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What are they good for? Absolutely Nothin'.. say it again.
The hippie in me loves that song, but there are two problems. The first is ... there is no hippie in me, and the second is.. it wasn't written about patents. Me? I love patents, otherwise I wouldn't have spent the last 6 years and countless dollars ensuring that USPTO saw fit to grant us: Patent US 8,165,917 B2 'System and Method for selling Time-Based Inventory'.
What does it all mean? That I can't tell you. Not in the sense that I'd have to kill you after I told you because it is a big secret, but rather that I can't tell you because it is a matter of interpretation. You can look it up and read it, of course, but the proof of a patent's worth, in my opinion, isn't necessarily in successfully litigating it - although that is important too. When we approach an enterprise about utilizing our software, the patent is out there as, hopefully, a reminder (or a suggestion) regarding the lack of an alternative path. Litigating patents is really expensive for both parties, but if a big company is deciding on which direction to go, I think IP like this can really inform the decision. Willfully ignoring IP is a risk many companies just do not want to take. Also - why go in another direction when we actually have built amazing technology exactly in the space we've protected? We are not patent trolls, but rather a software start-up happy to strike licensing and development deals that make business sense to all parties.
2 separate functions. Why?
I must admit - at first I didn't get it. We were hired to build a multimillion dollar planning system and in the process learned everything there is to know about media planning. (We delivered it successfully, btw.) Then I learned that the most well-researched and rationalized plan in the world might get totally mucked-up during the buying process. (Yes - I said 'mucked up'. So what? 'muck off'.)
So it turns out that 'buyers' are the ones who...(shockingly)... do the buying. It is sort of like making a detailed list for the supermarket and, having written down 'Dole Pineapple Ringlets' because you just love them so much, and having handed the list to the 'buyer'.. he returns instead with unripe Chiquita bananas. They are both, in fact, tropical fruit (so 'the buyer' tells you) so the spirit of the original plan has not been thwarted.
Think my metaphor is over-the-top? Well - IT AIN'T! But why? Because there isn't any way to translate the actual plan into 'a buy'. The process of buying is about hidden knowledge and horse-trading and favors to old friends. Planning is done without a real understanding of availability, so by the time the plan hits the buying process - - no one knows how it is exactly going to be fulfilled.
What's funny is - this same thing is happening even with digital OOH. The fragmentation of the digital market has made the administrative overhead of buying even more painful - and therefore that much more disconnected from real top-down strategy (and planning).
'What is the problem you are solving?' the VCs like to ask us entrepreneurs. 'What is the pain you aim to alleviate?'
There are many hurdles to cross in bringing real automation and efficiency (and true enabling of top down strategy) to the media industry. Obliterating the differences between planning and buying is one of them. That's what we do. This is the essence of rbidr's enterprise positioning.
Mind the gap...
'The gap' I am referring to here isn't the space between the platform and the train, but rather the obvious and total disconnect between the interests of supply and demand side media companies.
Supply side simply covers the media owners. These are the TV stations, the cable companies, HBO, ESPN.com, Sirius radio and everyone and anyone else who sells off their 'channel' to others and earns a buck from it. Usually, the media owners provide interesting content (e.g. programming) to make their channel(s) more attractive and more valuable, but sometimes it is just a matter of owning the right real estate (e.g. the only legal billboard on a mile-long stretch of I95)
Demand side covers all the folks involved in purchasing 'time' on the various media channels. It includes the companies that advertise, the agencies that represent them, and about a gazillion more concerns that get involved in the process.
'Tell me something that we don't already know!' you say! ok... tough crowd.
The disconnect is so obvious, and has been around for so long, most people don't really bother talking about it anymore. The two sides are entrenched, and you either work for one side or the other. Most companies need to choose which side of the aisle they will be 'serving' or aiming their product(s) at. This is because the demand-side doesn't really want to buy media, they want to buy results. In most cases, I don't think the demand-side could give rat's tuchus what kind of media they are buying as long as it results in the ROI they seek. (nevermind for now how the ROI might be calculated).
The supply side forces the demand side to speak its language of 'spots, impressions, time-segments, rotations, etc.' because that is their business. They sell inventory (time actually - but you knew that already) - and for them it is all about ensuring they sell as much of it as they can, getting the highest price-point that they can. So here we have a buyer who really isn't trying to buy what's being sold. The buyers want 'audience and results', while the sellers want to sell inventory. There's the gap - - so where's the opportunity?
rbidr's way of looking at the world - specifically the visualization of ALL MEDIA into time increments, provides a fundamental building block for both sides, supply and demand, to begin speaking the same language. First of all - on the supply side, our approach really is totally agnostic as to media vertical. From an inventory and information management perspective, for us - a slice of time is a slice of time. Sure - it may have other meta-data attached to it - such as the media type, the number of impressions associated with it, whether it is absolute or relative (see last blog post), and other factors, but at the end of the day - we have the perfect mechanism for rolling it all together in one top-down approach.
Why should the demand-side care? Because most media owners actually don't sell outside of a specific media vertical, and even if they do (cough, ahem, Clearchannel), the business units that sell, say, outdoor and radio have absolutely nothing to do with one another - and do not use the same systems and processes. This means that if you are Coke and running a large cross-media campaign - of course the goal of which is to probably improve market share RESULTS, you (or your agency) are managing a multitude of media buys across various segments, formats and geographies. Good luck getting a top down, strategic view into your OVERALL campaign. It just ain't happening.
rbidr is a Rosetta Stone for bridging the gap. And for those of you offended by mixed metaphors, imagine taking the stone and laying it down over the gap between the platform and the train. ;-)
Spasmatron, as a proof of concept, is working pretty much exactly as conceived. That said - it was designed to serve a limited purpose: to provide an end-to-end, working example of the underlying rbidr concept. That much has been accomplished. Never again need we discuss rbidr in the abstract.
'The Abstract' however is where we return to talk about the future of our business. This post is all about Absolute Time and Relative Time and building yet another bridge from the fundamentals that underlie rbidr to practical business applications and 'go to market' strategies. rbidr - to date, has almost entirely been about absolute time, e.g. mapping an asset to a timeline, and then selling off chunks of time as inventory. From there, you can do all sorts of neat things with the inventory to manage optimal yield and achieve price optimization. (e.g. sell it all off at the highest possible price-point)
It is long past time for us to bring 'relative time' into the discussion. Relative time is when a clock starts ticking on request, or upon the occurrence of a particular event. The best way to understand absolute time vs. relative time is to think of television. A sporting event that is scheduled to broadcast at 1pm EST (10am PST) is ABSOLUTELY being broadcasted at a precise moment. With certain programming, it is 100% known in advance how much inventory there is (e.g. ad breaks), and when they will play. With a sporting event, you don't know exactly when the game stoppages will be, or even if a game will end at a specific time. The sporting event begins to bring in the notion of relative time - because the amount of inventory sold, and when it will play, is relative to other factors and events, such as time-outs, injuries, overtime, etc.
Using our own vernacular, what we are really saying is that the asset itself can be dynamic. Spasmatron has a fixed asset - a digital display placed somewhere, with an absolute live broadcast stream. With relative time, the assets are not fixed, physical things, but rather things of value that can pop into existence upon the occurrence of certain events, and then disappear again upon the occurrence of a different event. But, while the asset does exist, it behaves absolutely to the recipient, and can be sold accordingly.
This concept of relative time is crucial in many industries, most obviously radio and television. It sounds like a high concept, but in actuality it is a very practical matter where all sorts of inefficiencies and manual activities presently occur. rbidr provides a both a conceptual and visual framework for systematizing approaches to relative time inventory, creating massive value in a space where chaos presently reigns supreme.
An exhausting but satisfying day here in Santa Monica. We had met with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce a few times (hopefully more on this later), and in our discussions the idea of using Spasmatron for the city's 'State of the City' event came up. The idea was pretty simple: they wanted to put a big, high resolution display in the lobby of the venue and carry various graphics and messaging to the event participants (of which there were ultimately more than 600).
So... we prepped about 10 graphics to rotate, and (at the Chamber's request) we also pulled in a live Twitter feed from the event. Then, just to show off, we also pulled in RSS feeds with updating technology news from TechCrunch and CNET. This was all done on about 3 days notice. Does that sound like bragging? IT IS!
Anywhoo - the event is now over and the system worked really well. Spasmatron is really a great solution for events like this, and it is cheap, quick and easy to set up. We haven't really made a significant marketing push to use the software this way - but after today, we may start.