Ad Industry Needs to Figure Out ‘What the Hell’ to Do With Data

Michael Kassan talks about what's beyond 5G

illustration of smart tv count down
The streaming wars are likely to play out at CES, says MediaLink's Michael Kassan. Getty Images
Headshot of Sara Jerde

The Consumer Electronics Show is many things to many people. For Michael Kassan, founder, chairman and CEO of MediaLink, it’s a chance to see what’s coming down the pike for his clients, but also the opportunity to rub elbows with industry elite. To wit, he’ll sit down with Unilever CEO Alan Jope and Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Mark Benioff to talk about how the CPG giant and tech company navigate societal and environmental issues.

After attending the conference for three decades, he’s seen some things. Adweek spoke with Kassan to hear what the media vet expects to come out of this year’s show.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Adweek: How have you seen CES change?
Michael Kassan: It’s gone quite a long way particularly around marketing and advertising. We launched Brand Matters [CES programming] about 10 years ago, and Brand Matters moved into the C-space, which is now a centerpiece of CES. We planted the flag and brought the marketing community, the advertising community and the entertainment community to CES because traditionally it was the CIO and the CTO who would be there, not the marketers. We created that push and pull to bring marketers and realize that the intersection of consumer electronics and marketing was an incredibly important intersection. And you should have an early view, and you should have those discussions and that interaction happens at the front end.

We created that whole effort around making this important and turning it into a tentpole for marketers, advertising, communications and entertainment. We’ve seen it morph and arrive at that intersection and then drive at that intersection.

As you have watched the industry change, were there certain technologies that entered the space that really have changed this industry?
Last year, the big story was 5G. I think that’s still a big story. Smart TVs were a story one year. AI and VR continues to be a big story. There are no surprising themes, just themes that are in the zeitgeist of that intersection of how technology influences media consumption. Now, distribution is going to change. Those trends launch at CES.

You can’t be looking at CES without understanding and feeling the importance of mobility, of the social networking platforms, Facebook and Google and Twitter. It’s coming together at that morphing of everything into one.

Social media played such a big role in disrupting the media industry in this last decade. What do you see being the big disruptor for the industry in this decade?
In one way, it’s an enabler. In another way, it’s a disruptor: 5G. Artificial intelligence and the impact on every aspect of our life and manufacturing, to distribution, to the creation of content to all the things that will be impacted by the onslaught of artificial intelligence [is another disrupter].

OTT seems like it’ll occupy a good portion of the conversation at CES, with a slew of services launched from the likes of Disney to those still coming, like WarnerMedia’s.
The streaming wars are here officially, and you’ve got Netflix and HBO and Disney+ and Quibi and Amazon and Apple+. One only has to wake up and drive down the street in southern California or New York and understand the amount of money that’s being spent in streaming wars. I think that’s going to have a lot to do with it. And we believe there’s a whole onslaught of change in marketing, moving away from what we would traditionally have called for most of our careers: the brand marketing equation. And we’re seeing it replace, in a meaningful way, precision and performance marketing. Whether it’s consumer packaged goods with Unilever going to Dollar Shave Club, or Disney going to Disney+, it’s the same argument.

You’ll have a lot of these brands and publishers, and potential partners in the same city at CES. What’s a pain point you have from the media side of the advertising industry that you’d like to see get solved?
Accountability, measurement and attribution. If there’s something that really needs to get solved, it’s that cross-platform measurement and attribution. That’s a big challenge. We’ve got a lot of data, we got a lot of information, but we got to figure out what the hell to do with it. It’s a question we’ve asked for 1,000 years in the advertising industry, which is: “50% of my advertising dollars are wasted. Which 50%?” If we could get that question answered, we’d be in a much better position as an industry to be able to see the growth that we all hope comes from the ability to utilize data.


@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.
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