Holding together the big tent: The many challenges facing the IAB’s new CEO

After months of searching the IAB has appointed a new CEO in Vijay Solanki. Mumbrella looks at what the appointment means for a key digital industry body burdened currently with a lengthy list of technical, policy and political challenges.

For many in the digital media landscape the appointment of Vijay Solanki will come as something of a surprise.

vijay solanki m360 workshop

New IAB boss Vijay Solanki

The former Southern Cross Austereo chief digital officer has only been in Australia for a little over a year but already finds himself leading a key industry body facing a number of daunting technical challenges such as viewability, ad fraud, key measurement issues related to mobile and implementation of the Nielsen daily ratings, as well as broader political issues as to how the IAB engages with other industry bodies.

Solanki is keeping a low profile until he begins the role until August but IAB chairman Ed Harrison said his digital background should give him a running start.

“Vijay’s deep understanding of the digital advertising ecosystem will mean he can make a very quick start,” Harrison told Mumbrella. “He brings a genuinely different perspective that we haven’t had before.

Harrison: Solanki should be able to hit the ground running.

Harrison: Solanki “brings a genuinely different perspective that we haven’t had before”

“If you look back at the history of the IAB, it’s been led by someone with a publishing background, followed by someone with an agency background and now we have someone with a marketing background. I think that will provide a different perspective on the role of the IAB.”

Harrison was referring to previous IAB CEOs Paul Fisher, who worked at News Corp and Alice Manners who worked for GroupM.

Indeed Solanki’s previous roles do demonstrate a strong marketing background in digital: founding music and marketing director of music app Shazam; marketing director of lastminute.com; senior marketing roles at BP, RIM and Philips before his most recent role as chief digital officer of Southern Cross Austereo.

But while his client side digital experience will come in handy, a key part of the job will require strong political and diplomatic skills.

Take the hot-button issue of viewability – which essentially boils down to advertisers not paying for ads which real people never see.

As I noted a few months back, this issue has become a complete industry shit fight, particularly among the media agencies: GroupM has gone one direction touting ‘100% viewability’ in certain trading deals; IPG Mediabrands is off on another and the three other major advertising groups have been impatiently waiting for the publishers to agree on a local standard.

GroupM's John Miskelly has gone around IAB and done 9 separate trading deals on viewability.

GroupM’s John Miskelly has gone around the IAB to create nine separate trading deals on viewability

Any action is also currently hamstrung by the lack of an IAB research director. The previous IAB research boss Lisa Walsh departed last November, and it is understood her predecessor Gai LeRoy has been brought in one day a week to help launch a local study on viewability.

That study has been touted by the IAB for months now as a demonstration that it is acting on a key area of focus for media buyers, but it has yet to even launch amid disputes between providers Integral Ad Science, Comscore and Moat.

For Solanki getting the publishers that dominate the IAB membership to agree on this will be immensely challenging and that’s before you the fold in the various tech providers and the media agencies.

Asked what was happening regarding the long-mooted viewability trial Harrison was reluctant to be drawn, but noted: “Viewability is something that we have said from day one is really important to the complete integrity of the system and something we need to tackle as an industry.

“We are just in the process of working out the best way to tackle that as an organisation. It is high on the agenda.”

Asked what else was on the agenda it is interesting the IAB chair flagged that he wanted to continue building a local research capability on adtech in Australia, with Harrison specifically citing the US IAB’s Tech Lab as something he’d be keen for the body to emulate.

Print“There will be a number of things (on the agenda),” said Harrison. “But one of the largest pieces we will be building is our capability in advertising technology. If you look at what the US has done with the tech lab I think there is a large opportunity for the IAB (in Australia) to build real capability and be able to assist the industry in advertising technology.

“It is about being able to tackle the full gambit of things like viewability through to ad-blocking and beyond, all comes back to really understanding the technology behind those things.”

Again, the nine month absence of an IAB research director becomes an issue here, although Harrison noted that recruitment of this role was also a priority.

However, his remarks about the IAB investing heavily in local research and possibly launching its own Tech Lab will raise concerns among those who like to see the IAB Australia align more closely with its regional counterpart IAB Singapore and also the IAB in the US. The argument being many major digital issues are being tackled globally and we can learn lessons without huge financial investments by local companies.

The clearest sign of this emerged in March when Mumbrella revealed that some members of the IAB in Australia had sounded out the IAB in Singapore about a potential merger that would have seen the two digital bodies combine forces, with the aim of creating a single APAC industry body to work on key digital industry issues.

A combined digital body would have been most likely headed by IAB Singapore CEO Miranda Dimopoulous and it appears that Solanki’s appointment has put the kibosh on any such move, for the moment at least.

Dimpoulous heads the IAB Singapore.

Dimpoulous heads the IAB Singapore

Yet political tensions within the digital media groups that make up the IAB will continue not just on ad standards, viewability, ad fraud, privacy and ad-blocking but also on bedding down the key digital industry currency Nielsen Digital Ratings into a daily metric.

Nielsen won the tender back in 2014 on the promise that cross-digital ratings, combining desktop and mobile, would be finalised by 2015 and then daily measurement would be completed by “early 2016”. 

Nielsen Digital RatingsThe mobile data was finally released back in March, some nine months late, and the industry is now eagerly awaiting the launch of the daily ratings which will represent a major seachange in how digital is measured.

Soon media buyers will have daily data to put alongside metrics like TV, and while Nielsen is still hopeful of putting the daily metrics out in 2016 it wouldn’t surprise me if this blows out to 2017.

Again Harrison noted this too was a major priority for the IAB’s incoming CEO, saying: “It is something we are working on with Nielsen at the moment, and with all our research and tech teams.

“I don’t know that we have ever committed to a timeframe, but there is certainly a lot of work being done on that at the moment.”

The bedding in of this long-awaited metric will be key to the IAB’s future relevance in the digital media landscape. Increasingly as the fragmentation of media continues the Nielsen ratings with its desktop, mobile and tablet data will be key to how the industry understands audiences, and media buyers will want to see co-operation between the industry bodies.

This isn’t something the IAB has always been great at. While the body, funded in part by News Corp and Fairfax, was happy to work with print readership industry metric EMMA, it has struggled to work with other bodies such as OzTAM and Commercial Radio Australia. Indeed, in the case of the latter, it actually launched a Digital Audio Council to help push for audience measurement in the audio streaming space after CRA refused to get involved.

Hopefully Solanki, through his time at TV and radio broadcaster Southern Cross Austereo, will be able to ‘bring along’ some of these other media and help build out the industry standards on cross media measurement.

Solanki’s predecessor Alice Manners worked hard to try to broaden the perception of the IAB as a publisher body representing just the ‘big four’ publishers – Fairfax, Mi9, News Corp and Yahoo7 – speaking often about how the body was now a “big tent”.
IAB Australia

Ultimately, this will be Solanki’s big challenge: keeping IAB members happy whilst working to satisfactorily resolve some of the big issues that threaten to stall the rapid rise in digital.


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