Digital is here. But what’s next?
Originally from England, Chris Morgan dived into the media industry straight out of Oxford’s PPE* degree. Having started his career at BBC Magazines division, he progressed to Publicitas to launch his career in international media.
Currently, he is at the forefront of the digital world with a cutting-edge tech startup Sentifi. With decades of media experience and as a witness to the first phase of the digital media era, our Match-Maker and media industry expert sat down with us to share his insights.
*Philosophy, Politics and Economics
You recently rediscovered yourself in the startup landscape. What was your career journey?
I was in at the start of the digital era, or Digital 1.0, which was quite a difficult time to be in media because of the crash that happened around 2000. It was a difficult time for media companies trying to understand what the dynamics of the digital media landscape would be, and then they had this terrible experience with the first crash.
My career became 100% digitally focused after 2007, so I lived through that print to digital transformation and helped Publicitas to go through that transformation process. I’ve had a corporate background up until this year, and after Publicitas shut down in most European markets, including Switzerland where I have been based since 2010, that was my springboard to get serious about the startup world. Working with Match-Maker Ventures since May and joining Sentifi – a media and finance tech startup – in October became my launch pad into the startup world.
How has the media industry transformed?
When I started my career, print was still a dominant sector of the overall media spending in the media landscape. The key change I’ve seen in the digital landscape has been ‘programmatic’.
I first started reading and learning about ad networks and ad exchanges around 2010. Programmatic is more than mainstream now, accounting for up to 80% of ad spend in selected countries in Europe. It was incredible to witness the start of programmatic industry. To me it’s the most dramatic driver of change in the business, hand in hand with the emphasis on buying audience and using data to drive marketing decisions.
The industry moved from focusing on context and media environment as a proxy for audience, to a conversation only about audience – meaning data-driven marketing and using data to buy audiences. Now we are coming full circle, understanding that both data-driven media buying and premium contextual environment are extremely important for ensuring brand safety. We realised the need to better understand the context of where the message is delivered and to whom it’s delivered.
How is the startup scene within the digital marketing industry?
I think it’s extremely dynamic. Not to discourage anyone from getting involved in startups, but it’s also extremely difficult to be successful. I’ve seen how hard it is to make a living out of it and differentiate oneself. The startup scene is full of driven, intelligent and fun people but it’s very challenging to find that positioning in the marketplace where you can shine without a hundred other people doing the same thing as you are. The startup village at DMEXCO was my recent experience of digital startups and a great signal that there are still a lot of interesting new players coming into this competitive landscape.
In other words, the potential is huge yet being successful in this industry is very hard?
You either have to have something very distinctive about your business model, or something special about your particular asset… Or maybe there’s a barrier to entry for other players? So it’s very difficult to make that space for yourself when there are many other startups doing something similar or pushing the same agenda as you’re pushing.
It’s very dynamic and there’s a lot at stake – the digital advertising market is so big and there’s a lot to play for. But differentiating yourself is very hard because everyone wants a piece of the pie. That’s why you need the support of organisations like Match-Maker Ventures to help startups reach out to corporate partners and customers.
What was your key takeaway from DMEXCO?
What an enormous player Amazon advertising quickly became. I can see companies growing up around the Amazon advertising platform, facilitating access to it and helping businesses to take advantage of the power of Amazon’s advertising offer. It will hopefully spawn a very strong startup scene around it when it becomes more mature and when SMEs start to take notice of it.
What developments do you foresee in the startup scene?
It very difficult to predict what will come through in the next 5-10 years. My gut feeling is that we will be talking about ‘programmatic everything’, and will be calling it ‘digital marketing’ with the assumption that it is driven by automated systems in the background.
I was recently reading an article that said that the next step for digital is not about IoT (Internet of Things) and voice, it’s actually about audio – programmatic radio and audio advertising. A few weeks ago, at the Programmatic Advertising Day in Switzerland, I heard an interesting presentation from Splicky, which is a DSP capable of managing programmatic out-of-home media buying.
What about FAANG*’s market domination?
There is no reason to think that Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix won’t be huge dominant forces also in the future. Probably the dynamics and legislative landscape around these companies will change because of the recent controversies that we’ve seen which caused reputation damage at least… These companies became huge so fast, they are bound to have issues, such as how they manage personal data. It doesn’t mean that it will existentially threaten these giant American players, but we’ll have to keep a careful eye on how those big platforms develop and how consumers use them in the future.
*Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google
Your professional path led you to Sentifi. What is special about this startup?
Sentifi is a very interesting company in my mind – I see it somehow as a synthesis of some of these trends that we’ve talked about. Sentifi uses cutting-edge machine learning capabilities to solve the problem of how to make sense of enormous quantities of data generated around the subject of financial services and financial assets. That’s a great example of how cutting-edge technologies can transform both our business and personal lives and help make sense of that crowded data landscape.
What Sentifi does, it taps into the context trend: it makes sense of data and resurfaces that data in a premium environment and a premium context. It also helps you contextualise that data around the subjects that are happening in the world. It’s about premium media, finding the right audience, driving utility to users, helping investors and financial decision-makers to make sense of that cloud of data that surrounds these topics.
How do you see your Match-Maker role at Match-Maker Ventures?
I think the Match-Maker model is very interesting. I like the Corp-Up model. As someone in my previous role who tried to drive innovation from within the corporate, I’ve seen how difficult it is. To my mind, the Match-Maker model can be very helpful to those companies that are struggling with innovation.
This idea of bringing together the best of the startup world with corporates who are looking to innovate but don’t necessarily have the internal capabilities to do so – I’ve lived it from the other side and have seen how useful it could’ve been to have a company like Match-Maker Ventures in the mix to drive corporate innovation. For some of these companies in the media branch, it’s ‘innovate or die’ – which is why Match-Maker Ventures can be such a powerful partner for them.