Times Internet* intends to invest as much as $100 million in its programmatic and native ad network platform Colombia, but is strangely reticent about discussing why it’s making this large an investment, and what specifically the money will be used for.
In a note sent a few days ago, the company said the platform, will be “used to expand Colombia’s capabilities to leverage insights and data about users across multiple marketing formats including display, video as newer formats such as coupons and purchase formats for a wide variety of marketers.” Colombia, which Times Internet says considers more than 1000 separate attributes for marketing, claims a reach of almost 200 million digital users a month across Times Internet and partner publisher owned properties, said it served over 6 billion content recommendations in March alone. It says that more than 60% of this inventory is from premium news and content publishers, available only through Colombia. Times Internet claims a reach of 165 million users, and says it provides “an interest graph” which gives context to search and social graphs.
The “interest graph” contrast that the company highlights in comparison with search and social, points towards hints that the publisher is trying to set itself up as an alternative to Google and Facebook. Given that the $100 million investment is a substantial amount, we requested more specificity from Times Internet about its product and business plans, to understand their strategy better. The questions:
Q1. Times Internet launched out Colombia in 2014, and what it did then appears to be similar to what you’re citing as the objective now: of doing programmatic and native. What product development do you have in mind, and what capabilities do you want to add to Colombia, which require such a substantive investment of $100 million?
Q2. You mention that you’re looking at developing “developing marketing technology to continue to creating value for marketers as the mix of digital marketing gets more complex.” Apart from what kind of marketing technology you’re looking to develop (previous question), what are the complexities in digital marketing that it isn’t addressing now, but you seek to address in the future?
Q3. Also, what is the difference between what you’re doing and what existing platforms such as Google’s platforms or GroupM’s Xaxis aren’t already addressing?
Q4. You mention that you have had 50 external publishers which have signed up for Colombia in the last six months. What’s the total number of publishers, and can you share some names? Also, can you share some examples of native advertising served by Colombia both on Times Internet properties and outside?
Q5. At a time when ad networks, which are essentially commodity businesses now, are struggling, why are you building your own network instead of partnering with existing networks? How does competing with existing ad networks impact your relationship with, say, GroupM, which is pushing Xaxis, or Google?
Q6. Can you elaborate on how you create interest graphs, and whether you collect and use data outside of the Times of India network of websites?
Q7. In which countries is this 150 member global technology team operating, and how many are in India? What your plans for scaling this team?
Q8. Over what period is this $100 million being spent?
We’ve made several attempts to get a response from Times Internet. We’ll update in case we hear from them.
Disclosure: Times Internet is an advertiser with MediaNama