EXCLUSIVE : TV OF TOMORROW 2018: Interview With Manny Berrios, Chief Technology Officer At Brightline

Data mining, sale of personal data, and methods of calculating value of data sold and utilized to create targeted advertising is the biggest commodity being sold on the Internet today.  Information is king — or better yet, information makes kings — so who has access to it and how it is collected and utilize is a pivotal piece of modern commerce.  In television, as well as online streaming of original entertainment content, advertising is the life-blood. It can make or break a show.  It determines which celebrities can extend their 15 minutes of fame in to a lasting career and which writers, producers and everyone involved with making content (for television or streaming) get to have healthy and lucrative careers along with them.  Ads, advertisements, advertising, product placement, sponsorship, subscriptions — these are all ways to ensure longevity in entertainment content delivery.  With the declining reliance on Nielsen metrics, which had been previously used to evaluate how many consumers an advertisement reaches, the demand for accurate, real-time information on the person actually watching an advertisement at any given moment during a television show or while watching an online video or other Internet-created content is required.  That is exactly what Brightline seeks to provide. It offers an infrastructure tool to be used to take personal data and make it accessible to both the content-creators and the advertisers.

In an exclusive interview and featured at this year’s “TV Of Tomorrow” two-day conference in San Francisco, Brightline’s Chief Technology Officer Manny Berrios highlighted the strengths of unity and transparency in the data industry.

It is always interesting to hear a little bit about from those who take content and try to monetize it and provide it to consumers in ways that they will find helpful.  So tell me a little bit about what you do.
MANNY:  I’m the Chief Technology Officer for BrightLine.  So that means kind of day-to-day, I’m running product and technology and support, and things of that nature.  On the second level, I’m by myself if something would happen eventalizing and kind of socializing the industry to look at the world from a specific view. The company itself is really trying to help content creators modify the content to the highest extent possible and not have it locked up and have it represented correctly because there’s a lot of duplication in this space.

For example, when someone creates a show or content, they want to have it packaged correctly in such a way that it’s not being degraded in someway or misappropriated for another purpose.
MANNY:  Yes.  Totally.  Most of big content creators are spending millions of dollars to create content they typically try to monetize and maximize the value of their content internally only, internal like salesmen before they open it up to a subsidiary group of people.  So if you think of like a mixture between ABC, Fox and NBC direct sales versus second tier, which is going to be Hulu sales, verses third tier, which is going to be some type of tftwork adjacent, if there’s anything available still.  So what we have done is really tried to do more with that capability and that whole real strategy.

Is it all about just maximizing the profitability or are you looking more at packaging and making sure the integrity of the product fits?
MANNY:  We don’t rep media at all. We actually sell a technology product to the likes of NBC, Fox, Hulu so that they can take their overall strategy that they have for selling commercials and make it now in commercials, interaction, enablement and adjustment capabilities.  So those content creators, they pay BrightLine a license fee for getting and do that and with that comes the ability to do it.  So it’s ad format, about 13 formats, the ability to measure it and to verify it.  So those are three kind of services that they get from BrightLine.

How does that work in conjunction with something like what Nielsen does for them as well?

MANNY:  We help Nielsen kind of augment that view that they have.  We’re a big part of Nielsen.  We use Nielsen as a white labeling DMP for my DMP business called DataCast.  Nielsen has a very good data on the desktop, but it is very limited on mobile devices.  So as Nielsen’s partner, we provide that knowledge of signal back into the Nielsen for consumption by brands in other markets.

So you’re providing a tool more than the service?
MANNY:  I would say it’s both.  So the tool is the actual libraries, the SDK’s and things that people have to take in the tool and bring into their application.  The service is what comes after that’s done and those services are ad monetization service, optimization, delivery and then the fourth is a data management service.

Explain a little bit more about that one.
MANNY:  So the data management business is called DataCast.  So the two services marketing name labels are Incast and DataCast.  So Incast is the monetization side of the house and DataCast is the data management side of the house.  And the data that we’re managing primarily for our customers are app stream data so how many times the application loads, where it loads from, how long the user was in the application.  We don’t currently take the responsibility of managing consumer consumption of content, like, what episode they saw when. The actual channel owner does all of that.  But we do provide all of the performance analytics on the advertisements around content that we run for them.

That is important as well.  That’s how they make their money.
MANNY:  Yes.  That’s how they make their money and so we provide all the data that they need to represent in their reports and their dashboards back to their advertisers.

How long has your company been doing this?
MANNY:  BrightLine has been around for over 14 years now and it has evolved into where we currently are passing five years.  So before that it was very much like a boutique interactive agency building these interactive applications for set top box delivery, so cable delivery go to channel 111 and experience the Disney interactive app.  Whereas the company was formed on building these types of applications and experiences for very big brands and networks, then it pivoted about seven years ago in the understanding of: how do we scale our business and how do we make it more ubiquitous?  At that point they decided to start building out an ad network and then I joined the company about three years ago and I changed it from an ad network to be more of a platform or solutions for content creators.  So solutions could be a whole bunch of things.

Like what?
MANNY:  Ad monetization is a solution.  You’re a content creator, you want to figure out how to make money off of it.  Okay here’s the ad solution.  Data management is another solution, which is okay. So now that you’re putting commercials in your content and you’re putting interactive engageable commercials in your content, how do you make form of advertisement more intelligent, smarter now?  Okay, well, data mine.

What discussions have you kind of touched upon regarding the necessity of having additional ads anymore?  Are you  looking for other ways to create a monetization of a product per se or a service that wants to advertise, but doesn’t want to create atypical ad spot?
MANNY:  For a lot of our clients, we get engaged as a development shop to build a unique experience and a unique ad form product just for them specifically.  We just did one with Hulu where we bridged the understanding of the television commercial for entertainment —so a movie trailer and the users intent to want to find out more information about that movie trailer.  And the information they want to find out is what theaters are located around them that is going to be playing this at what time at what price and what type of format.  So we build a product specifically for entertainment studios. We integrate into Fandango API for the actual metadata around the movie and then built a unique product for Hulu to present it to the studios.  And then Hulu goes and takes this unique product, sells it to the studios, Warner, does three releases of it.  And what it is is a television commerce app format that is used in Hulu, it’s for say “Tomb Raider,” which is a real campaign that ran “Tomb Raider,” and you [as the viewer] just said, “Yes I want to find the nearest theaters” and it moves from just a television out of “Tomb Raider” to now an interactive unit that’s highly intelligent with the relevant theater times of their location and Hulu formats.  And the user passes their intent of to this ad of “I want this theater at this time on this date at this format” and hits submit and then immediately that intent gets transmitted to the user via SMS or Bluetooth or email and they go to their phone they look at the email and they click on a link and they buy it on Fandango.

Just that quickly.
MANNY:  That quickly.  Immediately.  And so these are examples of advanced ad formats that we create.  We have 13 ad formats that we offer to our customers. For NBC we created a whole bunch of custom stuff for them.  So most of the big content creators are very similar to them, being big advertisers, and kind of suffer from terminal uniqueness a little bit, like they want something that the industry has not seen ever before — just for them.  So we have to kind of provide that  service that as well.

So you are innovating new ways of creating advertising in ways that maybe nobody would have anticipated.
MANNY:  Yes.  When you think of the differences that exist here that allow us to think of this and innovate in a certain way, one is that it’s a pie directional communication app. It’s not just, “here’s the promotion” and there’s no feedback. It’s your seeing the commercial and someone has a remote in your hand and so now with the remote in your hand you can do something.  The most important thing is engage and interact with this thing.  So once you can engage and interact, then you can think of it as being like, “Oh, can I put more dynamic relevant data and content that they’re engaging?”  “Oh yes, I have a smart ad.”  So now that I have engagement and a smart ad, can I only show that to an audience that nobody’s going to buy?  That’s the addressable part of it.  So with those three kind of new features and capabilities the world of ideating and providing innovation is quite exciting with a lot of our customers.  And I would add one more thing that I see, a phenomenal shaking that’s occurring in that industry — that’s more collaborative than not — where you get some vendors that would never work together because they’re competitors coming together to do something behind the scenes.  We’re seeing a lot of that now.

For all the ticket buyers not just one ticket buyer?
MANNY:  Everybody.

They do have a lot of common goals.  They all want to reach the consumer seamlessly in such a way that it’s really easy to get to whatever the consumer wants to purchase and you want to make it accessible right there.
MANNY:  Yes.  So then the intelligence moves to more of a construct where there’s a safe harbor of data — let’s call it like a server-side “house cookie” that’s not any one content creator is writing to and can read it, but that everyone can read and write to.  And that the information, that’s being shared, there is the understanding that BMW bought this amount of impressions targeted to this specific demographic and intent and interest and wants to hit that audience across television, phones, tablets and desktops regardless of what website or channel their end-consumer is. That is the first thing.  And the second thing is that when that becomes a true statement, they want to change the message and sequence it — regardless of what screen they’re on.  Such as, after I’ve seen the BMW ad and I go and buy it, should I have to see another BMW ad telling me to buy it?

That is an annoying aspect of it because then that happens you’re like, “But I just bought that.”
MANNY:  So with the understanding of — let’s say BMW — working to actually give purchase of data over to a DMP anonymized and that purchase data is linked directly back to an ad ID and an app ID and a platform ID that shows direct attribution, that’s what I’m talking about.  So that that information goes back so quickly to everyone, ABC, CBS, Fox, Hulu so that whoever has the order for BMW to place the next ad doesn’t, because they know that this home purchased it.

We do not have that capability yet, do we?
MANNY:  No.  But it’s getting very close because companies like BrightLine is sitting in the middle of the buy order from BMW, the data provider that is basically doing the car purchase data, Nielsen Catalina that’s managing the whole thing, and let’s call it Hulu — the app that the person is in — the ability to influence Hulu’s ad server on the next decision, all of those companies BrightLine is working very closely with to get the pay to signal to flow between us all.

How close do you think we are to that?

MANNY:  I think that we’re going to see some very interesting experiments, big brand names, big content creators of BrightLine enhancement capability in Q4/Q1.

That’s pretty quick.
MANNY:  Yes.  Like you’re going to see intelligent marketing up-sell product in Hulu hit tomorrow.  That allows the internal marketing for Hulu to use the technologies that I was describing to directly up-sell subscription services to Hulu customers directly.  So let’s call that the Hulu customer doesn’t have live service yet, but wants to watch FIFA.  So you’ll see that format run for 15 days and there should be some very interesting data that shows uplift and conversion of the subscription.

Would you of imagined that this was possible even a year ago?

MANNY:  Not at all.  I believe that when I spoke to the aspirations like this about two years ago to colleagues, friends, clients, they all looked at me cross-eyed like that will never happen, no one will ever share, no one wants to buy like that.  It’s changed. It’s changed very drastically.

This is probably a little off topic, but the fact that the Facebook revelation came out last March where they were selling all that data, has that made it more palatable to consumers who now understand, “Oh yeah, well, maybe there’s good purposes for some of sale of information.” That all these products can be linked together and share information so you can have a better experience with advertising.
MANNY:  Yes. I think, fortunately or unfortunately, what happened to Facebook was an understanding of techniques that’s been happening in our industry for a very long time.  It just wasn’t well known.  Now it being kind of well known, more specifically by the consumer. I think that it changes the way that we describe the value proposition back to consumers and why it is important and why personalization is better.

It’s not like it’s a big secret now, now the consumer is kind of in on it.  They’re saying, “Yes, I’m giving you consent to do these things because I want a better experience when I’m online or watching my content.”
MANNY:  Yes.  I think it’s a good thing.  I think it gets most people, who never read the fine print in the T’s and C’s, woke up one morning and were like, “What do you mean you own all my data that I upload?”

It was a hair-raising moment.
MANNY:  Oh, definitely.  In ad tech, I feel like it’s key to the role that I’ve been in for many, many years — transparency and honesty.

It’s been kind of exciting though because is sounds like it is ready to be implemented.
MANNY:  Yeah.  I mean, we are implementing in it POCs. It will get to the second phase of scale Q4/Q1.  It will get to an ubiquitous scale where this will be the norm, where smart addressable type of ads with even more.

Do you see that as something exciting or is it something that we should worry a little bit about — that there’s these capabilities?

MANNY:  I think that we should all be very excited about it, but like in any industry where there’s lots of excitement and a lot of money moving back-and-forth, there’s always going to be “bad actors.”   So we should worry, as an industry, as our growth continues to uptick that we need to be as transparent and clean as possible to avoid the “bad actors” from really taking footholds.  I’ve been doing a lot of work for a long time on the commercialization of the Internet, and if you look at digital advertising, a lot of people would say that a lot of mistakes are made there.  In OTT or a video on demand support advertising models, the industry is not going to make the same mistakes at all. It’s more aware of the traps.  I think you heard someone say: “OTT is cleaner.”  Well, it’s cleaner because it’s more manageable.  There’s not hundreds of thousands of millions of publishers. There is maybe a hundred that really are making 80 percent of the revenue.  And maybe there’s 10,000 video apps in the industry, so that is what we’re working with and it’s quite manageable.  When I look at something like the web or mobile, it is in the hundreds of millions. It becomes something that, if you don’t set up a good fundamental from the beginning where you get checks and balances and transparency, then it’s a race to the bottom.  But I think that there’s enough veterans and seniority in the OTT space that are helping shepherd linear TV advertising within digital, and I think what’s been holding back linear TV advertising folks is the understanding that they don’t want to lose their foothold on their content the way that they had in digital and mobile.  So in order to bring it all together, de-duplicate it and give the buyers what they want, we have to kind of get to a spot as an industry where we overcome some of those bad habits and issues that we are wrestling with now in digital, like virus distribution and ad space malware and all of that is the negative side of what was created without controlling it.  We have to prevent that from happening in OTT.

The concern these days is less about hacking, malware and viruses, it’s more concern about legitimate companies buying information and utilizing it for purposes that are a little bit more devious.  Like, as consumers, we didn’t realize our data could be sold and manipulated in ways to influence an entire election, per se.  So that was a bit of an eye-opening experience. We knew hackers could take our online information, but they could only do so much.  But now knowing that things are being manipulated on such a bigger scale, like what we’re seeing now on social media about how people’s identities are being outed and doxxed and they’re being trolled and put in personal jeopardy, people are much more dubious about how that personal information is being accessed and used.  So it’s good to hear that some of these companies, who are gathering all that information, are trying to safeguard it to a certain degree.
MANNY:  Yeah.  But the safeguarding it to a certain degree, in my mind, kind of falls into understanding the attack vectors.  And there’s kind of like three buckets: there’s the script kiddies — the individual kind of teenage hackers that have curiosity and are trying to do something; there is the slightly more organized hacking crews that are trying to steal and resell them; and then there is state-sponsored activities.  With that being kind of three buckets, we’re doing our best at OTT to cover bucket one and two.  You can look at what happened with Amazon Fire TV just recently with the coin mining and viruses on all of these Fire TV sticks.  So when we understand there’s a difference that moves from individual script kiddies to organized virus writers trying to do coin mining to state-sponsored activities, there’s always going to be kind of a level of where nothing’s a hundred percent secure and that we have to police ourselves as an industry.

I don’t think consumers foresaw until this last year that all that data could be utilized in such a devious manner.  It was seen on a very limited scale, but consumers were not seeing the bigger picture of something that organized.  What most consumers gave away willingly when they signed user agreements was that online companies could track their viewing habits and what websites were visited and how long a person was on that site.  It was  difficult to see any harm in that.  But now we’re seeing there could be a potential bad side to use of that information.
MANNY:  Well, when it’s done with willful intent to create a quiz game and to use that quiz game to get permissions to form relationships of every other Facebook – when you start seeing developer activity with willful intent — it’s always going to be bad.

That is the hurdle your company is probably having to overcome at this point now that consumers have an awareness of how much that data could be utilized for different purposes than agreed to.  It is not even about an individual harm, it is more about the concern for potential societal harm.

MANNY:  Yes.  I agree wholeheartedly.  And I think that comes down to, from a legal standpoint, making sure that you’re constantly testing again the reasons behind permissible purpose.  Who has access and where that permissible purpose grant would be given from.  Was it an opt-in by the consumer?  Is it an opt-out by the publisher?

Do you vet your companies that you’re working with a little bit more closely now to see if they’re a legitimate company, per se, as opposed to a state actor?
MANNY:  All the time.  We’re constantly reevaluating that.

With that foresight and intent to ensure that the data collected is utilized responsibly and with transparency to the consumer, Brightline aims to provide a service that is valuable, vital and vibrant in a market where many data companies are trying to package data in ways that be useful to both content creators and advertisers.

More information about the TV Of Tomorrow 2018 conference can be found at: http://thetvoftomorrowshow.com/about

More information about Brightline can be found at: https://www.brightline.tv/