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Taboola is the Robin Hood of the open web

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Published: March 22, 2019 1:25:03 AM

Taboola has 1.4 billion unique users globally, compared to YouTube’s one billion.

Ran Buck SVP, global revenue, Taboola (Photo: Amit Mehra)

Discovery platform Taboola has forged partnerships with 500 publishers in India, including big names such as NDTV, The Indian Express, Zee Media and The Hindu. Ran Buck, in an interaction with Ankita Rai, talks about challenging the walled gardens, and the shift in marketing spends from display to discovery platforms. Edited excerpts:

Taboola had projected $1 billion in global revenue for 2018. Was the target achieved? What is India’s share in Taboola’s revenue?
We are aiming to close 2019 with $1.3 billion in revenue. India is a significant market for us in terms of page views. The business is growing at a CAGR of 30%. In the last six months, we have tied up with big publishers like Zee TV, The Hindu and The Indian Express, and renewed the NDTV deal. So the growth is expected to be higher on the back of more inventory and page views.

We work on the CPC model instead of CPM — brands pay us only if somebody clicks on the ad. On the video front, our model is cost per completed view; brands pay us only if a video is viewed for a minimum of 30 seconds.

With the launch of Taboola News, you seem to be competing with the likes of Apple News and Google News. Will that impact your tie-ups with publishers?

Taboola is a discovery platform. Our mission is to enable users discover new content. Taboola News is an add-on. It is a personalised platform for news content and comes pre-installed on smartphones. We have already integrated with several mobile phone manufacturers including ZTE and Vivo. Taboola has also recently acquired the Start Division of Celltick, a global leader in mobile discovery and engagement.

We are working with aggregators like MSN and also with publishers, exclusively. The idea is to have long-term partnerships with publishers. In a way, Taboola is the Robin Hood of the open web. Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Apple News, we don’t steal users from publishers. So, publishers get free traffic from Taboola News. The revenue agreement is with OEMs or the telcos.

Is Taboola changing the way search is traditionally used by brands with ‘search in reverse’?
Search advertising is a powerful marketing tool with one flaw — it doesn’t work if your audience doesn’t know what they are searching for. We haven’t changed the search behaviour; we have created another category called discovery. Display advertising, which includes banners, is called the ‘blind of the internet’, which means consumers are becoming blind to them. Today, consumers are more interested in what they may discover or read next. So, brands are shifting some of the marketing budgets from search to discovery.

How is Taboola challenging the walled gardens — Facebook and Google? How much of the marketing spends do you see shifting to platforms like yours?
There are three primary places to advertise online — Google, Facebook, and then there is the ‘open web’ comprising big and small websites. Publishers have realised that the walled gardens have captured their audience. We are trying to help the open web and publishers grow traffic, engagement and audience.

Taboola has 1.4 billion unique users globally, compared to YouTube’s one billion. If we are able to show videos to all the unique users that use Taboola recommendations, we would be bigger than YouTube. But, unfortunately, we are not there yet. Video is expected to contribute 25% to our topline.

We see a big shift in marketing spends away from Facebook and Google. Regulations like GDPR have given a further boost to our business. Around 30-40% of the marketing spends are expected to shift to discovery platforms like Taboola in three years.

By how much can publishers and brands rationalise their marketing costs when using Taboola services?
We give publishers all user data for free to help acquire and manage traffic in a smart way, and keep audiences engaged. For example, if a user is coming from a home page, he/ she is a very engaged user. If a user is coming from a social platform, the bounce rate is higher. So we can tell which segment of the audience is expected to bounce very fast, and devise the strategy accordingly to keep users engaged either through organic recommendation or sponsored content. Taboola is able to reach more than 50% of the internet population globally, and 75% in India.

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