Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"There is a big need for vernacular publishers" - Ran Buck, Taboola

We caught up with the SVP - global revenue of Taboola over the platform's presence in India.

Understanding user behaviour with the help of AI is what makes a platform like Taboola work. Taboola is a content discovery platform that exposes internet users to targeted ad-content that they're "most ready to explore".

"There is a big need for vernacular publishers" - Ran Buck, Taboola

Ran Buck, SVP, global revenue, Taboola

It creates monetisation, audience and engagement opportunities for publishers, mobile carriers, and handset manufacturers. The Taboola team claims that advertisers use the platform to reach target audiences when they're "most receptive to new messages, products and services."

"A user in the morning is not the same in the afternoon," states Ran Buck, SVP, global revenue at Taboola. Buck explains that tastes changes with time of the day, platforms and other factors requiring personalisation of a very high level which, according to him, is a big deal.

He mentions Taboola as an opposite to search engines which require active user involvement. "I want users to be passive and want to tell them about their thing of interest before they look for it. The recommendation has to be made in a matter of a second," Buck explains.

Responding to afaqs!' query about the impact of the growing demand for vernacular mediums in India and the balance between vernacular publishers and ads, Buck responds, "There is a big need for vernacular publishers. Big brands (advertisers) would like to invest in vernacular. It is growing, but it will take some time. The growth rate is less than what we expected."

He explains that the increasing dominance of mobiles in India will hasten the move to vernacular. Many Indians have their first exposure to the internet on mobile phones and they read, speak and understand in vernacular only. He suggests that media brands have to invest more in vernacular mediums in order to reach them. "We are only the vehicle, but the audiences are eager to have videos and content about what they want to consume and no one is serving them that. Both publishers and advertisers have to invest in that. We are already working with a majority of vernacular sites in India," he says.

Speaking about brand safety and Taboola's role, Buck says, "We don't allow content about porn, weapons, alcohol, fake news or scams. Our content review team looks at every piece of content in every language. Also, objectionable content can be taken off with a click of a button, unlike traditional CMS (content management systems) that can take around 45 minutes."

Taboola categorises media for publishers to pick and choose and the same is conducted on the brands and media sides.

Through the interaction, he reveals, Taboola works on a CPC (cost per click) model instead of a CPM (cost per mile) or cost per thousand impressions. CPM models attract payment only if the ad is viewed, but a CPC model requires a viewer to interact with it. And in case of videos, Taboola's model is CPCV (Cost Per Complete View), i.e. the viewer has to watch a video for at least 30-seconds to be counted. This is an attempt at maintaining transparency on the sides of publishers and advertisers.

India is one of the easiest markets

Globally, Buck explains that the US market is the easiest to work with. "While there is a lot of money and it's matured, there is also a lot of competition," he says.

Buck considers India as one of the easiest markets to operate in and attributes this to the similarity of the Israeli and Indian cultures. "Israel was rather difficult, as it was a small country. Europe was 'medium in terms of easiness'. Brazil and Latin America are easy and China is really difficult. Thailand was a bit difficult initially but turned out great after incorporating Thai culture and people," he explains. He insists that India tops the list in terms of Taboola's market domination.

"In India, we need to increase media brands and content providers. Vernacular growth has to be accelerated and older devices have to be upgraded to more modern versions," Buck states.

Also, brands have to change their mindsets as they tend to think of only search and social when it comes to digital.

Speaking about partnerships, Buck emphasises that the relationships are exclusive and long-term and it takes time for the algorithms and AI to understand the publisher's audiences. The NDTV partnership is an example of that.

The NDTV group recently struck a five-year deal worth ₹300 crore with Taboola. The previous NDTV-Taboola arrangement lasted three years and was worth ₹100 crore.

Buck further explains that Taboola is also working with editorial teams of media brands to help them understand how to reach audiences, decide titles, images etc. "We built an expensive platform called Newsroom to empower editors to take the right decisions. It can be used to understand the behaviour of people and content consumption patterns when they are on other platforms," he outlines.

Buck also announced a two-year-long partnership with Zee Media. Zee will implement a Taboola Feed on desktop, mobile web and in-app features.

Zee will leverage Taboola Newsroom's insights and A/B testing capabilities, providing editorial teams with insights and data about content performance in real-time. Editors and writers will be able to test the performance of headlines, thumbnails and story placements in real time and discover topics their users are most interested in reading about to create editorial best-practices over time. Additionally, Zee will use Taboola's Audience Exchange to manage and optimise the flow of traffic across properties.