When I put together my predictions for the coming year last week, I didn’t know how good the timing was! The early part of this week has brought a flurry of change, very little of which was already on my radar, and would appear to be the first ripples of a coming wave of interesting and dramatic news in DOOH. There was news in software, networks and agencies, and all of it provides insight into strategies of the past and future. Here’s a look:
Haivision parted ways with Raffi Vartian, the very able VP of Business Development for recently-acquired CoolSign. After CoolSign founder Lou Giacalone’s departure, Raffi was left as probably the highest ranking link to CoolSign’s heritage. The elimination of the position appeared to many outsiders to be a pretty clear signal that Haivision has little interest in preserving the strategy that CoolSign had as an independent company. In fact, over on the DailyDOOH, Editor-in-Chief Adrian Cotterill pronounced CoolSign “dead and buried” in a headline. Given recent events and an understanding of how some acquisitions go, it is hard to be surprised by Adrian’s assessment. In the comment section of that post, Haivision’s CEO responded aggressively, and provided indications that Haivision bought the company for a reason, and is apparently executing its own strategy for integrating that offering with its core business. That strategy appears to include marketing the CoolSign product to the corporate IT customers of Haivision’s core products. If that is correct, then the focus on more traditional digital signage verticals may be non-strategic to Haivision, making a business development function dedicated to a non-core product superfluous. That might also give a hint as to why Lou left. Interestingly, Haivision’s argument against DailyDOOH’s assessment in some ways supports the opening position of Adrian’s post, which asserts that CoolSign as we once knew it is history. But when you pay for the company you can set the product strategy, as Haivision has by plotting its own course for CoolSign. Not great for Raffi, but you can’t keep a good man down for long.
Further south in Chicago, Graeme Spicer and VUKUNET went their separate ways, as reported by Dave Haynes. Graeme was recruited away from Adcentricity to reposition and drive the stillborn CMS/Ad Delivery/Panacea that was VUKUNET. He was not put in a position to succeed. While untold zillions were spent designing, developing and marketing (and subsequently repositioning and re-marketing) the product, it remains a classic example of Field of Dreams investment strategy and straying from core competency. The grandiose VUKUNET vision was unlikely to ever sell a single incremental display, and probably hindered some NEC Display efforts. NEC’s display people openly roll their eyes when VUKUNET is brought up, likely a combination of having to explain its existence to their partner ecosystem and not getting paid to deal with it. Graeme’s departure, whether voluntary or not, is likely a harbinger of more dramatic changes to come. While the Japanese management style is famously patient and long-viewed, eventually someone in Tokyo is likely to decide that enough cocktails have been served trying to find a nail for this hammer to hit, as neither strategy nor execution seemed to address actual customer needs. That makes it a tough sell, as Graeme learned the hard way. He too will bounce back.
San Francisco-based Brite Media Group announced their acquisition of TargetCast Networks. DailyDOOH covered the news in some detail here. TCN’s earlier acquisition of RippleTV was probably not as synergistic as it was once portrayed, and their earlier deal with Titan did not work out well. All of that left TCN in a bit of a quandary. TCN has some patented IP around the “L-box” that it typically uses to frame broadcast TV programming. Whether you are a fan or not of that technique, there is some significant leverage in the origianl (non-Ripple) model. TCN is able to deploy high traffic screens without paying for the screens themselves, as they typically use existing screens in the bars of busy restaurants. Additionally, they do not have to pay for the core content, as it is broadcast. They deploy relatively inexpensive devices tasked only with serving up and rendering the L-Bar content, which is usually paid advertising, or in-kind restaurant promotions. So in addition to the IP, there is a nugget there for the new owner, assuming they can dump unwanted, high cost sites. Brite Media is new to the digital game, but has selling experience in similar venues. The apparent strategy is to provide digital leverage to existing advertisers. This one will be interesting to watch. If they bought it right, understand that there are differences between static and dynamic advertising, and make the right moves, it could very well work out.
On Monday, a very large merger in the advertising agency and technology world was announced with little fanfare in our sector. Donovan Data Systems and MediaBank will combine to create MediaOcean. MediaOcean has a mission to do nothing less than to create the “operating system for the advertising business”. Pretty bold stuff, but two very significant companies in the global advertising world may have the tools to get it done. Between the two of them, DDS and MediaBank provide the backroom platforms for much of the media buying world. Their customers are agencies, and together they will “process $150 billion in yearly global ad spend”. That is a company with influence and reach. A media ocean must be wide and deep, and MediaOcean appears to be both. While there is a significant online component to this merger (with Google clearly in their strategic sights), the buildout of a true operating system for advertising will necessarily encompass traditional media, online, mobile, and yes, DOOH. Keep your eye on the waves in this ocean.
We can expect new strategies and strategic partnerships to be revealed as the coming months unfold. The companies that remember who their customers are, as always, the ones most likely to succeed.
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