Q&A with Itamar Benedy, Co-Founder & CEO at Anzu.io

Itamar Benedy, CEO and Co-founder of Anzu.io, was previously the CEO of Glispa, a Berlin-based advertising firm with €100M in annual revenues, a team of 250 people, and 9 international offices. Itamar led the acquisitions of JustAd, a playable ads start-up, and Relevantech, a Telecom monetization platform. Previously, Itamar served as the VP of Marketing at Sport.com and Yoga.com, leading the user acquisition, monetization, and analytics teams. He guided Sport.com to become a market-leading fitness firm and transformed mHealth into a business with over 40 million downloads across 30 apps. With a decade of experience in mobile and marketing, Itamar is a member of the Mobile Steering Group Board of IAB, and the Young President Organization (YPO). He was also nominated for Forbes Israel 30 under 30 in 2016.

There has also been a common misconception amongst brands that gamers are not their audience, but when you consider that they make up a third of the population, you can see that this is not true. The pandemic had a significant impact on exposing this audience and shifting the mindsets of advertisers.



MEDIA 7: Could you please take us through your professional journey?
ITAMAR BENEDY:
Since day one at AppWiz, which was my first foray into the exciting world of AdTech, I was hooked. All those years ago, I saw AdTech as a wide-open canvas for innovation and meaningful advancements. My mission was – and is – to create breakthrough products that have the power to change the way humans and ads meet and interact with one another. A core technical background coupled with a passion for business drove me to create technologies that would chart the future of digital advertising. With over a decade in the mobile marketing space, I clearly understood the industry’s problems. So, I teamed up with gaming product guru Ben Fenster and master software architect Michael Badichi to solve the biggest issues in video game advertising which included a lack of scalable tech and cutting-edge solutions, the disruptive nature of in-game ads, and the vast gap between advertisers and developers which was leaving massive audiences inaccessible to brands. It was also getting increasingly difficult for developers to monetize without sacrificing the gaming experience. The three of us set out to make advertising in games better when we founded Anzu in 2016, and we’ve been disrupting the industry ever since!


M7: Which industry benefits the most from an in-game advertising platform like Anzu.io?
IB:
The gaming audience is hugely diverse, made up of individuals from all ages, backgrounds, genders, nationalities, and cultures. Due to this diverse nature, in-game advertising suits businesses across all different industries and vertices. You can see this when you look at many of our top clients who are spread across many sectors, including retail, telecoms, technology, automotive, travel and tourism, and leisure.

There has also been a common misconception amongst brands that gamers are not their audience, but when you consider that they make up a third of the population, you can see that this is not true. The pandemic had a significant impact on exposing this audience and shifting the mindsets of advertisers. We saw many who had never run an in-game campaign before shift a considerable amount of their budgets over while they could not advertise outdoors. Extremely low fraud levels, viewability rates way above the industry average, and the massive exposure that in-game offers have seen most continue to shift budgets over, even as much of the world begins to emerge from the pandemic.


As free-to-play continues to gain momentum and infiltrate all game genres, games studios will be forced to change their way of thinking to see in-game advertising as a sustainable business model if they want to continue making games relevant and accessible in this highly competitive landscape.



M7: Anzu.io has recently raised $9 million for a new generation of in-game advertising. Could you please tell us a little bit about this goal and how you plan to achieve it?
IB:
Traditionally, in-game advertising has only been thought of in terms of mobile games. We saw an opportunity to reset this way of thinking and introduce in-game ads to PC, console, and mobile. The industry is headed for a cross-play revolution where you will no longer be constrained by what device you own. Platforms like Roblox and Fortnite have become ‘play anywhere where you can join a game at home on your console, move to the study and pick it up on your PC and then carry it on via your mobile once you’ve left the house. This view is supported by many across the industry, and it's one of the reasons why we have received backing from many of the world’s leading games publishers and advertisers. With more people downloading ad blockers, giants like Google and Apple making big moves within the privacy space, and national and international regulations on data privacy becoming more stringent, advertisers have never been warier of where their ads appear and how they are measured. Users have also never been more mindful of how their data is used and where they are being advertised to.

In response, we have put ad quality at the heart of everything we do, bringing real-time data and existing digital industry standards in-game across mobile, PC, and console. We also partner with the world’s leading ad verification and certification companies to protect advertisers and their campaigns. As part of this drive, I’m excited to announce that we’ve just been awarded the TAG Brand Safety Certified Seal under the Intermediary category and the Gold Standard Certification 2.0 from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), UK. Together, these certifications demonstrate Anzu’s ongoing commitment to promoting a safe, secure, and fraud-free ecosystem that benefits the entire advertising chain. We also strive to put the gamer first, above everything we do. To achieve this, we work with advertisers, publishers, and players to ensure our ads are integrated within the games and sit natively within the experience, complementing the gameplay rather than taking anything away. I firmly believe that our cross-platform focus, commitment to producing a safe and secure platform, and our drive to always put the gamer first will allow us to accomplish our mission to build the best in-game advertising platform which reaches every gamer on the planet while upholding the interests of advertisers, publishers, and players everywhere.


M7: What do you see as the biggest challenges in the industry and Anzu.io this year?
IB:
Navigating Covid-19 has been a considerable challenge for us and will continue to be for some time. We are a global company, so it’s been a challenge not to see each other in person. I was lucky enough to get over to our HQ in Tel Aviv recently, and it was amazing to connect with everyone and hear from all areas of the business. There’s something special in meeting in the flesh, and Covid-19 has made many people realize just how much we took for granted before. As I mentioned, we are working with several industry-leading certification companies and bodies to bring advertising standards to in-game advertising. However, this is an ongoing task and one that needs cooperation from all sides of the industry. In-game advertising has traditionally always been thought of in mobile, and most AAA console and PC games have followed a pay-to-play model. With the rise in popularity of AAA free-to-play games like Fortnite and Genshin Impact, this is beginning to change; however, many AAA games publishers are still focused on the pay-to-play model. As free-to-play continues to gain momentum and infiltrate all game genres, games studios will be forced to change their way of thinking to see in-game advertising as a sustainable business model if they want to continue making games relevant and accessible in this highly competitive landscape.


Act fast as once you see an opportunity, it's highly likely that someone else has noticed it too. Within the fast-changing world, it's also easy for competitors to spring up and overtake you if you’re not focused on the future.



M7: How has the Covid-19 era influenced the growth of in-game advertising?
IB:
Covid-19 helped to emphasize just how big the gaming industry is. Yes, Covid-19 helped turn a lot more people to gaming. Many who were gamers pre Covid-19 ended up spending more time gaming to pass the time inside, however contrary to popular belief, gaming did not begin to reach massive numbers during Covid-19. The players were already there. Covid-19 simply revealed to the world just how big this industry is -- something that many companies like ours have been educating advertisers on for some time. A perfect storm of titles exploding overnight (Genshin Impact, Animal Crossing, Among Us), a new era of consoles launching, F2P platforms like Fortnite and Roblox attracting kids in their millions, and experimental experiences like live in-game concerts and virtual fashion launches helped keep gaming within the headlines and top of mind for advertisers during the lockdown. As a result, there was a huge shift in the way brands and agencies began to think of gaming, resulting in more execs, CEOs, and key decision-makers seeing gaming as an essential marketing channel rather than just somewhere to do experiential marketing with leftover budgets.


M7: Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for your younger self?
IB:
The advice I would give is to be data-driven, ensuring that your decisions are backed up by relevant research and insights. Act fast as once you see an opportunity, it's highly likely that someone else has noticed it too. Within the fast-changing world, it's also easy for competitors to spring up and overtake you if you’re not focused on the future. The last piece of advice I would give is to hire senior people and let them do what they do best -- it’s very easy to take on everything yourself, but there comes a time when you need to look to others for help and know that they are experts within their fields for a reason.

ABOUT ANZU

Anzu is the world’s most advanced in-game advertising solution. Operating across mobile, PC, and console platforms, Anzu blends real-world brand ads directly into video games, esports tournaments, and live streams, opening up colossal new audiences for brands in unprecedented creative ways. Simultaneously, Anzu empowers game developers and game publishers to introduce sustainable revenue streams that preserve the gamer experience while maintaining full control over gaming environments. Anzu, which operates across all geos and game genres, partners with global advertisers such as Pepsi, Vodafone, and Samsung and game studios such as Ubisoft and Nacon.

The only solution of its kind to bring real-time analytics and existing digital industry standards in-game, Anzu’s patented, adaptive technology features blended, yet highly viewable IAB-compliant ad formats. Anzu’s full suite of one-of-a-kind AdTech integrations includes ad viewability, brand lift measurement, audience verification, data enrichment, and fraud detection in partnership with industry leaders such as Moat, Comscore, Kantar, and Nielsen. Anzu has raised $17 million to date from investors including WPP, Sony Innovation Fund, BITKRAFT Ventures, and HBSE Ventures. Learn more at https://www.anzu.io/.

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Business Wire | October 25, 2023

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Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming Expand Innovative Programs in Fight Against Human Trafficking

PR Newswire | January 16, 2024

Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming announce their ongoing commitment to the fight against human trafficking with new support tools for victims and those at risk, a youth education program, new trainings to help Team Members combat and prevent human trafficking, and work with new community partners to create a greater impact. "We are deeply committed to the work our community partners provide for those at risk, victims and survivors of human trafficking in the United States and around the world, as we work together to combat human trafficking," said Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming. Over the last several years, Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming have implemented comprehensive protocols to increase awareness of and prevent human trafficking, including training over 27,000 hotel and casino Team Members globally and collaborating with local community partners and advocacy groups. Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming are continuing their work in 2024 with direct support for victims, survivors, and at-risk youth, through the following programs: First Hospitality Brands to Globally Implement Twentyfour-Seven QR Code Created for trafficking survivors, by survivors at Twentyfour-Seven Inc., Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming are the first hospitality brands to implement the Twentyfour-Seven QR code sticker, which provides critical information and support to those who need it, while also deterring traffickers from targeting individuals on the properties. The Twentyfour-Seven QR code sticker, which has resulted in several law enforcement investigations being opened, is being implemented in 44 hotels and casinos across 13 countries. This QR code, which offers information in several different languages, is helping people at risk find a way to understand their situations and the resources available for protection. Expanding Youth Education in Mexico to Prevent Online Luring Building upon the success of the Hard Rock Social Identity Quest (SIQ), an education program that helps teens understand the risks of being lured online, Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming have now expanded the program into classrooms in Mexico following a well-received pilot in Quintana Roo last year that reached 35,000 students. The state's Governor has made the program a mandatory part of the educational curriculum. To effectively reach Mexican youth, the SIQ content was co-developed with experts from PACT- (Protect All Children from Trafficking; formerly ECPAT-USA), ECPAT-Mexico, and EduNetwork Partners. To date, the Hard Rock Social Identity Quest was adopted and taught by 60,000 teachers in 45 U.S. states, reaching 1.2 million high school students, eight percent of the student population. Nearly 2,000 Hard Rock team members also completed the Quest with a young person in their lives. Funding our Community Partners through Change for Change Through its Change for Change program, Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming will raise funds to combat human trafficking during January. Casino guests will have the opportunity to donate change from redeemed gaming vouchers to the Hard Rock Heals Foundation, where 100 percent of the funds will benefit our community partners: PACT, the first U.S. organization to focus on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and Twentyfour-Seven. In 2023, this program raised $100,000 for PACT and Covenant House New York. Youth Employment Program with FLITE Center Florida and Covenant House New York Offered initially in New York City and extended to South Florida last year, Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming's Youth Employment Program aims to help protect youth at risk and support survivors to escape a life of trafficking by helping them forge careers in hospitality. Partners include Covenant House New York City, the largest provider of runaway and homeless youth services in New York City, and FLITE Center, South Florida's leading agency for vulnerable youth and those aging out of foster care. FLITE Center provides support to vulnerable youth with guidance on education, employment, housing health and wellness, and care coordination. Setting a New Standard for Training in the Gaming Industry with the American Gaming Association Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming are driving the advancement of industry practices to combat human trafficking with the American Gaming Association's (AGA) Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force's first-ever free industry-developed training, designed to be the new standard in training for the gaming industry. Working with non-profit and law enforcement partners, the AGA Taskforce created this training based on trauma-informed care and the contributions of trafficking survivors. It will help set a standard for the gaming industry and ensure that guest-facing Team Members know how to recognize signs that trafficking may occur and what steps to take. Learn more about Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming's corporate social responsibility initiatives at www.hardrock.com/social-responsibility. About Hard Rock®: Hard Rock International (HRI) is one of the most globally recognized companies with venues in over 70 countries spanning 309 locations that include owned/licensed or managed Hotels, Casinos, Rock Shops®, Live Performance Venues and Cafes. HRI also launched a joint venture named Hard Rock Digital in 2020, an online sportsbook, retail sportsbook and internet gaming platform. Beginning with an Eric Clapton guitar, Hard Rock owns the world's largest and most valuable collection of authentic music memorabilia at more than 87,000 pieces, which are displayed at its locations around the globe. Hard Rock Hotels has been honored by J.D. Power's North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study as the number one brand in Outstanding Guest Satisfaction for two consecutive years, and among the top Upper Upscale Hotels for four consecutive years. HRI became the first privately-owned gaming company designated a U.S. Best Managed Company by Deloitte Private and The Wall Street Journal in 2021, and has since been honored threefold. Hard Rock was also honored by Forbes among the World's Best Employers, as well as Best Employers for Women, Diversity and New Grads and a Top Large Employer in the Travel & Leisure, Gaming, and Entertainment Industry. In the 2022 Global Gaming Awards, Hard Rock was named Land-Based Operator of the Year for the second time in four years. Hard Rock International currently holds investment grades from primary investment-grade rating agencies: S&P Global Ratings (BBB) and Fitch Ratings (BBB). For more information on Hard Rock International, visit www.hardrock.com or shop.hardrock.com. About Seminole Gaming: Seminole Gaming manages six Florida casino enterprises for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, including Seminole Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla. Seminole Gaming has long been recognized for its industry innovations and success. The Seminole Tribe was the first Indian Tribe in North America to open Ultimate Bingo, a high-stakes bingo hall and casino, which debuted in 1979 and became the forerunner of the Indian Gaming movement. Seminole Gaming is currently the only gaming company with investment grade ratings from all three primary investment-grade rating agencies: S&P Global Ratings (BBB), Moody's Corporation (Baa2) and Fitch Ratings (BBB).

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SONY MUSIC MASTERWORKS LAUNCHES NEW JOINT VENTURE WITH UK-BASED LIVE ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY, ROAST PRODUCTIONS

PR Newswire | January 11, 2024

Sony Music Masterworks, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, today announced a new strategic venture with Roast Productions, a live entertainment company founded by Bonnie Royal and Michael Stevens. Based in London and operating internationally, Roast Productions focuses on producing theatre, concerts, and family entertainment events. Royal and Stevens will continue to lead the company's day-to-day operations and collaborate with Masterworks on the development of a range of new productions, working in close partnership with both Masterworks President Mark Cavell and Ollie Rosenblatt, founder and CEO of Senbla, a UK producer/promoter. Recent and current shows include MACBETH starring Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma playing in Liverpool, Edinburgh, London and Washington DC; 2:22 A GHOST STORY in the West End (Apollo Theatre), touring in the UK and Australia; CHRISTMAS ACTUALLY, a Christmas variety show curated by "Love Actually" filmmaker Richard Curtis and produced in partnership with Senbla; the highly acclaimed West End run of VANYA starring Andrew Scott; and the new musical COWBOY BOB at the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX; as well as the 2024 UK tour of THE 13-STOREY TREEHOUSE based on the best-selling book by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. The company will also offer production, general management, and marketing services in the West End and beyond. At the same time, Roast Productions is pleased to announce strategic agreements with National Theatre Productions and Various Productions, as co-producer for STANDING AT THE SKY'S EDGE at the Gillian Lynne Theatre opening in February, and with the Ambassador Theatre Group, as Creative Producer of the inaugural WIMBLEDON CHILDREN'S FESTIVAL at the New Wimbledon Theatre, launching in Summer 2024. Mark Cavell, President of Sony Music Masterworks, said, "I'm absolutely delighted to welcome Bonnie and Michael to the Sony Music Masterworks family. Their creativity and expertise will further support our endeavours in securing and creating new quality and original live productions that will captivate and entertain audiences across the globe, and provide first-class content for our other partners to promote and market." Bonnie Royal and Michael Stevens, Producers and Co-Managing Directors of Roast, commented, "It is an absolute honour to join Sony Music Masterworks and develop new work and new markets together. The strength of its vision and values makes it the ideal partner for us as we develop a diverse body of work in the UK and internationally." Sony Music Masterworks' agreement with Roast Productions is the latest in a series of strategic partnerships and acquisitions advancing its growth as a multi-faceted worldwide entertainment business operating in more than 30 countries. The network of companies includes Black Ink Presents, a Los Angeles-based creative design and production services company; Culture Creative, a production and project management team specialising in developing site-specific and bespoke projects in unique heritage and landscape settings; Netherlands-based GEA Live, which designs, represents and produces shows and experiences based on prominent IP in music, film, television, anime and gaming; The Luna Entertainment Group, the UK market-leader of open-air, drive-in and pop-up cinema experiences which also stages high quality location-based entertainment experiences, exhibitions and events; MAC Global, an award-winning, pan-regional concert promotion, talent management, events and production company based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Proactiv Entertainment, the live event producer and promoter based in Barcelona, Spain; Raymond Gubbay Ltd., the music, dance & Light Trail/Lightscape promoter; RoadCo Entertainment, the New York-based producing and distribution agency specialising in live entertainment experiences; Seaview, the Tony and Olivier award-winning media company with theatre, film, TV, and digital verticals; Senbla, the London-based producer/promoter of quality music, theatre and immersive events, shows and festivals and Terrapin Station Entertainment, an artist management, tour production and sports/stadium consultancy company which specialises in family-friendly and brand-led events, immersive exhibits, game shows and charity concerts. ABOUT BONNIE ROYAL Over her career, Bonnie Royal has headed up an extensive and diverse portfolio of productions. Previously as Commercial Director of Fierylight, she worked with global brands including the children's entertainment icon PEPPA PIG for over 10 years (including 11 seasons in London's West End), and led the development and production of family titles such as Julia Donaldson's THE SMARTEST GIANT IN TOWN with Little Angel Theatre in 2020, which went on to have a sell-out UK tour and played an Olivier Award-nominated West End season. As Marketing Director, Royal's credits include The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company: PLAYS AT THE GARRICK season (which included THE WINTER'S TALE starring Dame Judi Dench and ROMEO AND JULIET starring Lily James and Richard Madden) to HAIRSPRAY (London Coliseum), CIRCUS 1903 (Southbank Centre), THE 39 STEPS (West End) and FLEABAG (West End), as well as the West End transfers of The Almeida's MARY STUART and the National Theatre's HOME, I'M DARLING. Most recent projects include Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! (West End) and THE PADDINGTON BEAR EXPERIENCE (County Hall). ABOUT MICHAEL STEVENS With over more than 20 years in the performing arts industry, Michael Stevens has focused on creative collaboration, with a sustained commitment to the commissioning and production of new works. His work in an Executive Producer role with organisations – including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Festival and Arts Centre Melbourne – led to dozens of new (and many award-winning) creations across theatre, musical theatre, dance, opera, circus, classical and contemporary music, film, visual arts and in the digital arena. Returning in 2016 to London, Stevens co-founded Fiery Angel Entertainment, with which he introduced CIRCUS 1903 to London for four seasons at Royal Festival Hall and Hammersmith Apollo and BARRY HUMPHRIES' WEIMAR CABARET at the Barbican Theatre. New productions have included GUYS AND DOLLS at the Royal Albert Hall, directed by Stephen Mear with an all-star cast, and the European premiere of DOLLY PARTON'S SMOKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Southbank Centre, as well as touring projects such as ROB BRYDON – A NIGHT OF SONGS AND LAUGHTER (80 shows at London Palladium and on tour around UK/Australia/New Zealand); PEPPA PIG – MY FIRST CONCERT (Royal Festival Hall, London Coliseum, & 90+ UK dates); BLACK BLUES BROTHERS (UK regional tour) and TUBULAR BELLS – THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION (50 shows at Royal Festival Hall and on UK tour). ABOUT SENBLA A leading producer and promoter of hundreds of live shows around the world annually, Senbla provides a wide range of services in support of performing arts productions, artist tours, large scale artist concerts, and concept-based shows, as well as theatrical and family entertainment events. Its extensive capabilities includes licensing and production, plus management of all aspects of global Intellectual Property rights. The company has worked on numerous recent productions including the 'Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse' concert with live orchestra which played 85 dates globally; Michael Bublé at the Bath Royal Crescent; a run of Lionel Richie UK shows; Diana Ross's recent UK Arena Tour; concert with live orchestra dates from Ennio Morricone, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Joss Stone, The Holiday, Love Actually, and A Muppets' Christmas Carol; opera events, the Disney 100 UK Arena Tour, and Circus 1903. Senbla also is an investor in theatrical shows including "Six" on Broadway and its US Tour, and is a co-promoter and producer of shows internationally.

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