Jonathan HellerOne of the highlights of last week’s Digital Content New Fronts in the US was the announcement that FreeWheel and Mediaocean are to start working together to unify the TV and video buying process with FourFronts, which enables publishers to sell to TV media buying agencies through existing workflow and systems. VAN caught up with Jonathan Heller, FreeWheel’s Co-CEO, to find out about the partnership works, which markets the service will be available in, and the FreeWheel business model.

Congratulations on the launch. Could you give an overview of how you’ll be working with Mediaocean, and explain AOL’s role?

We’re very excited. We’ve been saying for ages that there’s no such thing as online video – it’s just television. Consumers know this already, but now we need to update the back office processes in terms of how agencies plan and buy, and how they execute, bill etc. We need to get the pipes hooked up so it runs smoothly as a business.

We’re trying to make the whole ecosystem flow more smoothly, from beginning to end, so when an agency is determining what to buy and when they put what they’d like together and start executing against it.

AOL is the first media partner and their will be others. So AOL, in this instance, is the entity that’s going to be selling into the TV buyers. Mediaocean is the system the TV buyers use for their planning, buying and billing. And we’re the infrastructure supporting AOL on their half of the buy.

‘FourFronts’ is the FreeWheel component that uses our existing platform. So we’ve a product called Revenue and Payments Management (RPM), and a companion platform called Monetization Rights Management (MRM), that span the processes from proposals and orders to the execution and delivery of the ads, back into the billing again. We’re just using the same tools that we offer many of our clients, but now the service is connected to the TV buyers. That solution is called FourFronts, which works in partnership with Mediaocean and AOL as our first media partner.

Ultimately, all we’re doing is enabling the way people need to plan and buy for television work in a world where television happens in a lot of different places, and in a lot of different ways, but it still needs to add up to being the audience people want to reach, on the content they want to be on.

There’s also a second component to the service we provide. We have a number of clients who use our platforms that are not media sales companies, so they might be studios or labels for example, who – if they elect to participate – can actually supply in some additional audience reach to someone like AOL, just to get the scale up even larger for TV buyers.

So think of it from the beginning of the contract, through to the execution of the contract, to the results and the generation of the bill, and the transmission of the bill back to the agency. That whole chain has to work easily at scale. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

In terms of measurement, does this solution help buyers measure on an ‘apples to apples’ basis?

In practice I think it does. Consumers have already made their choices and they’re watching more and more premium content on partners like AOL, and advertisers need to reach them and they’ve made their choices by trying to follow. All of the stuff in the middle is hammering itself out.

So what people needed was a common currency, and I think that what’s happening is that currency is becoming the current currency, as long as the metrics are apples to apples, but it might be a Macintosh and a Granny Smith, so there are different flavours of the Nielsen rating in the way they’re mechanically executed but they all effectively boil down to a gross rating and a target rating. So I think the stuff that Nielsen is working on at the moment dovetails with this very nicely, as it helps bring all of the pieces together in order to construct a buy, execute it and receive an accurate bill — and all at TV scale.

Are you going to be focusing mainly on the US market, or will it be made available in Europe?

We’re going to start with the US. I believe both we and Mediaocean have a strong presence in the UK, so we’ll certainly be learning and looking at when that might make best sense.

FreeWheel tend to focus more on the TV side of the industry. Could you give an overview of who you work with and how? 

Well we have clients from a wide variety of backgrounds. So NBC, ABC and Fox are customers of ours, but so is Discovery and Turner and the other traditional cable networks. Then we work with DirecTV, Dish, AOL and a number of other portals and device manufacturers, and even Warner Brothers, the studio.

So we see entertainment as a supply chain, from the actors and the guilds and the studios and the sports leagues, who feed into the programmers and networks, that then get distributed through traditional methods like the cable companies here in the US or through newer methods like AOL or some of the device manufacturers, but it’s still a supply chain.

So in order for the whole thing to work, it needs to work together smoothly, which is why our first product was called Monetization Rights Management, because one of the main things it does is determine if this user is watching a basketball game on the Xbox inside a Comcast app, there could be seven to nine companies who need to have contracts honoured regarding who’s allowed to do what and who gets paid what.

Are FreeWheel doing much in Europe at the moment?

Sky are a client of ours and we work with a number of the UK television companies and customers. It’s our first and biggest market after the US, and we’re now looking at the rest of Europe and picking where to go next.

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