Ex-Tacoda Chief Joins Board at AudienceScience Affiliated Startup

Former Tacoda chief and AOL Platform-A head Curt Viebranz expects a hard road ahead for online ad networks, but he’s decided to assist one as a member of its star-studded advisory board. Viebranz has joined the board of B2B behavioral ad network Inflection Point Media, along with ex-Jumpstart and Carat Fusion exec John Durham, and Mark Walsh, former president and CEO of VerticalNet. Inflection Point Media has a direct relationship with Audience Science, a main rival of AOL’s in the behavioral targeting space; Viebranz left AOL’s Platform-A on unfriendly terms a year ago.

“I’m looking for a continued shakeout in the network space,” Viebranz told ClickZ News. “The network business was and is going to get tougher.” Though the online ad industry vet believes that “publishers are becoming more and more leery of working with networks, particularly on the consumer side,” he continued, “I don’t think the Inflection Point guys will have that problem.”

Ad networks can be considered competition by publisher salespeople who sometimes battle networks offering their ad inventory at lower prices. IPM aims to find the best of both worlds by bringing publishers added income without posing a threat to their sales teams. The company has taken an approach other behavioral targeting firms have: collecting user data through cookie-ing them on partner publisher sites, and employing the data to serve targeted ads to those users via ad network inventory. IPM’s data is gathered from sites frequented by small and medium business decision-makers, including American City Business Journal network sites, StartUpNation.com, and business search engines. IPM categorizes users into segments such as people in the market for payroll accounting software or business loans.

“We don’t conflict with their own sites’ direct sales forces,” said IPM CEO and founder Chris Hulse. The firm’s goal, he continued, is to “create a non-cannibalizing incremental revenue stream for the people providing this data.” The company is selling standard display ads on a CPM basis.

Audience Science, formerly Revenue Science, is storing the data gathered by IPM. That data is employed to locate and target users in the Audience Science network. Though there is some overlap, sites in IPM’s data harvesting network don’t necessarily offer inventory to Audience Science. So, some sites, including StartUpNation, earn revenue by allowing IPM to cookie their users, but don’t let IPM use the data to serve ads on their sites.

“I think they’re going to be able to attract a sufficient number of publishers to collect the data,” Viebranz said.

Viebranz most recently hails from Tacoda, which was swallowed by AOL during its ad technology binge of 2007; Tacoda is now part of AOL’s advertising division, Platform-A. He was named to head up the division when it was formed, but left on bad terms in March 2008.

“They said if you’re not going to go and cut a bunch of heads, then we don’t want you here,” said Viebranz of his superiors at AOL, suggesting the company fired him because he was not willing to cut staff.

Tacoda, now under the Platform-A umbrella, has long been a direct competitor of Audience Science. Both have been top names in behavioral targeting for years. Despite Viebranz’s resentment toward AOL, he told ClickZ he “wasn’t really part of the decision” to choose Audience Science as a behavioral targeting network partner “because [IPM] made it before I became part of the advisory board.”

Hulse described Audience Science CEO Jeff Hirsch as a “strategic advisor” of IPM.

IPM is sure to attract observers as a result of its support from prominent Web ad industry players like Viebranz, Durham, and Walsh. Durham is CEO, managing partner of marketing consultancy Catalyst, and held executive posts at auto industry behavioral targeting firm Jumpstart Automotive Media. He’s also held stints at Carat Fusion, and political digital agency Pericles Communication, through which he did some work on the Bush/Cheney ’04 interactive campaign.

Walsh currently is CEO of Genius Rocket, a firm pairing advertisers with creative services, and was president, CEO, and chairman of VerticalNet, a firm serving the B2B market.

Viebranz has yet to take on a full-time role since leaving AOL. “I’m looking for the next gig,” he said, noting he’s been vetting opportunities to do business in Latin America.

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