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The Five Spot: Mark Lieberman

After starting his career as a lawyer, Mark Lieberman became an entrepreneur. He’s worked his way through the media and technology business, becoming a familiar industry figure. Since 2014 he has run Viamedia, which uses tech to sell and serve ads for more than 60 distributors ranging from traditional cable operators to overbuilders like Google Fiber.

Lieberman served as deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, where he worked on the 1996 Communications Act. He started advertising-data pioneer TRA and also founded Sarnoff Real Time Corp., which built an early server for video on demand.

At Viamedia, politics is important. The company represents operators in all of the battleground states where targeted local cable ads are in demand, particularly in this wild election season. That position gives Lieberman insights on what’s hot from multiple markets and races.

An edited transcript of his conversation with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette follows.

Are you seeing a lot of political spending?

It’s the perfect storm—a good storm for us. We’re up in the mid-to-high-40%. That’s apples to apples, 2012 to 2016. With unpopular top of the tickets on both sides, you’re seeing more being spent on PACs and issue campaigns. And you’re going to see a lot more dollars spent on down-ticket races.

Is Trump spending money?

He is starting to spend, [but] not at the rate that 2012 Mitt Romney spent money.

Are politicians using programmatic?

We haven’t seen that. In programmatic, you’re going to be agnostic as to which network and which program the ad may show up on. However in political advertising, context still matters. You want to know that your ads are going to end up on a particular type of programming. As the technology continues to advance in programmatic, as the networks allow campaigns to target certain networks and programs, you will see more being spent programmatically.

Will you be able to maintain a significant footprint as cable consolidates?

I believe so, for two reasons. Over the last three to six months, we received more inquiries than in the previous two years from some of the mid-sized and larger players that want us to run pieces of their business around the country. The second reason is impression-based selling. The TV industry is going through huge challenges in over-the-top, IP over-builders, and they all need solutions in order to sell advertising. These players are not going to want to give that business to those they’re competing with. And one of our great strengths is that we’re independent.

Were you exposed to show business as a kid?

My dad was an intellectual property attorney. One of his clients back in the ’70s were the heirs to Robert E. Howard, the author of [comic books and graphic novels about] Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Kull and all these science-fiction superheroes. The heirs were all arguing with each other. My dad’s magic was he got them to collaborate and let him try on their behalf to expand beyond comic books and graphic novels. The result was he was able to put together the first Conan the Barbarian movie and convince Dino De Laurentiis to put Arnold Schwarzenegger in it. I wasn’t involved, but I’ve got the original Conan sword from the first movie above my mantel at my home in Westchester.