Live Nation Poaches WPP Exec to Build Out Programmatic Ad Sales

Concert Promoter Is Going After Digital Ad Budgets

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Michael Finnegan will lead programmatic efforts at Live Nation.
Michael Finnegan will lead programmatic efforts at Live Nation.

Concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment has hired a WPP executive to lead its nascent efforts around programmatic ad selling, which includes tapping its trove of consumer data.

Mike Finnegan was until this month director of product development at WPP's programmatic agency, Xaxis. On Monday, he becomes VP-programmatic and product innovation at Live Nation, where he will help create ad products for its various digital properties and live events.

Live Nation Entertainment, which was created in 2010 with the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, is the largest concert company in the world. It reported revenue of $2.8 billion for the first half of 2014, a 7% increase over the first six months of 2013. The company has recently looked to grow advertising and sponsorships -- especially among brands trying to reach so-called millennials -- where it generated $116.3 million in sales between January and June, a 4% increase from a year earlier.

"There is an increased need from brands to connect with millennials within trusted media brands such as Live Nation and Spotify," said Jens Welin, executive VP-managing director at Starcom U.S., in an email.

More than $1.34 billion will be spent sponsoring music venues, festivals and tours this year, a 4.4% increase from 2013, according to a report from IEG. Meanwhile, Pandora is expected to earn $735.6 million in ad revenue this year, a 41.4% increase over last year, an eMarketer report estimated.

In addition to Live Nation's flagship website, where consumers go to buy concert tickets and learn about upcoming events, the company owns several music websites, including MegaCountry.com, electronic dance music site Insomniac.com and Setlist.fm, which aggregates concert set lists.

"There's a lot of inventory that isn't being monetized and a lot of trading desks or agencies leaning into Live Nation," Mr. Finnegan said.

He also plans to create ad products around Live Nation's first-party consumer data, which Live Nation collects from people who provide information about themselves when buying tickets and attending concerts. In 2011, Live Nation bought BigChampagne, a company that collects and analyzes peoples' online music habits and other digital behavior.

Despite the data Live Nation collects, some in the industry say it lags in how it sells its audience. "Of all the big promoters and property owners, Live Nation is probably at the back of the pack in terms of smart packaging of inventory and content," a marketer said.

Mr. Finnegan's arrival sends a message to the ad community that Live Nation plans to get smarter about how it sells sponsorships to brands.

"Having Live Nation bring in programmatic expertise helps us work with them and our brand partners to create more dynamic digitally-driven human experiences both at the venue and through the connectivity that's occurring outside (during) and after the event," Mr. Welin said.

It also marks Live Nation's latest efforts to bolster the advertising and sponsorship side of its business.

"Third party data is becoming pretty ubiquitous and commoditized," said Jeremy Levine, senior VP-digital sales at Live Nation. He joined the company in 2011 to lead its digital ad sales after a career in magazine publishing. "We have such a big database and rich data points -- our opportunity is to take that to the next level and go to market with bespoke custom audiences," he added. "That's how our evolution continues."

In addition to traditional banner ads, Live Nation sells sponsorships of its content, such as photo galleries from various concerts. It has also created custom branded content for companies like Ford and Jeep, which includes traditional display advertising, as well as live events and content.

For instance, AT&T U-verse recently sponsored the roll out of Live Nation's country music site, MegaCountry.com. That deal included ad space on the site and content that AT&T U-verse can syndicate on its country music channel, Country Deep, according to Mr. Levine.

This year, Live Nation also struck a deal with Yahoo to stream a concert a day.

Mr. Levine said his team, comprised of about 15 digital ad sellers, is siphoning money from digital budgets. "Digital agencies are getting empowered to buy more integrated programs," he said.

"Digital budgets have gone up significantly," Mr. Levine added. "One hundred thousand dollars used to be big, now it's regularly seven figures from brands, in digital specific."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Live Nation bought BigChampagne last year. The acquisition happened in 2011.

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