James Booth

James Booth, CEO and Co-Founder of Rockabox, has been waiting for the video content marketing revolution to kick in since 2007, around the same time he sold his former company Tangozebra to Doubleclick. In 2008 he c0-founded Rockabox with Torie Chilcott, a TV executive who had worked on everything from the launch of Sky Sports to the Idol format for Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell (Chilcott now heads up Rockabox’s creative division alongside ex-glue ECD Seb Royce).

Today, Rockabox provides technology for interactive video, allowing brands and agencies to improve interactivity via its Shutters video engagement unit – an ad format that creates a microsite-style experience around a video, allowing the user to view more content, sign up for more information or engage socially. The units can be served into display inventory as expandable rich media units (whether bought directly or via a network or ad exchange), and clients have the option of using self-serve online tools, which allows Rockabox to operate a SaaS model. Rockabox say the formats deliver engagement rates that are typically ten to twenty times more than the standard rate for display (0.02 percent), depending on the creative and the vertical. Here James Booth explains the business model, what video could learn from TV, and the tensions between technology and creativity.

VAN: You’re about to launch a new self-service platform, what can you share about it?

JB: For a long time we’ve wanted to create a system that gives control of content distribution to agencies and brands. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds – to make it work properly we are having to push against some well established thinking. The current content distribution ecosystem is built on a cost-per-view model that through competitive process is driving the quality of placements down rapidly; the reality of where much content ends up is shocking.

Add to this the problem of non-human and below-the-fold views, plus a host of other issues, and content distribution is an unsavoury business unless you’re the one making money out of it. Our aim is to provide an alternative to the mainstream model, one that includes high value premium sites and pricing approaches that give control to agencies. The system we’ve been working on for the last 18 months plugs into trading platforms and/or works as a stand-alone programmatic planning and distribution solution. We’re very excited about it.

Which of your products represents your core business and which area are you seeing the most growth coming from?

The Shutters video engagement unit is central to the activities of the business and growth in its adoption has been rapid over the past 12 months. More recently, the content distribution side of Rockabox has seen over 400 percent growth across a six month period and is set to be a key area of interest for the business. Where the business is finding strong adoption is with the combination of great creative married to premium distribution, delivered into the Shutters.

How are brands approaching branded content?  Is it something they’re typically working with their agencies on or are some going it alone and working directly with publishers and content production companies?

Branded content seems to be finding its feet. There are parts of the industry that still view repurposed TV ads as branded content but others are now realising the effectiveness of the right content to the right audience and this increasingly means original, commissioned activity.

The great news is that agencies are now embracing this change and despite not necessarily having content expertise in house, are gaining confidence in how they bring the right opportunities to the fore. It’s certainly the case that brands are now focusing on this area of marketing. A C-level friend at one of the major media agency groups told me recently that all their clients were now pushing them for content-based campaigns.

Brands too are taking on the challenge themselves. Obviously the Red Bulls and Nikes of the world have content creation in their DNA now, but high-budget commissions are starting to appear from surprising areas and it’s great to see. Swarovski created its first feature film with Romeo and Juliet in 2013; other brands are starting to follow suit. But it doesn’t have to be all about mega-budget movies. Bespoke branded content can work brilliantly. In 2013, Universal McCann and Rockabox created Santa’s Christmas Story for Microsoft, an entertaining series in three parts. Smaller budgets can deliver fantastic results.

All that said, brands still need reassurance and measuring the effectiveness of branded-content is under increasing scrutiny as it moves centrally in the marketing mix.

What do you think the online video advertising industry could learn from TV, and vice versa?

As branded content increases in importance, which it is forecast to do, the online industry is going to need to learn how to buy content as much as how to make it. The TV industry knows how to trade content – commissioners understand what’s involved in its production and how to engage an audience. This whole area of expertise is sorely lacking within online marketing; unfortunately in many instances it is replaced with a bunch of assumptions that are not necessarily right; until this dynamic is addressed, branded content will suffer.

People often talk about a tension between the creative and the tech/data-driven side of the industry. Do you encounter problems in reconciling the two?

Technology won’t make a campaign work on its own. Despite a dramatic increase in targeting and retargeting technology, or interactive video units, consumer engagement won’t start to happen unless the right creative idea is delivered. Our business operates technology in isolation as well as a combined presentation, where we are involved in the creative process as well as how it exploits the opportunities our technology affords. The blending of creative and technology in this instance is an untroubled experience. The only real problems we see are when there is an expectation for our technology to deliver but the creative provided is poor. As a provider of interactive video technology, we will always be vulnerable to the effect poor creative has on results.

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