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5 minutes with Jason Manningham

5 minutes with Jason Manningham, CEO of Blockgraph.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

Following upfront presentations in May by many of the major players – from NBCUniversal, Disney, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery, Netflix and Amazon – it’s clear back-end technology is playing a major role. And as the TV world becomes more data-driven, connecting that data to clear measurement and attribution is more crucial than ever.

This is where a company like Blockgraph aims to help. The data collaboration firm is owned by Comcast NBC Universal, Charter and Paramount and headed up by CEO and co-founder Jason Manningham.

Manningham equates Blockgraph to being like Drano for data, unclogging the pipes to make TV more addressable. Manningham spoke with The Current about the upfronts evolution, the importance of measurement and attribution, and weighs in on how many main currency providers he thinks will emerge.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are you seeing in terms of the advancement of measurement and attribution for networks and advertisers as we look to the future?

Brands are demanding outcome-based measurement for all of their campaigns, inclusive of TV and CTV [connected TV], and they want to make sure that that attribution is happening in a world where there's a lot of signal loss. So, it's harder to do that attribution in some cases, but it's super important. And that's been driving a lot of the investment in not only CTV where you have signal that can be attributed, but you've also seen that in other adjacent verticals like retail media.

A really important part of the upfront negotiations is how can you prove that this upfront buy is actually going to drive the performance that [you] think it will. So that's the attribution side of the equation. The second side of the equation is the blocking and tackling. I want to be able to measure reach and frequency across all of the different apps that I'm buying, the CTV apps, the digital video and traditional linear.

And I want to be able to understand how many households I've reached at what frequency. That requires a really strong picture of identity and being able to understand the right households, the right individuals across all of those apps, across all of that CTV and TV supply.

Traditionally we've relied on broad-based demo currencies. But the currencies are increasingly investing in identity solutions that help them bring together that viewing data so that programmers, agencies and advertisers are all aligned on the actual number of households reached. We're still in the relatively early stages, although there are billions of dollars being transacted on alternative currencies [that is other than Nielsen].

Different TV networks are supporting different currencies. Is it realistic that they'll agree on one currency? We’re in a shift from the biggest currency, Nielsen ratings, to these other companies trying to get a place at the table.

You know any time there's a certain level of macro industry disruption, at first you see a lot of fragmentation and then you see a certain level of consolidation, broadly speaking. And this has played itself out in a number of different industries throughout the years. I don't think we're going to end up in a world where there are five or six currencies that are being used for basic reach, frequency planning and measurement.

But there is some room for innovation and competition in the space amongst a small handful of currencies that get supported. Now those currencies will need to get integrated into all the upstream buying tools and the measurement tools, hence why it probably won't be five or six because that's just too burdensome for many of the buying and planning and measurement tools.

But I do believe there will be three or so main currency providers in the coming years and they'll each have their benefits.

How does identity fit into the video-buying market when you're trying to see the whole picture across all of your buys?

Whether [a] household is watching on traditional linear or streaming, or watching on a free ad supported streaming app, the measurement company is in the business of taking all of it and saying these are the number of households you reached, or this is the average frequency you reach those households.

[With] identity, they need to be able to do it all. They can't rely on a single version of identity. So they have to ingest the data and then figure out a way to get that to the households. Where we've been positioned to help them do that is we have this unique asset through our platform of being able to match IP-based streaming data to a household through some of our partnerships with many of the operators [so] that no PII [personally identifiable information] is being shared between the different parties.

Walled gardens exist within digital advertising, but less so in the CTV space. Do you have any insight into why this is the case right now? And do you expect any to develop in the future?

It depends on how one would define walled garden. Google is a huge presence with YouTube in the CTV space.

But there are more companies who have supply that's valuable and premium and finite, who are not in the same position as some of the walled gardens in terms of data scale. So, what they're doing is they're taking a more open approach. They're partnering with demand side platforms, partnering with other media companies to figure out how can we have an all boats rise type of approach. Because everyone will benefit if we're growing the size of the CTV ecosystem.

And the way we do that is we make it addressable, we make it measurable, and we make it easy for brands to buy. If the industry can do those three things, then it will continue to grow. But if they don't, then I think increasingly you'll see the walled gardens wedge their way into the CTV ecosystem even further.