Television viewing has changed drastically in the past ten years. As consumers expand viewing habits beyond primetime and into streaming, time-shifting, and second-screening, advertisers must be just as nimble. And the distinction between TV and digital video advertising is diminishing as brands focus less on whether the screen happens to be on the living room wall or in the pockets of its target audience. With billions of dollars on the line, the advertising technology companies that succeed in this fast-moving environment need to do more than simply adapt; they need to have the vision to see where consumers, and the industry, are heading next.
As John Roland, CEO of Extreme Reach, can attest, it takes vision and a will to disrupt to be a leader in TV and video advertising. When Extreme Reach entered the industry in 2008, its biggest competitor relied on satellites and other costly hardware to distribute ads to TV stations nationwide. Delivering tapes by courier and ads via satellite to hardware at the TV stations was the norm. Just six years later, Extreme Reach had built a robust cloud platform that eliminated the need for tapes, hardware and satellites, and ensured that ads for its growing roster of clients reached TV stations properly formatted and in pristine condition.
Because of this forward-thinking approach and disruptive spirit, Extreme Reach managed to acquire its main competitor, DG Systems, for $458 million in early 2014. Additional innovations and acquisitions soon followed, and today, Extreme Reach serves the world’s biggest brands and their agencies in getting ads to both TV and video destinations while enabling Talent & Rights management wherever those ads play. Roland is now focused on the biggest disruption of his career—one that promises to transform video advertising.
At launch, Extreme Reach was starting fresh in TV ad distribution, with plenty of ideas and a lot of passion, but no technology and only eleven employees. What would be daunting to some proved to be an advantage for Roland and his cofounders.
“We weren’t saddled with older systems, legacy systems, all of the hardware,” Roland recalls. “We had a clean slate. We asked ourselves, ‘How should we get these commercials from advertisers and agencies to TV stations today?’ The answer was an all-software solution running on top of a cloud-based platform. Now, we find ourselves a lot more nimble, a lot faster moving, and a lot more profitable.”
Talent & Rights management is a critical piece of the advertising industry that doesn’t garner a great deal of attention, but of course, all of the performers, voice-over actors, extras, and even assets like stock footage and music are paid based on union contracts that must be in place when that ad airs on any screen. Talent & Rights management became much more complicated when ads moved from the closed system of television to digital distribution on connected TVs, computers, and mobile devices.
Extreme Reach estimates that, in 2015, $1.2 billion was paid for Talent & Rights contracts, but another $75 million was paid in fees and penalties for violations of those contracts. With an estimated one-third of all video ads online running out of compliance with union contracts, it’s easy to imagine how quickly those fees add up.
Roland found the opportunity to disrupt that space as well, acquiring Talent Partners, a major specialist in the field of Talent & Rights management, in 2015. As with DG, Roland and his team innovated in a space relying on infrastructure that was in place before the rise of cloud computing. Rather than rely on a decades-old mainframe, Extreme Reach was again able to use software and the cloud to disrupt a major competitor of the advertising industry.
Today, Roland is getting ready to do it again by introducing a new means of getting ads to screens everywhere, a move that he now sees as so simple and efficient that it’s hard to believe it’s not already being done. Roland points to the way that Netflix and Spotify transformed their respective industries by moving to a streaming model that eliminated the need to make hundreds of thousands of copies of each song or movie. What this model means for video advertising is that by streaming ads from one central, quality-controlled location, brands and their agencies are able to play ads everywhere, move faster, and be in compliance with Talents & Rights agreements. Ultimately, they wrest back full control over the quality and tracking of their coveted commercial assets.
“Basically, because of the Internet, the asset can be in one location and stream from anywhere,” Roland says. “That’s 5,000 commercials ingested every day into our platform from our ad agency clients that can be made available to every TV and video outlet by an API. It’s a standard code that connects two technologies and enables us to provide access, with no human intervention, to all these ads in real time to every screen they’re meant to play on.”
The company that launched nine years ago with eleven team members is now around 850 people strong. With such a large team and a robust enterprise platform serving thousands of clients, it’s essential to keep everyone at Extreme Reach unified toward the same goals. Roland and his executive team do this by staying true to the qualities they focused on at launch: integrity, honesty, respect, and teamwork. They have also remained focused on the organization’s “North Star,” as Roland refers to his shared vision for the entire company.
“When you have 800-plus people rowing the boat, having a crystal clear direction is essential,” he explains. “We all know where we’re headed. Our vision is to power the world’s video advertising.”
From the very beginning, Roland knew that it would be more effective to build something the entire organization could share rather than simply pushing company values down from the top. At that time, the team was small enough that most members were able to help craft the vision statement and company values.
Today, Roland remains absolute in his commitment to an inclusive, collaborative environment. Extreme Reach went through a full re-branding in 2016, complete with a new logo, tagline, website, and suite of materials that describe what the company is today, the value it brings to the market, and its vision for the future. Team input was also a major driver in that process, Roland says: “It was a perfect example of how much we and our customers benefit when all of our team members feel a sense of ownership and buy-in.”