Data Firms Battle for VivaKi Biz

Two big media transaction vendors — Donovan Data Systems and MediaBank — are locked in a heated battle for a $27 billion prize: the North American business of Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi. That assignment includes the holding company’s two huge media agency networks, Starcom MediaVest Group and Zenith Optimedia.

VivaKi began a review of the two vendors in September and a decision is said to be imminent, coming as early as this week or possibly next, given the disruptions of the holiday schedule. At stake, per sources, is revenue likely to exceed $100 million for the winner.

Currently, MediaBank is the transaction processor for SMG, which handles clients with about $17 billion in annual billings in the North American region, according to Recma, the Paris-based agency billings tracker. Donovan handles ZO, with billings of more than $10 billion.

The shootout illustrates one of the challenges that consolidation has brought to the agency business over the last 15 years. It’s become increasingly key to develop and manage software systems that can smoothly process billions of dollars in ad time across hundreds of channels — with huge transactions often made at a moment’s notice.

And the North American review is just the first phase of a global initiative being conducted by VivaKi to put in place a single system across its global footprint by 2012.

“It’s a huge multi-year effort to get all our offices on one system,” said a source familiar with the initiative. It has been dubbed “Project Olympic” internally because the goal is to have the system in place by the 2012 Olympics.

MediaBank and Donovan have been locked in a battle for business among the major holding companies over the past several years. Donovan has been the dominant player for more than a decade.

But upstart MediaBank broke Donovan’s grip on holding-company business about three years ago when it won the SMG assignment. And just last month, MediaBank struck again, winning a review for Interpublic’s two big shops, Universal McCann and Initiative.

The pressure is immense on both of the players. A win by Donovan would quash the momentum that MediaBank has gathered of late. But a victory by MediaBank would undo Donovan’s dominance, giving the former a majority of the U.S. transactions business at two of the four major holding companies.