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February 23, 2018
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Advertising Tech

‘Digital experience’ company Instart Logic raises $30M for global expansion

in Advertising Tech/Delhi/Enterprise/India/Instart Logic/Manav Mital/Politics/ST Telemedia/Startups/TC by

Instart Logic has raised $30 million in Series E funding.

The company describes its technology as a “digital experience platform.” If that sounds vague, it’s partly because Instart Logic actually has a broad range of products, covering everything from performance optimization, image optimization, application firewall and its own content delivery network.

Founder and CEO Manav Ratan Mital told me that the company’s overall goal is to “help customers make more money from their digital initiatives,” with artificial intelligence as its core technology.

“We have this ability where we can inspect how users are interacting with the application across different networks,” Mital said. “We can use that information and synthesize it across a lot of different screens.”

That analysis then Instart Logic to apply those previously mentioned products, which can result in a faster website or mobile app, improved search engine rankings or helping a publisher to circumvent ad blockers.

In fact, Instart Logic says its e-commerce customers typically see a 5 to 8 percent increase in revenue, while ad-supported publishers can see revenue grow by 3 to 15 percent. Customers include Neiman Marcus, Kate Spade, Air Asia, Atlantic Media, Ziff Davis, Telstra (which is also an investor) and Nasdaq.

The new round brings Instart Logic’s total funding to $140 million. The plan, Mital said, is to expand the sales and marketing team with a particular eye on Europe and Asia — which is one of the reasons the round was led by ST Telemedia, owned by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

Mital said he’s thinking about an IPO as well, though he gave a common answer on this topic: “I see myself building a very large company for the long-term. At some point, an IPO is going to be a step in that process.” Exactly when that point comes will depend, in part, on broader market forces.

Featured Image: Instart Logic

News Source = techcrunch.com

Shoppable video startup Cinematique has a new CEO and $1.4M in new funding

in Advertising Tech/Cinematique/Delhi/India/Media/Paul Dawalibi/Politics/Startups/TC by

Cinematique has a new CEO — investor and entrepreneur Paul Dawalibi.

The startup describes its product as enabling “touchable video.” In other words, when you’re watching a Cinematique-powered video, you can tap or click on different items to save them and learn more later, and in some cases buy the featured product.

Dawalibi (whose long résumé includes a stint as VC at the Canadian affiliate of Guy Kawasaki’s Garage Technology Ventures) said he was initially introduced to Cinematique as a potential investor.

“My initial reaction was, ‘God, this is so obvious,’” he said. “All videos are going to be touchable and shoppable. I just think there’s going to be no logical reason not to enable this on any branded video online.”

However, Dawalibi said the company’s investors asked him to do more than write a check — they wanted him to take over as chief executive. The goal, he said, is to “turn this into the next billion dollar business, put the whole thing on steroids.”

“We’re going to double down on existing companies where we do well, but also pursue new markets and all kinds of new partners,” he said. “We’re going to bring this to the masses in a bigger way.”

For example, Cinematique says it will explore expansion into industries like education, automotive, travel, lifestyle and home. To fuel these plans, the startup has also raised $1.4 million in additional funding led buy Pumori Group, bringing its total funding to more than $6.8 million.

“I’m not the biggest proponent or fan of raising zillions of dollars as quickly as possible,” Dawalibi said. Instead, he’d like to see Cinematique hit some “key targets” before going out to raise a larger round in 12 to 18 months.

Co-founder Kyle Heller will continue in his role as chief strategy officer. Dawalibi described his relationship with Heller as “very symbiotic,” as Heller leads the product team in Los Angeles while Dawalibi builds out the sales and marketing efforts in New York.

“Paul’s commitment to our values and compelling strategic vision for the company is exactly what Cinematique needs as we enter our next chapter,” Heller said in the announcement. “I look forward to working alongside him and the rest of our team in my ongoing role as chief strategy officer.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

In their first Russia hearing, tech giants try to placate Congress (with mixed results)

in Advertising Tech/Congress/Delhi/Facebook/Google/Government/India/Policy/Politics/regulation/Russia/Russian election interference/TC/Twitter by

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off the first of three hearings this week examining the relationship between social media and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The hearings mark the first time that lawmakers will hear testimony from Google, Facebook and Twitter around how their platforms were and are manipulated as part of Russian political disinformation campaigns targeting U.S. voters.

“This is really a critical hearing,” Committee Chair Lindsey Graham declared in his opening remarks. “It marks the first time we will have heard from the three agencies about exactly what is going on and what exactly they are prepared to do to stop it.”

Graham struck a friendly note early on, informing the panel that “the purpose of this hearing is to figure out how we can help you.”

Predictably, the tech representatives weren’t fooled by a group of lawmakers that appears increasingly eager to regulate their ad operations.

As Tuesday’s hearing was the first of three, the big question is just how cooperative the three companies would be. All three elected to send their general counsel rather than top executives to the hearing, a move that signaled they’d prefer to remain tight lipped and well within the comfort zones they’re used to in friendlier territory. They mostly succeeded, even when things got a bit awkward for a trio of companies far too accustomed to exercising near total control of the narrative around their products.

None of these tech giants are used to having their feet held to the fire, and some members of the committee, particularly Louisiana Senator John Kennedy and Minnesota Senator Al Franken, proved eager to do so. When Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, who bore the brunt of the committee’s ire, responded tepidly to his line of questioning about the company’s responsibility, Franken rebuked the panel explosively.

“You put billions of data points together all the time… you can’t put together rubles and a political ad? How did you not connect those two dots?”

Kennedy picked up a line of questioning threaded early on by Graham, turning to exactly the kind of rapid fire questions that the tech companies dispatched their legal reps to dodge.

Kennedy: “Did China run ads in the last election cycle to try to impact our election? Did Turkmenistan?”

Stretch: “Not that I’m aware of”

Kennedy: “How can you be aware? You’ve got five million advertisers and you’re gonna tell me that you can trace the origin of all of those advertisers?”

Stretch: “No sir, I cannot”

Kennedy: “That’s your testimony under oath?”

On the issue of banning foreign currency in political ads — and many other issues, including how they’ll deal with shell companies — the trio was non-committal. They refused to endorse Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bipartisan Honest Ads Act when pressed, gesturing that they would be willing to cooperate on legislation but they’d really prefer to self-govern (since that’s gone so well). Klobuchar took that opportunity to skewer the regulation-phobic companies. “There wouldn’t be an outside enforcer of any of your policies, is that right?,” she demanded. They reluctantly admitted she was right and surely took notes for how to handle tomorrow’s likely continuation of questioning around that legislation.

That sheepish admission and others were about the only candid moments that the hearing produced, as it swung from Russian intelligence operations to Islamic extremists and even to a predictably useless interlude from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who squandered his time with a distracting line of questioning that accused the companies of partisanship.

The exchanges set a tone for tomorrow’s intelligence committee hearings, which are likely to be meatier and more aggressive, particularly in the Senate. In round one, Google, Facebook and Twitter cooperated, but they weren’t particularly helpful, opting to mostly cover their asses with pre-planned statements and platform reports designed to appease lawmakers and stave off regulation. All three were eager to tout their own home remedies for political disinformation campaigns — hire actual humans, build AI, et cetera — but remained unwilling to conduct the kind of deep self examination necessary to inoculate themselves outright.

Featured Image: Richard Sharrocks/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

Congress grills Facebook, Twitter, Google on shells hiding election meddlers

in Advertising Tech/Apps/Delhi/Facebook/Google/Government/India/Policy/Politics/Russian election interference/Social/TC/Twitter by

How can Internet giants know that innocent-seeming US companies aren’t actually shell vehicles for malicious foreign actors to buy ads to interfere with elections? The short answer is they can’t, and that drew questioning from a congressional probe today into Facebook, Twitter, and Google being used to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

The hearing saw Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch dodge whether Facebook supports the new Honest Ads bill, instead touting the self-regulation it’s implementing. Google’s Richard Salgado affirmed that the company sees itself as a technology platform, not a media company or newspaper.

And Senator Ted Cruz pressed Facebook about whether it was politically neutral, and if it sways discourse “in ways consistent with the political views of your employees”, which I’ve noted leans Democrat judging by rampant cheering by employees for Democratic talking points during Barack Obama’s townhall at Facebook HQ in 2011.

Losing The Shell Game

Perhaps the most telling moment of the hearing came when one member of the committee questioning the companies’ spokespeople asked:

“How do you deal with the problem of a legitimate and lawful but phony American shell corporation, one that calls itself say “America For Puppies And Prosperity”, that has a drop box as its address, and a $50 million check in its check book that it’s using to spend to manipulate election outcomes?”

Twitter’s general counsel Sean Edgett admitted “I think that’s a problem. We’re continuing to look into ‘how do you get to know your client . . .and believe that we’ll have to figure out a good process to understand who those customers actually are that are signing the contracts with Twitter to run ads.”

The committee pressed further about Twitter’s shortcoming here. “You admit that if you trace it all the way back to an American corporation, let’s call it ‘America for Puppies And Prosperity’ and it’s actually a shell corporation, you don’t actually now who’s behind it?” the committee asked. “It could be Vladimir Putin, it could be a big powerful American special interest, it could be the North Koreans or the Iranians. You need to be able to penetrate the obscurity of the shell corporation, correct?”

Edgett responded “Yeah, we’re working on the best approach to getting to know the clients and getting to know who’s behind the entities that are signing up for advertising.”

Later, Senator John Kennedy laid into the tech representatives, saying “Sometimes your power scares me.” He went on to ream Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch “for having 5 million advertisers, which Kennedy said he thought was a quantity impossible to police. “You don’t have the ability to know who every one of those advertisers is, do you?” Kennedy asked. Stretch admitted Facebook didn’t, and it would likely be cost-prohibitive to drill down further into their identities.

Herein lies one of the toughest on-going challenges for Twitter, Facebook, and Google. They must either erect barriers to advertising that could deter innocent businesses and cost too much to administer and maintain, or they have to largely take advertisers at face value.

Facebook has written that it plans to “require more thorough documentation from advertisers who want to run US federal election-related ads. Potential advertisers will have to confirm the business or organization they represent before they can buy ads.” But if those identified businesses are merely shell companies, that rule doesn’t do much good.

This issue of advertiser identity and how deep tech platforms are required to investigate it could emerge as key to whether these companies are allowed to self-regulate or whether the government will step in.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

News Source = techcrunch.com

Nielsen will use Gracenote’s smart TV data for ad targeting

in Advertising Tech/Delhi/Gracenote/India/Media/Nielsen/Politics/TC by

Nielsen is expanding its Marketing Cloud by plugging in smart TV viewership data from Gracenote.

Kelly Abcarian, senior vice president of product leadership at Nielsen, explained that the goal is to bring “person-level television data” to digital marketing and “bring the scale to a whole new level.”

In other words, advertisers using the Nielsen Marketing Cloud will be able to take advantage of detailed, real-time information about who was watching what. For example, Nielsen says the data would allow an advertiser to target viewers who saw their TV ad one evening with a direct response mobile ad the next morning.

Abcarian added that by using this data to “hone their targets” and by “engaging and reengaging in a way that’s smarter about consumer behavior, [advertisers] get the most effectiveness for their marketing spend.”

Nielsen has been building out its digital advertising and targeting business over the past couple of years, first by buying eXelate in 2015 and then with the acquisition of Gracenote earlier this year.

Gracenote may be best known for providing metadata to music services like iTunes and Spotify, but it has also developed what it calls Video Automatic Content Recognition technology, which is currently embedded in 27 million smart TVs. This allows Gracenote to analyze the video image and determine what you’re watching in real time.

Gracenote Vice President of Video Personalization Sherman Li said this information has already been used to power a variety of smart TV features, like content recommendations and interactive ads.

Now that the data will be included in the company’s Marketing Cloud, Abcarian said Nielsen can use its “unique algorithms and capabilities and intelligence to turn that viewing data into person-based understanding” and combine it with data on things like demographics, credit card spending and online behavior.

As for the privacy implications, Abcarian noted that none of this data includes personally identifiable information. She also said Nielsen has worked with smart TV makers to ensure that viewers know they’re sharing this data before they opt in.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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