An Interview with Les Hollander- CEO of DAX North America [VIDEO]

Charlie Cadbury and Norbert Horvath sit down with Les Hollander, CEO of Dax North America to discuss how technology can improve users audio experiences.

Speakers: Les Hollander, CEO, DAX North America; Charlie Cadbury, CEO, Say It Now, Norbert Horvath, CTO, Say It Now.

Read the transcript of the video here:

Les Hollander 0:01
You guys just talked about yesterday. Perfect. Over face for radio. Sure, you’ve heard that a couple of times. People tell me that.

Charlie Cadbury 0:14
It’s great. Okay, so we’re here this afternoon with less common from DAX, North America obviously know what’s here as well. And just to introduce the world to yourself, you can explain a little bit about DAX, North America is and then sure

Les Hollander 0:26
a bit about us. We are a third party reseller of audio inventory from streaming publishers, pure plays from broadcasters, from gamers from podcasters. And from innovators across the audio ecosphere.

Charlie Cadbury 0:44
And what’s what’s your role here?

Les Hollander 0:45
My role as CEO, I’ve been with the company for a little over two years. I’m a longtime broadcast radio executive, and then moved into streaming back in 2009, which seems like a long time ago

Charlie Cadbury 0:59
already. Amazing. So what are the kind of steps the biggest steps I’m

Les Hollander 1:03
sure, you know, started in sales in broadcasting moved into senior management at iHeart. And then CBS Radio, my first foray into startups into digital was a company called bus radio, we put kid friendly content on school buses that was being done across the United States, which was interesting. I then went to Pandora, where I was one of the first 150 employees help them launch their audio sales business. From there, I moved to Gwinnett and sold local digital across their ad newspapers, and then move to Spotify in 2013. And launched in at first in the United States, their audio sales business, and then across 73 countries, before ducking out into late 2019. And then arrived at DAX in 2020. So just very quick story. I started at an offside on March 8 2020, at DAX, and had wanted to get the rest of the month off and said, I will start March 30. And in between that time, march 15 2020s, when the world closed down, and I was fortunate enough to still start the gig here. However, my entire first year was remote. And the guy magazine. Yeah, so it was pretty wild ride.

Charlie Cadbury 2:24
And so um, so with them, you know, you always been kind of the illustrious kind of group of names you just talk through and then very much they’re hyper growth phase. What’s what’s the most exciting thing about being at DAX, and what do you see trampolining? The growth into the future?

Les Hollander 2:40
Yeah, I like to build as you could well imagine. But what’s really exciting about DAX is the appetite for innovation. So, you know, since I’ve been here over the past nine months, in particular, we’ve acquired two new companies, one called remixed, which is a text to speech company, and it has some proprietary technology. Another one is called, which is a hosting in dai platform with some reporting and creator tools. But the reason I mentioned that is, is that we have an appetite for innovation and moving the audio business and the audio experience for users in North America, and the UK forward. And it’s an incredibly exciting time. In our industry, particularly for audio, you know, people call it a rebirth of the Golden Age, I like to call it a renaissance, again, of audio. And some of its been driven by podcasts. Some of its been driven by technology, voice technology, which I know, we’ll talk about, as well as the text to speech technology and speech to text, text now, tech nology, as well as search technology, and so many advances in our industry. So it’s, it’s super excited.

Norbert Horvath 3:59
So would you say that this innovation and amalgamating of technologies is really what differentiates you as a supply side? Representative?

Les Hollander 4:06
No, I think I think we’re using this technology. We’re bridging between publishers, and content creators and advertisers and marketers. So you know, it’s what motivates me and gets me out of bed every morning is to be able to take these technologies and this innovation in these solutions, and help marketers innovative marketers across the country, bring it to their consumers, it’s something that is more measurable for them, helps them get lower down the consumer funnel, if you think about, you know, a an older traditional radio impression versus a more traditional streaming impression. One has inherently had more advantage in terms of measurability and accountability. And now that’s moved very close. together through innovation and technology, where broadcast impressions and streaming audio impressions have similar capabilities for marketers

Norbert Horvath 5:10
interesting and digital audit being the fastest growing segment by 58%, what would you attribute that growth to

Les Hollander 5:21
the changing behavior of consumers, particularly if you look at it generally, generationally amongst Gen Z, and Millennial and to a lesser extent, Gen X, and baby boomers, if you talk to a Gen Z or millennial, the first thing when they get in your core, it’s, it’s not as much to turn on the traditional radio, it’s how do I connect my mobile device, and maybe listen to that radio station or listen to a pure play streamer. Those generations also not generations that have paper delivered to the newspaper delivered to their door or driveway, they’re going to a podcast to find out, you know, who won the game last night to find out, you know, they’re using their mobile phone to find out what the weather or a podcast to find out what the news is, or stream, their favorite favorite local radio station. And you know, as far as TV goes, they’re consuming so much time on those devices to watch Netflix or to stream a baseball game, or to watch a video on Tiktok. So the the consumer behavior has changed so dramatically amongst those generations. But it benefits audio and brings it back to the forefront. And you know, at the core of it is storytelling. And audio, since the beginning of time has been the best storytelling medium.

Charlie Cadbury 6:46
I mean, this is a it’s almost like we’re primed to segue. But we’re trying to find like best practice of audio ads. Right? And can you think back to maybe the first audio ad that you maybe ever heard or my old? Definitely one that you remember from a long time ago?

Les Hollander 7:01
Yeah, you know, I started in radio quite a while ago, but really, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, to be quite honest with you, but it was that, you know, tell them once, tell them again and tell them another time. So you know, back when I started in radio, it was about the phone number, there was no website to go to it was how to get people into the store, that’s changed dramatically, because there’s so many different touchpoints for a marketer, it’s go to our website, go to a website, an e commerce website to find it, come into your local retailer to find it, or interact with it through what you’re hearing or seeing visually, and really through on demand audio.

Charlie Cadbury 7:47
Yeah, so it’s what we’ve what we’ve seen is that, you know, those messages that are retained, once you know, if you somewhere, you know, some of the the telephone number out or you tell the ads to a friend, and this whole idea of firing up your vocal cords in the real world is what we’re kind of squarely aimed at right now with actionable ads and the ability to kind of talk back to the ad on the smart speaker you’re listening to where do you think the world of smart speakers is taking it?

Les Hollander 8:13
Well, one thought before I answer your question, too, is what’s changed is the need for intense frequency. Because the way people are listening is a little bit different today than it was, you know, back when I started in radio in that, you know, if 50% of, of the people who were listening, have headphones or their earbuds wireless earbuds in, I think that one to one interaction is a little bit more engaging than a one to many interaction for a number of reasons. Because you’re able to tailor the creative because you’re literally in their ears where you were hoping to be in their ears where if they were in a public space, or at home listening to the radio. So that’s become really interesting. So you know, where the answer to your question where voice comes in, is now the interactivity. And I think people people sort of go to the end a little bit too quickly. In general, when they think about voice interactivity, they’re thinking about how can someone order their, you know, their mouthwash and their butter and their new sneakers with a voice ad, but it’s so much more than that. It’s so much more than about making an appointment. In other words, if there is an ad for a TV show, put that on my calendar so automatically through a voice ad so it reminds me to tune in in that evening, or if it’s for a local service business, send me the information so I can call them in addition to we’d love if most people you know ordered their toilet paper and goods through voice ads, but there’s so much more to it and and there’s so much or green pastures. So I see that the future is incredibly bright, as there’s more and more engagement and more and more penetration of voice devices and, and what people need to think about and remember is, it’s not only about a physical voice device in your home, this also includes mobile phones and how people are engaging with Siri, how people are engaging with other brands, whether it be Sonos or a Bose, Bose device, or other devices, that some have their own technology, some have Google or Alexa technology that simply white labeled. So it’s, it’s really even more prevalent the technology than you think. So hopefully, I answered your question.

Charlie Cadbury 10:47
100%. Yeah, it’s always, you know, this, this dream of ambient computing, there’s meant to be more voice enabled devices than humans only by 2024. So it’s ambient.

Norbert Horvath 10:58
Now, essentially, from from the engagement perspective, or do you see as the biggest value here, from your end being the title bind spin publisher and advertiser? Is it? Is it the knowledge of the engagement a better understanding of engagement? Is it the attribution? What are you? What would you aim in a strategic sense to get out of this interactivity?

Les Hollander 11:17
Well, a number of things. So the engagement and attribution are critical. But as a as a long time advertising executive, one of the things that I would love to see in the future is that audio is further at the top of the list on a media plan. If you look at a media plan from a fortune 100 advertiser, it probably has 30, to 50 to 100, different tactics that they use, from outdoor to digital TV, to broadcast TV, to you know, gas pump advertising, to radio to streaming, and generally radio and streaming are in that bottom 20 in that 15 to 20 on the list. Now because of voice with deeper engagement and attribution, and being able to better understand consumer behavior, further down the purchase funnel. What I’d like to see from this is that audio as a medium gets a bigger share of marketing dollars going forward. And I think that will slowly but surely, happen. And this has been a big focus of our industry for the past 20 or 30 years. But now I think we have a real shot at making it happen fast.

Norbert Horvath 12:32
And we actually keep hearing that statement quite a bit throughout this entire tour.

Charlie Cadbury 12:36
it bodes well. Now we would we were looking to champion the future of this industry. And we’re keen to kind of get your view if you are a new entrant and just coming out of college and wanting to one day sit where you’re sitting, what would your advice be to someone at the beginning of their career,

Les Hollander 12:52
my advice would be look at where this industry will be in the next 1010 or 20 years. And that’s one of the reasons I made a conscious shift to digital audio back in 2009 been fortunate enough to be at a very high level at CBS back then. But I sort of saw saw what it looked like going up the mountain and saw what it looked like coming down the mountain and decided to take a step sideways to take a step forward. And so the answer to your question, though, is what I would talk about to someone who’s graduated college is think about where we’re going in the future, make some bets. And it’s okay to fail, it’s okay. You’ll you’ll also be successful in some of these bets. But audio is a tried and true medium that is only getting more intertwined into pop culture in our everyday environment. So I would pick a technology, picking a startup that’s exciting, or pick a reputable company that has audio technology, and try to get in in a part of that industry that excites you, whether it be sales, whether it be finance, whether it be marketing, whether it be engineering and technology, because there’s a bright future how to

Charlie Cadbury 14:12
amazing that’s really good advice and just a little bit to kind of finish on of your audio world do you what would you be listening to on your way home or maybe at home?

Les Hollander 14:21
So today on my way home, I’ll be listening to several things. I’ll be listening to the local radio station to hear the traffic report. Because I live about 75 miles from here. I didn’t get a chance to listen this morning to NPR and I’m an avid NPR listener. So I love up first, in particular, the podcasts that I listen to every day, I’ll probably after that, tune in to one of my playlists on Spotify, or one of the other services and then I’ll go to I usually go to tune in to listen to one My favorite radio stations that are out of market, like WMV y in Martha’s Vineyard, or several others that are, you know, a little bit more alternative leaning.

Norbert Horvath 15:11
That’s a long commute.

Les Hollander 15:13
It is a long commute. It’s about an hour and a half. So oh, goodness, I plenty time, but

Charlie Cadbury 15:17
in order to be feast for your ears. Exactly. Wonderful. And thanks so much for carving out some time in your busy day. today. Thank you. Perfect. Magic, easy, easy work, right. That’s really what it’s that’s one of our best to date. You’ve got a really interesting perspective. And it’s just a very calm and considered worldview.

Les Hollander 15:39
It’s nice. Yeah, you know, and those are all true stories that made up in terms of taking that step sideways to take a step forward. And, you know, one of the things I thought of back then is, I was, it was 13 years ago. So I was 47. I was I was younger. Now is the time to do this. I have this intellectual capital, for broadcasting and from audio. But how do I use it? And I went on this journey, because I was getting paid for a while from CBS, which was wonderful. And this, you know, fortunately, I came out on this end, and it’s worked out, it’s worked out really well, because there are still people on the innovation side on the streaming side, on the technology side that are looking for that experience. And under understanding of the broadcast world, and how to how to adapt some of what you’re doing to that to bridge over to the digital in the streaming world, because in the US, it’s still a, you know, a $16 billion industry back casting. So you know, as a, as a startup, that’s one of the areas and revenue pools you want to tap into, because it’s so large.

Norbert Horvath 16:57
Now, your SSP that you mentioned earlier? What differentiates it from the others? Does it move on the Luma slide at all? Is it exactly in the same spot was very

Les Hollander 17:09
much in the same spot. For us. It’s our ability to house everything through one SSP. So the way I visualize our unique selling proposition with this SSP in the US is will be the largest independent, full stack solution. So you take iHeart, which as a full stack solution, they’ve combined all those companies, but they are beholden to I avoid conflict when you take Sirius XM, which has a full stack solution. But they’re beholden to Pandora, Sirius XM content. We have all the same capabilities in our SSP in Dai, and some of the technology will be beholden somewhat to multiple publishers that have signed on with us as well as being a little

Norbert Horvath 18:06
bit but it’s sold a DAX trading desk. How big is it?

Les Hollander 18:12
It’s small right now, I literally would just would just connecting publishes directly to our endpoint on backside. Oh, that’s that’s how new it is. Now, it’s been built out in the UK for two years. And they’re they’re only transacting primarily on backs audio right now. And it’s it’s very profitable and substantial for them. So we’re hoping to get there. But it’s a different marketplace, because they’re a content creator, right? And we’re not. Right. So when you’re a content creator, you have control of certain things that you don’t have control of unfortunately,

Norbert Horvath 18:51
one thing I’m interested in discussing with you and your team, in fact, is she the way that our voice app and the way we look at a Voice app is very much a structured tree right ask you a question. You answer me based on my answer, I ask you a follow up question. So that’s how we keep it agnostic. And we’re normalized across the different channels. The speaker channels, what we’re looking for as partners to enable that configuration within an SSP within the ESB working out ways. In real time, use the transaction platform to be the optimization platform for a Voice app. So I think that’s the conversation I’m very much looking at exploring with you as the year.