first pioneers in that space and a huge video platform. Specifically carving out how we would do programmatic in the video space.

As part of that team, I focused on how you productize measurements, like doing integrations in the BrightRoll ad tech with our third-party measurement partners. So we had partners such as Nielsen and ComScore, supporting the go-to-market and packaging our first-party analytics suite, BrightRoll Insights. Those two things were two puzzle pieces that snapped together really nicely as I moved into Yahoo after they acquired BrightRoll.

Where BrightRoll was an independent platform where everything depended on third-party and partnerships, Yahoo is one of the leading companies in the media space, but from a first-partying consumer standpoint. Suddenly, I got some of the best building blocks in this space with the proprietary data that we have under Yahoo, which further powered additional partnerships that are still very important to us. This has been an excellent area for me to leverage my startup background, helping Yahoo tackle some high-growth initiatives and areas in our company. Such as the advanced TV space, which is my focus right now, especially because those spaces rely on data innovation to bring solutions to market.

MB: Everyone’s familiar with Yahoo, the company, but why don’t you give us background on what encompasses Yahoo today? What core challenge are you solving, and what does your customer look like?

MA: Most people know Yahoo because they were one of the first companies on the internet, probably considered a founding father of the internet. People might not realize the benefit of having Yahoo be a consumer-first company. Understanding this is important in how it extends to us as an advertiser since we have this unique lens because we’re a consumer-first advertising model. We deeply respect that relationship and the data handling.

We’ve always been very privacy-centric. And as the industry faces understanding these different dynamics that are coming our way from the policy updates and Chrome-ageddon, we are in a unique position where we have already been very thoughtful about it. So this unique position in our business will be crucial to where we go in the future.

But the area that I specifically focused on is in the advanced TV and measurements phase. Of course, identity is hugely important because that’s the starting point in stitching the other pieces together. But what we try to do is, as I mentioned, we sit on top of so many unique assets that we could be a walled garden. And we see many in the industry going that direction or solidifying that direction because those first-party assets will become even more valuable when it becomes tricky to track behaviors or tie back identity.

Our company firmly believes that the partnerships will help set the leaders apart in the future. Because, even though we have these unique assets, we also have a responsibility in the ecosystem. It helps that we can identify strategic partners that have complementary assets and capabilities.

Together, we can build something for the industry at large that may not otherwise exist. From a marketer standpoint, we also understand that it’s tricky when you already have a lot of data fragmentation. If that’s fragmented even further because of all these walled gardens that hold their media separately, it will be more complicated to navigate. And it might not be in the consumer’s best interest either because consumers spend their time across different types of channels. So, creating some ways to help bridge that connection ultimately benefits everyone.

Your consumer doesn’t want to be bombarded with irrelevant ads, super high frequency. Your advertisers want to be able to help protect the way they’re messaging their brand. So Yahoo is in a unique position because we do that for ourselves as a consumer-first brand. We understand it and apply it through our technology, having both an SSP and a DSP. So this capability is unique to us, powered by that 360-view with consumers to help our advertisers get the right messaging and creative in the proper context for consumers to be most receptive to it.

MB: I was always impressed with Yahoo, even in the Verizon Media days. You’ve carved out a perfect niche in the video space. And it’s one of the most popular platforms for our customer base. Of course, that market’s really crowded, but, where do you see Yahoo fitting into the overall video advertising space?

MA: We see that we are a leader today. We think that we will be a continued leader in the future. But, again, it goes back to the partnership side of things. Ultimately, many players in this space have premium, unique, valuable inventory and/or data assets. We think we have both when you talk about video, especially. But in CTV, that’s an area where we will continue to partner.

Currently, we don’t have a first-party CTV offering. So it makes sense to be partnering in that space, where we can also be complementary to some of those TV and OTT partners who maybe don’t have the footprint on desktop and mobile. That goes back to what I said about partnership creating an excellent opportunity for our marketers and consumers. Because you want to help communicate and be a part of that consumer journey seamlessly, in a not disruptive way, and that’s the best approach.

Video is vital for us, especially CTV and advanced TV. For us, advanced TV is more than just CTV; it’s also household addressable. It is and will continue to be our emerging focus, and that’s important for us. But it’s always been something that we fit naturally into an omnichannel solution. So for our solutions, you’re often not trying to talk only about video. We’re trying to help marketers understand how that translates across needed experiences and display and audio.

Because, even though there’s a lot of focus on advanced TV, we’re at the point where you’ve seen the market mature so fast. And you know how quickly it’ll evolve. So once teams get a good grasp of measurement and stitch things together for their media plans, the next thing is, “How does video play into the bigger lens of omnichannel and all formats?”

That’s where we see that we have a unique position. And we try to think about that future.

MB: It’s a big challenge to solve. Knowing that you cover all the ad types, what does your typical buyer look like? Is it more agency-based, more director brand? Is it more of a linear, traditional background, or is it a digital buyer who’s already buying those formats and wants to add other formats?

MA: Since we had the legacy of Yahoo and AOL before they acquired BrightRoll, our portfolio hasn’t skewed in one direction for a few years. We have powerful brand-direct connections. And we also have solid agency relationships, especially with the people that came in early to programmatic.

We see more of that merging now, where more people are leaning into programmatic, following suit with the industry. Other than that, as far as digital-first people vs. broadcast, traditionally, we started with clients who were more digital because that’s what we offered. But we are seeing an uptake as we’re bringing on more clients from a traditional broadcast background and moving in.

Again, that follows the industry because the industry also sees that convergence happenning between those buying groups.

The biggest challenge in this cross-media space is data fragmentation. We are very aware of it, and we know we need to solve it.

MB: What do you see as the biggest challenge that advertisers are currently facing with video planning, buying, and measurement?

MA: The biggest challenge in this cross-media space is data fragmentation. We are very aware of it, and we know we need to solve it. Also, I would say the content fragmentation. A lot of focus is on convergent TV because we have all these players rising in this space, especially with new ABON offerings. That’s absolutely a big focus area. But look at it from the lens of emergent or convergent entertainment. Think about the programming from a traditional TV standpoint and consider the consumer behaviors and how they engage. We’re all buying for that same time. That includes gaming. It also includes social, especially as we see TikTok and its explosive growth. TikTok is just an exciting place where it plays in this social media content sphere, but they are making a play for that same time.

That’s where I believe we will continue to see challenges, especially with that walled garden approach. We already know that some precious behavioral assets generally are walled gardens. So, you couple the identity fragmentation with having the people who own the viewership behaviors, being more walled gardened with that.

Then, you have your social players, who have always been pretty walled gardened with theirs. It becomes a tricky place for marketers to try to navigate. We all want to defend our position in this space. But as a marketer, you try to stitch that all together in a cohesive story to measure it.

That’s something that we need to continue to try to do a better job, all of us, as stewards in the industry. At least to work with the measurement partners. So you see that some of those big names are, at least, working directly with the measurement partners to help unlock that.

I hope that we’ll see more of that trend.

MB: I’m interested in getting your take. We’ve talked about several challenges today with recent guests, not just in measurement but also in quality media, viewability, fraud, etc. It reminds you of 2012 and 2013 with mobile. It’s almost like we’re going through the same cycle again. What do you think given your background at ComScore?

MA: It’s absolutely a déjà vu. I saw everyone being like, “We need to do attention metrics.” I was like, “This is very similar to when we released viewability.” And now viewability is table stakes, too.

When we came to market with viewability, there was confusion and the need to create more standards. There were all these different ways. Finally, people understand what the ability means and how it’s being captured.

Right now, it is very reminiscent of those early days. I feel like this has been a full-circle journey. It’s fun for me because when I started in this space, I always looked at all these veterans on the entertainment and media side.

Now, I’m in that place where I’ve seen that life cycle a bit. Hopefully, we can apply some of those things we learned that helped us get here and find those synergies. This is new, but in many ways, it’s not a completely unknown new thing. That’s how I try to approach the situations, too, because our space constantly changes. Look for those analogous areas where you can apply those lines.

We tend to take something that worked at a specific time in our industry. And as we see new opportunities, we rinse and repeat.

MB: I joked that I would go back and dust off a memo, replace “mobile,” with “CTV,” and see how accurate it was if I read it aloud. As you look forward to this omnichannel buyer, what do you think the media buyer of the future will look like, five or ten years from now?

MA: I’m hoping that the media buyer of the future continues to get deeper in data. I have a bit of a bias because I come from the data side of things. But if you look at the future trends and who’s going to be buying in that space, we need people to start to rethink those blueprints.

We tend to take something that worked at a specific time in our industry. And as we see new opportunities, we rinse and repeat. So we try to use that same playbook—for example, TV. We would take the creative, and when it was time to move to digital, it was often the same creative. It was just being reformatted and pushed into a video experience on the web or mobile.

Now, we see it on CTV too. If you think about that, also think about how that intersects with other dynamics shaping what’s going on. Another lens back is understanding that in the US specifically, the population’s makeup has shifted drastically, even in the last 20 years. Now we see that there’s a lot more cultural than racial diversity.

We see many different makeups regarding household size and age demographics. Even in the job market, you see there are a lot of trends happening where people rethink what motivates and drives them.

In the future, I think buyers need to be aware of all the intersecting things happening and how we should think about those needs. I hope that the buyer looks like someone who looks at the lens from not just the media angle. Going back to what’s going on with our consumers, what type of dynamic shifts are happening? How does that need to be translated?

MB: Just what information your audience can tell you. There’s so much left out of an age and gender target or anything else that you can learn. It’s extremely valuable.

MA: Yeah, exactly.

MB: We were incredibly excited to recently partner with Yahoo on local measurement. What are the main challenges and opportunities for advertisers in cross-channel and cross-screen measurement?

MA: We are really excited to be working with your team, especially to get first book access to that measurement solution. I’m pretty excited about advertisers getting a chance to test it out.

For the cross view measurement space, it’s going to be challenging to piece together. Because with all the different fragmentation in the industry right now, you want to work with third parties who have, at least, touchpoints into different aspects. We all know that especially if you think about the TV to the digital lens. So youu want the ability to have that gold standard blend of set-top box data, ACR data, and panel data because they complement each other uniquely and in general.

This has been an ongoing thing. It was really tricky to get a total unified view of measurement.

And while there are definitely names out there, you are coming out with your solution, now is the iSpot, VideoAmp ComScore, of course, and Nielsen ONE, that’s going to be coming. It’s still going to be tricky because we’re back in that space that reminds me of where we were before when I was at ComScore.

Not everyone is actually measuring the same thing when they say that they’re measuring cross screen media. The industry will probably need to come together to get more aligned on what really counts. How are you crediting the viewer? Is it the likely viewer by demographic, or is it that they were in the household? Those types of things. That’s why Yahoo took the approach we did about three years ago, when we were building our advanced TV suite.

One of the reasons why I had plotted out this map of what we wanted to do, with our partners, is that we take that approach. We’re really partner centric. We’re vendor-agnostic, meaning we want to work with all of our clients’ measurement partners, because we believe in independent, validated measurement through the industry. But we also think, with the unique assets we’ve spent on, that we can build first-party solutions in that space that can be complimentary.

That’s what we’ll do with partners like you, where we would have our clients look at what you provide as that source of truth. But in our side, we can give them directional analysis that, essentially, is giving added value back for every impression that they run through our platform with that analytics. In our unified TV report, which is cross screen, and cross format, we are looking to help give them data points which we see are helpful. Especially when they might not have the media budgets that meet the minimum sample requirements of a robust third-party solution.

But when you couple with our first-party, as long as we are seeing that we’re directionally aligned, they can use our analytics to help, inform, test, and learn opportunities or new channels. We’ve been doing that for CTV.

We’ve been able to measure since 2019 digital out of home; we started measuring in 2021 for different types of measurement. So that’s the example of what I see for marketers.

Being more experimental with the types of creative we use, and telling creative kinds of stories, is an area that I hope we continue to see and keep that multicultural lens.

MB: Excellent. We’ll get you out of here in a couple more questions. But, first, what’s one major trend in the ad space that you think is important that nobody’s talking about?

MA: There are a few things that nobody’s talking about in our space, which is why it is such a fun space. There’s so much learning, and everything is constantly evolving. Something that is probably not talked about quite as much is how that should affect how we think about content as a vehicle for creative.

Especially when we see the announcements this week coming out of Amazon and Peacock. I think Netflix has been testing this too. You can see they have been doing this with some of their originals, where they’ve been putting in their advertising.

With TikTok, having the ability to think about creative and content differently. Instead of forming creative so early on, which is expensive, getting more thoughtful about being flexible and data-informed with creative. Being more experimental with the types of creative we use, and telling creative kinds of stories, is an area that I hope we continue to see and keep that multicultural lens.

Going back to, do we feel like our panels are actually representative of the state of what consumers look like now, knowing that the makeup has drastically shifted? I hope we’ll continue to see partners like Streamlinex come into the space, where they have a really cool offering to help provide a specific lens into African American black audiences.

And then on the methodology and modeling standpoint, do we still feel like the same models we’ve been using are working correctly when we are modeling the census or do those blueprint need to have another look at them?

The last thing is thinking about creative and content being a more merged as, potentially, one in the space that you can play. A lot of us know CTV is huge, but if you think about who you’re trying to chase CTV, often we’re saying we’re trying to reach the hard-to-reach audiences, who are audiences, who are typically younger. A lot of times they are Cord-nevers, or Cord-cutters, who grew up as digital nomads, learning how to tune out advertising. I think we need to be sure that we’re coupling all of our fast-paced momentum in delivering media to those spaces in the measurement pieces, and being flexible to test and rethink those areas.

MB: All right. We’ll help our audience with a reading list. If you could recommend one or two things for everyone to read to understand the space better, what would they be?

MA: Your newsletter, of course. I always enjoy that. I think because our space moves so fast that a lot of times, it’s faster than formal publications. So continue to keep up on podcasts and thought leaders in the space. But then, a big thing for me is trying to understand different things going on in the world and how they can intersect for this industry.

I’ve been reading the book Range, which is what I’m talking about there. You look at something that might seem like a completely different environment and completely different scenario, but you can find how they are analogies. And Range goes into how in fast-paced and often unknown areas, the type of skill set you need is one in which you can find patterns and draw lines across things that would seem disparate. But you can create an analogy, which helps you apply logic to something that otherwise would be unknown.

So that’s a book that I would recommend for people interested in just, who like finding the through-line. It’s a fun read.

MB: Excellent. We’ve covered a lot of ground today, and I know our audience is going to love the talk. Thank you very much.

MA: Thank you so much for having us. Again, we’re really excited to be working with you. And again, this space is just an exciting place to be right now.

Mallory Armstrong leads global data strategy and partnerships supporting the Yahoo Advanced TV Product Suite and overall measurement solutions with trusted industry partners, as well as the Yahoo first-party offerings.

Cross Screen Media is a marketing analytics and software company empowering marketers to plan, activate, and measure Connected TV and audience-driven Linear TV advertising at the local level. Our closed-loop solutions help brands, agencies, and networks succeed in the Convergent TV space. For more information, visit CrossScreenMedia.com.

Michael Beach

Michael Beach

Michael Beach is the Chief Executive Officer of Cross Screen Media, a media analytics and software company that enables marketers to plan, activate, and measure CTV and linear TV at the local level. Michael is also the founder and editor of State of the Screens, a weekly newsletter focused on video advertising that is a must-read for thought leaders in the advertising industry. He has appeared in such publications as PBS Frontline, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Axios, CNBC and Bloomberg, and on NPR’s Planet Money podcast.