Hulu, ABC Testing Programmatic Video Ad Selling (Updated)

GroupM's Xaxis rolls out TV-style buying offering

To date, companies like Hulu and ABC have had little reason to not sell their video ad inventory the old-fashioned way, i.e. directly to buyers, since demand has been so high. No machines necessary.

And brands have had little use for programmatic buying and ad tech in general since it’s all been primarily geared for direct-response sellers.

But GroupM’s trading desk buying division Xaxis is planning to change all that.

The company today will announce Xaxis TV, a new offering aimed at bringing more TV-style metrics to Web video and more brands to programmatic buying (and ultimately, lots more money). To kick things off, Xaxis has inked exclusive deals allowing it to purchase video ad inventory from Hulu, Viacom and ABC on an audience basis, using programmatic and/or data-driven means.

It's the kind of thing that’s become very common in the display space but has hardly had a place in the true premium (read: TV-derived) Web video sector. But the plan is for Xaxis to push the industry, according to CEO Brian Lesser.

“It’s long been my opinion that much of the ad tech developed is wasted on direct-response marketers," said Lesser. "It could be much more powerful for brands and upper funnel metrics. Right now, video is the fastest growing part of our business, but targeting by audience is behind.”

One way to fix that? Xaxis plans to purchase inventory and package it for clients based on real GRPs—selling them traditional demographic and psychographic targets like TV rather than clicks, views or impressions. Lesser says they’ll do so using Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings, as well as data from comScore, Kantar and other sources.

The other way Xaxis believes it will get brands on board the ad tech train—they’ve got inventory from legit publishers like ABC and Fox News, rather than random long-tail, below-the-fold junk.

“We’ve got high-quality publishers, including Viacom Hulu, Fox [News], Alloy, BET," said Lesser. "We’re using the trading leverage of GroupM and packaging this stuff to advertisers using audience data. This is inventory you can’t get on exchanges.”

Indeed, the Hulus and Foxes of the world have shied away from employing networks and exchanges. But Lesser says his company’s relationships and tech expertise are helping them come around (partners include Videology and TubeMogul). More likely, these video giants aren’t going to ditch selling their best stuff directly (in fact, Hulu stays away from actually selling its inventory programmatically via Xaxis, insisting on employing traditional direct selling). But Xaxis sees room below that tier. “There is a tremendous amount of sell through," Lesser said. "We are trying to create a mid-tail."


ABC says that while it does work with Xaxis for display inventory, the network is flatly denying that video is part of this partnership. Yet according to sources, ABC has had discussions surrounding selling Web video inventory via programmatic channels—though that testing has not resulted in any video inventory changing hands just yet. Said an ABC spokesperson:

"While ABC does have a display partnership with Xaxis, ABC is not participating in Xaxis TV, nor is ABC participating in any programmatic video platform. ABC’s video content is only accessible via ABC’s direct sales team."