Disney strikes a big adtech deal with The Trade Desk as Disney+ expands into ads

Disney struck an advertising agreement with The Trade Desk, making it possible for brands to target automated ads across Disney’s linear and streaming properties — Hulu, ESPN+, ABC, Freeform, ESPN, National Geographic, and FX. The news comes in advance of Disney’s launch of an ad-supported tier for its flagship service, Disney+, which would likely be another such target of such a deal.

Previously, Disney kept Hulu’s ad inventory separate from its other properties, so this partnership means advertisers can not only discover more addressable inventory across Disney’s portfolio, they can also now programmatically target their audiences and potentially improve their return on investment.

“Disney Advertising had a bold vision backed by proven results from the start, and we’re thrilled to continue to deliver on our commitment to power greater automation and addressability for our customers through this expanded deal with The Trade Desk,” said Rita Ferro, President, Advertising Sales, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, in a statement.

The Trade Desk develops advertising automation tools and manages an ad network that couples online publishers with brands. Automation allows Disney to sell more ads at scale and accelerates the company’s goal to target more of its overall pool of first-party data.

Disney has previously said it wants to automate 50% of its business by 2026. At last’s years upfront advertising sales event, over 40% of the ad inventory Disney sold was automated.

The integration with The Trade Desk is likely to captivate many brands that are shifting away from content-focused strategies and moving toward an audience-first method. For instance, advertisers that want to target moms can do so with Disney’s family segments.

“We have spent years investing in our data and technology strategy to create innovative solutions for advertisers to engage their audiences with greater precision and accuracy in a privacy-focused way,” Ferro added. “This first-to-market capability sets the stage to empower access to the Disney portfolio, validated by powerful audience insights, in a way that’s automated and accessible.”

Disney has years of experience with ad tech, therefore, it has a leg-up in the race. In fact, Hulu built its own ad server and has 14 years of experience in the advertising video-on-demand space.

Disney has also been working on its advertising technology platform for over a year, investing nine figures in strengthening its tech capabilities.

In March, the company inked another ad tech deal with Horizon Media to measure ads.

As the streaming advertising landscape becomes more competitive, The Trade Desk partnership surfaces just as Disney is working on its ad-supported tier for Disney+. Since this will work across Disney’s inventory and is designed to automate ad buying across channels and services, it makes sense that Disney+’s forthcoming ad-supported tier would be included in the future. However, the company is not currently commenting on that aspect of the new agreement at this time.

Netflix is also in talks with ad tech businesses. Last month, Business Insider reported that Roku employees were discussing a merger with Netflix, which could provide the streaming service with a well-tested video ad tech stack. Names such as Google, Amazon, and The Trade Desk have been swirling around in the rumor pool as well.

Streaming ad spend grew 57% in 2021 reaching $15.2B, market to more than double from 2020 to 2022

Ahead of the start of the 2022 IAB NewFronts, where media and entertainment companies pitch their upcoming offerings to advertisers, the industry group behind the multi-day show released its annual report on the state of the video advertising industry. According to its findings, digital video advertising grew 21% in 2021 and is expected to grow another 26% in 2022 to reach $49.2 billion.

Leading this growth is the Connected TV ad market — an indication of the sizable shift away from traditional TV viewing and toward streaming video. The “2021 Video Ad Spend and 2022 Outlook” report says Connected TV ad spend grew 57% in 2021 to $15.2 billion and will grow another 39% in 2022 to $21.2 billion. And between 2020 and 2022, Connected TV ad spend is projected to more than double, growing 118%. The IAB says that despite these figures, the ad industry hasn’t caught up to where viewers are paying the most attention.

Specifically, it notes that Connected TV viewing will account for 36% of the total time spent with both linear TV and Connected TV combined in 2022, the amount of Connected TV ad spend is not in line with that figure. Instead, only 18% of the total video ad dollars are being committed to Connected TV, which includes Connected TV (CTV) viewing, linear, social, and short-form video.

“Digital video is a driving force for buyers and will continue to be in 2022,” said Eric John, VP, IAB Media Center, in a statement. “However, while CTV leads the substantial growth of digital video ad spend, the amount of dollars currently allocated to CTV is not proportionate to the amount of viewer time spent with the channel. The time is now for brands and buyers to follow consumer attention.”

Ad buyers are also facing an industry where there are many more services available to address, including ad-supported streamers like Hulu (with Ads), Peacock, Paramount+, and others, including, in more recent months, HBO Max, and Disney+ which announced plans. Plus, in a major turn of events, Netflix has just said it would introduce an ad-supported tier.

Of course, the IAB also has a vested interest in making Connected TV a larger part of the market, as it notes that brand advertisers can access additional data like location or shopping data when making Connected TV ad buys, as compared with linear. And 59% of ad buyers said it was “very clear” where their Connected TV ads ran, versus just 50% for social video and 43% for digital video.

However, the report acknowledged there are still challenges in the Connected TV market, including measuring incremental reach, managing frequency, and a lack of transparency and interoperability across platforms and publishers. It also pointed to the fragmentation of programmatic supply paths as another issue. But it said that nearly 9 out of 10 (88%) of ad buyers are anticipating a coverage of linear TV and Connected TV in the years ahead.

Clerk bags new capital to improve in-store grocery shopping experience

Much of the grocery focus over the past three years has been around online adoption, but as long as 90% of U.S. grocery sales still happen in stores, companies like Clerk want to bring some digitization to the brick-and-mortar grocery experience.

CEO Marlow Nickell founded Austin-based Clerk in 2016, and while he saw Amazon and Walmart plowing ahead in the marketing and product merchandising spaces, he saw a need from the rest of the space that didn’t have the capacity to innovate there.

The company created a digital advertising network called Grocery TV and provides screens, initially in the checkout aisle, for brands and retailers to leverage with the aim of improving the shopping experience.

Clerk took in $5 million in Series A funding two years ago, led by Silverton Partners, and since that time, grew its network size by 350%, going from 750 stores to now 2,700 stores. Next month, the company is planning for its largest install to date that will push it to over 3,000, Nickell told TechCrunch.

The company is now in all 50 states and has over 14,000 displays in retailers like ShopRite, Bashas’ and Cub Foods. It has partnerships with programmatic networks, including The Trade Desk and Yahoo DSP, to make it easier for agencies and brands like Chase and Anheuser-Busch to reach an audience of over 30 million grocery shoppers.

In addition, the company launched a SaaS merchandising product that uses machine learning to make sure products are in-stock and shelved correctly. One of its partnerships there is with Dotdash Meredith, announced in 2021, which uses Clerk’s technology to manage its publications in over 15,000 stores per quarter.

Clerk’s digital screens are not a new concept, in fact there have been a handful of companies over the past decade or so bringing digital signage into grocery aisles, mainly for in-store advertising. Those include NoviSign, ScreenCloud, Cooler Screens, EasyScreen and In-Store Broadcasting Network. You also might remember Premier Retail Networks as one of the pioneers in this space with its Checkout TV product that was in U.S. Walmart stores.

Nickell noted that technology costs and an engineering focus — which is his background — was needed to keep technology costs down.

“We saw companies raise more, but struggle to get hardware out there,” he added. “Hardware is hard and if you don’t do it right, it can be expensive.”

Clerk, grocery tv

Clerk’s team. Image Credits: Clerk

Where he believes Clerk is getting it right is by having a “First Principles approach,” which enables the company to offer a cheaper cost structure. The rise of social media is also making in-store retail advertising easier because more people are used to absorbing a lot of content.

However, there remains a delicate balance between throwing up screens and interfering with the customer experience. “You have to be thoughtful there because things will struggle to take off if it does, and grocery stores don’t want to mess with what they already have,” Nickell added.

Meanwhile, in addition to growth of stores and screens, Clerk also tripled its revenue in the past two years and became profitable last year. With an efficient business going, the company decided to invest in growth, raising $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Sageview Capital.

As part of the investment, Sageview partner Dean Nelson will join Clerk’s board of directors, while Sageview principal Roberto Avila will join as a board observer.

Whereas the Series A was scaling the market and team, the Series B is a pure growth round. Clerk has 30 employees and will be growing both the team, partnerships and store count over the next two to three years. In addition, the funding will go toward technology and product development, including new merchandising analytics.

“When we have the opportunity for growth, we want to take it,” Nickell said. “We will use this round to catapult us into the market. Something that is unique about this space is that grocery stores want to know you are going to stick around, so to be a successful technology company in the space, you have to be building a lasting company and one that will be a tech partner for the future.”

The Trade Desk hires Jonathan Carson as its first CRO

Adtech company The Trade Desk is announcing that it’s hired its very first chief revenue officer, Jonathan Carson.

Carson’s past roles include serving as president of Mic, chief revenue officer at Vevo and CEO of digital for Nielsen.

He told me he was excited to join The Trade Desk because it’s “a spectacular story” of “a relatively young company that has grown to scale remarkably quickly.” (It was founded in 2009 and in its most recent quarter grew revenue 41 percent year-over-year, to $121 million.)

“If you look at the mission of The Trade Desk, it’s essentially to fund media, and if you look at what that really means, it’s the journalism, the pop culture, the music that we all love,” Carson said. “It was built to make the economics of those individual creators and the companies … feasible, and to help them thrive in a moment where digital media has turned a lot of those business models inside out.”

By coming on as The Trade Desk’s first CRO, Carson said his role will be serving as the member of the executive team who’s “singularly focused” on driving revenue growth. And he pointed to two “really big growth levers” that the company is focused on currently — video and connected TV, and international growth, particularly in China, where the company launched its programmatic ad platform in March.

We are thrilled to add Jonathan’s deep experience in digital media to our executive leadership team as we continue our rapid growth,” said Trade Desk founder and CEO Jeff Green in a statement. “Jonathan’s focus on revenue generation and client acquisition will help us continue to gain share in the global digital advertising market, including new channels such as Connected TV, and massive emerging consumer markets, such as China.”