Vikas Gulati

Before we go into the interview we recently conducted with Vikas Gulati, Managing Director of a place called Opera Mediaworks, let’s get into a bit of history.

For those who weren’t around when the Internet started: the Opera brand has been around for-e-ver. Opera is a Norwegian company that started out as a browser firm but never got the momentum that Explorer, Firefox or Chrome mustered over the years. These three, plus Apple with its own Safari, became the ultimate winners of the ‘browser wars.’

The company then focused on the development of a mobile browser, Opera Mini. The particular USP of this browser was its data efficiency, something that was very important in the early ‘slow’ days of mobile internet. Your correspondent has fond memories about using Opera Mini on a series of Nokia phones, when the term ‘smartphone’ had just been invented and phones were not all that smart.

But alas, then came the iPhone. Smartphone capability increased like wildfire, and so did Internet speeds with the advent of 4G. As a result data efficiency slowly declined in importance. So what next?

Fortunately, Opera had one more card up its sleeve: an SDK for mobile apps that allows you to read and combine multiple data-sources on a smartphone. That might sound unexciting until you realise that this does a pretty good job in efficiently serving up a selection of mobile ads on your phone. Opera also has an app ecosystem with an SDK that is, they claim, used in 500 out of 1000 apps currently.”.

Opera’s frugality with mobile data also serves them well when serving up video with instant play features. Opera has now grouped these activities under the Mediaworks division.

So a picture arises of a bunch of very clever people who, despite coming up with some really cool stuff, never made it into the big league during the Rise of the Interwebs. Opera’s survival was not based on any form of luck, so we guess it must’ve been pure grit.

And luck is still something that eludes our Norwegian heroes.

Just before our interview with Vikas, Opera was supposed to be acquired by a group of Chinese internet firms, the so called Kunqi consortium. But right after the actual interview news broke that the full acquisition would not be approved. The Kunqi consortium, which includes online and mobile games distributor Beijing Kunlun Tech Co and search and security business Qihoo 360 Technology Co, will no longer take over Opera in full but will buy parts of Opera’s consumer business.

It will acquire Opera’s mobile phone and desktop browser business, its performance and privacy apps division, its technology licensing business, as well as its stake in Chinese joint venture nHorizon.

The Opera Mediaworks, Opera TV and Apps and Games subsidiaries (BeMobi) will not be part of the acquisition and will continue to run independently and be listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

Opera says it will continue to develop its core mobile advertising business, its products and services, including the SDK. They will continue to execute on its growth plans in 2016 and beyond.

Vikas is Managing Director of Opera Mediaworks, Opera’s media arm. In this interview, we dive deeper into the Mediaworks part, which has strong ties with the Opera mobile app platform.


So what does this all mean for Opera Mediaworks’ current activities?
Vikas: “Opera’s mobile app SDK does what many app SDKs allow these days; it can give the developer and ultimately the app publisher access to a wide variety of data on the mobile phone where the app is installed, provided of course that the owner has agreed to this.”

Mediaworks intends to leverage this option and uses it to allow advertisers to serve up personalised ads.


So our next question to Vikas is; ‘what about ad-blockers? Did Opera Mini not come with an ad-blocking options as well?’
“Ad-blocking is a wake-up call to the ad-industry. Consumers using it are clearly annoyed by irrelevant advertising. But Opera Mini and the Opera app SDK allow native advertising, which in turn allows advertisers to serve up ads that are more relevant, if they use the available data correctly. So the ball is back on the publishers’ side. What we see is that new ad formats appear, such as video content. It is there where we are traditionally strong, as we have always focused on efficient data-use with the customer experience in mind. We have e.g. an instant video start technology. When a consumer clicks on an ad the video will start immediately, which drives up the view time and conversion rates. What I will say is that intelligent advertising, using available data like location, will become the norm.”


So how does the SDK improve the mobile experience?
“Opera has always been a mobile first company, long before this was even a term. With that in mind we claim that our SDK will lower latency for internet access and it will allow access to things like gender and location, if the user allows this. In addition, we are an open platform, contrary to Facebook and Google. We work with 40+ data parties, who can enhance and enrich data. For agencies, developers and brands this provides new ways of creating valuable insights that can be used to serve up better advertising. We are also the largest SDK after Google. Roughly 500 out of 1000 apps are built with the Opera SDK currently.”


Can you name an innovative use of Opera Mediaworks and the app SDK?
“Attribution is the holy grail of marketing and advertising. In Asia the options are still limited but in the US we work with Nielsen to track which customers walked into a store and at which products they looked. We will also be doing pilots in Asia with Millward Brown to see how we drive top of mind awareness. In general, we want to make the highest quality ad experience possible by using data on mobile. I know that is a bold claim but I believe we have the right environment to deliver that.”

With improving infrastructure and smartphone adoption across APAC, the mobile advertising industry has come a long way and it is only getting bigger and going mainstream. To marketers, this means a growing importance to leverage the full potential of mobile – video, native and purpose built creatives to deliver fully immersive and engaging brand experiences.


How do you address what is called by Steve Olenski in Forbes: The Pathetic State Of Mobile Marketing And Advertising?
“The way I see it the future of mobile advertising lies in personalisation. This means no spamming ads and the right ad will be served to the right consumer at the right time. While that journey has started over the last few years, we’ll continue to get closer to achieving the right formula as more data signals from users are patched together.”


So in conclusion: how Opera stays relevant in a world where 30% of ads seem to be blocked already?
“We definitely think that going beyond advertising, i.e. ensuring that it looks more like content and is so relevant to the context and the preferences of the viewers, that ultimately we will be relevant. The better publishers do this, the more views and conversion they get, which ultimately allows us to charge better rates.”

Throughout the history of the internet, Opera has shown itself as a hardy player that’s not easily beaten by adverse circumstances or market trends. The company has bounced back and reinvented itself several times over. Opera Mediaworks looks well placed to go into the next phase of mobile advertising. We will eagerly await the next instalments in the ongoing saga.


For further reading
Opera recently published a mobile marketing report for APAC. One of the not so unexpected results is that mobile apps have overtaken mobile web when it comes to advertising. The report can be downloaded here.

The article stated that Opera has an app ecosystem with an SDK used for about 1.6M iPhone and 1.6M Android apps. This statement was incorrect and has been changed.


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