Zefr at DMEXCO 18

If you are a decision maker in the digital marketing, innovation and technology space, it is likely that you are headed to DMEXCO 18, taking place in Cologne, Germany, September 12th and 13th.

This year’s conference and expo are packed with over 1,000 exhibitors and 550 speakers, covering the latest trends in digital communication and technology. Large, established brands like Google, Formula 1 and Accenture Interactive will be taking the stage and some impressive younger companies like Zyper.com, Enjoy and Casper will be commanding the space over in Start-up Village.

We’ll be there too, at the Expo—Hall 6.1, Aisle E, Suite Number 051, to be precise. Come visit us for a delicious smoothie (at our smoothie bar) and to learn more about our content targeting solution! Our team will showing how we use content targeting to align brand messages with the right content on YouTube.  

Earlier this year, we partnered with IPG to conduct a study on the effectiveness of content targeting as compared to other forms of ad targeting. Here’s a sneak peek at the results…

What’s a conference without a great party? We just so happen to have extra tickets to the official “unofficial” DMEXCO party at OM CLUB on September 12th. Schedule a demo with us for a chance to win!

Back to school supplies
Cultural Trends

4.5 billion views—who’s watching what when?

The first day of school. The one day a year when both students and parents are excited. Today’s kids come prepared with more than just new school supplies. Armed with YouTube, this year’s back to school “kids” (ranging in age from elementary through college) are ready to take on the classes, the bullies, and that fresh, new hairstyle.

YouTube has become the sage source on back to school, everything from making friends to ROFL at harmless pranks to recreating that new braid. Interestingly, this content is viewed cyclically, but not in the way you might think. Let’s take a look at the trends that can be found in their views and uploads.

Content Timeline Through The Year

The content timeline for back to school brings a few surprises. You’d expect a burst of uploads surrounding the first day of school, which the data shows. However, on top of that back-to-school spike, content is uploaded all year round at a consistent rate.

back-to-school video uploads and views bellcurve

Instead of only one mass of content showing up around the first day of school, there seems to be consistent 5-week cycles when content goes from low (or no) to high and down again. What does this mean? Back to school content is relevant all year long because consumers are looking for back to school answers nearly every day of the year.

Interestingly, posts drop to next to nothing the week before school starts. Since much of the back to school content comes from students themselves, perhaps this is the busy week of shopping and school-time preparations, keeping posters away from their computers. Likely, these content creators have already uploaded their videos and they are now waiting until after school is in session to share more wisdom across different content categories.

The data tells us that what is viewed, or the content category, is the main thing that changes throughout the year not the number of uploads. Uploads before school starts tend to center around outfits, recipes, DIY, and comedy while videos on back-to-school hacks, peer advice, and style rule after school begins. It seems that viewers are looking for help with more concrete tasks after the bell has rung.

back-to-school bellcurve with video content types

In addition to consistent viewership and uploads throughout the majority of the year, the total views year-over-year is also increasing. From 2016 to 2017, uploads increased by 7 percent, and this year’s numbers are on track to keep up the pace. An increase of even a percentage point is no small potatoes when it comes to these YouTube numbers. To put it into perspective, this data took into account 121,000 channels, 30,000 uploads, and a whopping 4.5 billion views in 2017. That’s 9 billion eyeballs watching back-to-school content on a yearly basis.

Year over year viewership of back-to-school video content

Most Popular Back to School Content

So with such a large, impressionable audience, what is all this content about?

YouTube has become entertainer, advisor, and teacher for most students, so back-to-school content is a broad topic with dozens of categories. It encompasses everything from beauty to biology and bullies to backpacks.

For example, the peer advice content category helps students know what to do with academic and social issues at school. Hacks and school supplies reports the best supplies and how to make the most of them, sometimes in unconventional ways.

And the numbers are in! This past year, beauty/fashion (hairstyles, makeup, and outfits) took the lion’s share of uploaded content at 24 percent. Runners up include hacks (14 percent), school supplies (14 percent), and peer advice (11 percent). Clearly the back-to-school content category has its hand in every book bag.

most popular back-to-school content types

Check out some viewer favorites from the past school year:

3 popular back-to-school videos hairstyles DIY peer advice

Who is Watching What

Back to school viewers can be as varied as the material they are uploading and searching for. So what age group is watching the most and what are they watching? Turns out that high schoolers upload the highest percentage of YouTube videos (at 38 percent) while college students take second place (with 28 percent). However, what they are uploading is incredibly different, with high school students focused on the physical hacks, outfits, hairstyles and college students concerned with the not-so-tangible peer advice, recipes, sports, and comedy. These varied audiences create a huge need for relevant advertising.

types of back-to-school video content different age groups are watching

Though YouTube-cramming in preparation for the first day of school may have passed, the beauty of YouTube is that students can and do! come back time and time again. Though only one day, the uploads and views driven by the “first day of school” impact viewers all year round.

Leveraging content targeting in back to school advertising ensures that the brand message is aligned with the right content, increasing the chances that the person accessing it will actually watch it because it’s relevant to them in that moment. We’ve got a great video that explains that way better and in greater detail!

This is where Zefr comes in. We take the overwhelming profusion of YouTube’s online video content and classify, categorize, and make sense of it so brands and advertisers like you can use it in a more powerful and relevant way to engage their target consumers. Excited about what content targeting can do for your business?

Cultural Trends

4 ways brands can take advantage of the intersection of video streaming and gaming

To talk about the convergence of video streaming and gaming as the catalyst for a new culture of creation would seem like a bit like a no-brainer to many. After all, both encourage similar content consumption behaviors and drive an almost fanatical level of engagement. However, what kind of magic happens when the two collide?

That’s precisely what we set out to explore. And it should come as no surprise that the combination of the two are a marketer’s match-made-in-heaven, opening up a wealth of new opportunities for brands to reach, engage, and communicate with gaming enthusiasts in ways that could not be achieved independently through each channel alone. Through content targeting, marketers can now reach and engage the coveted gaming audience like never before. This is a pretty big deal, if we’d say so ourselves!

What Exactly Are Gamers Doing on YouTube?

YouTube Gaming and Twitch are the two online video platforms leading the pack around building gaming-oriented communities. In 2017, Zefr decided to take a deep dive into this somewhat uncharted territory, monitoring the trend of watching gaming video content on YouTube. This has not only helped us understand the different kinds of conversations and communities forming around this kind of content, but it’s also helped uncover the unique types of content, formats, and trends emerging in real-time around the gaming space. In our analysis, we’ve found that this content resides across 24K channels, representing 189K video uploads and a whopping 94B views!

We also wanted to understand what makes a platform like YouTube so unique and important in the creation of gaming communities, so we sifted through YouTube’s data to wrap our heads around the content consumption patterns most prevalent within the gaming community. To our surprise (and delight), the data didn’t just skew in the direction of millennial men. Both men and women consider watching gaming content on YouTube an “active sport.” Here are some of the most interesting stats we stumbled upon:

  • 74 percent of YouTube gamers said they enjoy watching others play games on YouTube.
  • 66 percent of women go to YouTube to hear from other gamers they can “relate to”
  • 56 percent go to YouTube to connect with their gaming community

And while this is only scratching the surface, the data is proof that YouTube has become a go-to hub for community-building around gaming that many marketers may not have ever realized.

But our analysis didn’t stop there. We dove head-first into the content itself to see what drives community and sparks engagement among one of the most passionate and diverse audiences ever. So, what gaming content is most popular on YouTube, you ask? Among total video views – you know, that big 94 billion number mentioned above – the top 3 most-viewed content types are: Live or Recorded Gameplay (52 percent), Comedic Narratives by Gaming Enthusiasts (15.7 percent), and Compilations and/or Gaming Highlights (9.6 percent).

How Brands Can Engage Gamers

Reviewing the gaming ecosystem in this way on YouTube has helped us identify a few unique “whitespaces” for brands to more deeply engage with gaming communities. 


This whitespace integrates seamlessly into the massive community of people watching other people play games. This type of content is generated by both professional (46 percent) and casual (54 percent) gamers – and because there is a low barrier of entry, we are seeing more and more of these kinds of videos emerging that cater to a specific niche or community.

The two most popular video formats in this whitespace are: One Shot (one particular feature of a game in a single video) and Series (the entirety of a game over a series of videos). The top three genres among these formats are Builder Games (i.e. Minecraft and Roblox) – by a 43 percent longshot –followed Open World Games (i.e. Monster Hunter World) and Battle Royale Games (i.e. Fortnite) at 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively.


This whitespace is characterized by gaming-oriented content layered with a unique sense of humor or an engaging point of view. The gaming audience loves to be entertained. Whether or not a specific game is humorous by nature, this kind of video content shines a spotlight on the personalities of gamers and reviewers. The most engaging content tends to have a slightly comedic undertone. This comes as no surprise as humor helps to break up the stress, anxiety, and emotions that results from intense game play.

The most popular video formats are: Animated Comedies (mini “soap operas” that use characters from popular games to create new narratives); CosPlay Comedies (creative interpretations or scenes from popular games, via live action or 3D modeling); and Real World Comedies (memes that blur the lines between real life and video games, turning everyday scenarios into a more game-like experience with digital overlays and other gaming features). Whether produced by YouTube creators or niche production companies, the content tends to be high quality and, as a result, highly engaging.


This whitespace leverages the community-building zeitgeist fueled by popular or trending video game titles. In other words, it’s an opportunity for brands to create content or engage in conversations around the games that players are talking about most, which currently revolves around top Battle Royale Games (i.e. Fortnite, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds) and Open World Genre Games (i.e. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Marvel’s Spiderman).


This whitespace explores the communities forming around real-time e-Sports coverage – and is a sub-category of the YouTube Gaming ecosystem all onto its own. With 52K channels, 242K videos, 2.9B views, 45.5M engagements, YouTube has challenged the once dominant position of rivals Twitch and Smashcast (formely, Azubu) in the e-Sports domain – with League of Legends commanding more than half (56 percent to be exact) of all e-Sports viewership.

Of the 2.9 billion e-Sports views on YouTube, Live Competition Coverage (46 percent), Highlights (15 percent), Semi-Pro (13 percent), and Opinions (12 percent) capture the most attention of gamers all around the world.

Content Targeting is the Answer

At Zefr, we know just how important it is for brands to harness the mindshare and loyalty of truly engaged communities – like the gaming community. Now, you can target this incredibly tuned-in community via the content they are watching daily. To make this easy for you, we’ve built a unique Gaming Package, comprised of 3M videos and 487K channels across e-Sports, PC, and mobile as well as across the brands generating the bulk of this gaming content (i.e. X-Box, PlayStation, Nintendo). Through content targeting, we provide a new – and better – way for brands to tap into gaming communities in more relevant, authentic, and impactful ways.

Learn more about how Zefr can help you align your brand’s message with the right content on YouTube through content targeting.

Now Trending

The 2018 NBA Finals have come and gone. In the end, the Warriors were victorious after meeting the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, and YouTube TV elevated the experience with a real-time cool factor that we thought was worth highlighting. Their “Presented by YouTube TV” advertising campaign effectively blurred the lines between content and advertising in a truly contextually relevant way.

If you didn’t see the ad, here’s a quick run down. The 60-second spot highlighted the service’s key features, but what’s unique in this specific case is that the ad seemed to organically pull sports-related content into the ad to make those features even more relevant to an audience watching the NBA Finals. This is contextual targeting at its best.

Now, what made this spot truly unique is that, at the end, Warriors star, Kevin Durant gets comfy on the sofa in front of his TV, gives the announcer on the TV, Doris Burke a quick shoutout, and then presses play to watch the game – the irony here is that the game he’s watching on TV is the game in which he’s actually playing at that moment. (Timely, eh?) Then, in wrapping up the spot, Burke acknowledges the shout out and then the live game seamlessly resumes.

YouTube Love on Twitter – 

Beyond Cool: Why does this matter?

So, you may be asking yourself: why do we think an ad like this is so important to call out? The answer is simple. Given changing consumer behaviors, the recent introduction of GDPR, and the continuing evolution of the technologies that impact virtually every part of the day-to-day, the fact that YouTube TV’s ad is not only contextually personalized – based on whatever show the consumer is watching – but that it also blurs the lines between (advertising) content and the real world means the very notion of “advertising” today is rapidly changing. In fact, it’s already changed – and in a pretty big way. This is a good thing for consumers (and brands).

In fact, in a recent study that we conducted with IPG and Magna, we found that content targeting is a much less disruptive – and therefore, much more effective – video advertising solution (vs. demographic/audience targeting and channel targeting). In content targeting, for example, advertising complements the content and sometimes actually feels as though it’s a part of the content itself.

When there is such a strong contextually relevant link between content and advertising, it’s been shown that the perception of the ads associated with that video content receive a lift. Why? Because consumers like unified, consistent, and non-intrusive content experiences. When ads are mismatched with content, they feel like ads. When they complement content, they feel like content.

This is a major win for brands and explains in large part why we’re now seeing a massive shift towards content targeting across all brands and categories, especially in the face of GDPR. It’s simply a more effective strategy for video advertising. Data proves it to be true. Consumer sentiment proves it to be true. Most importantly, it creates a more pleasant – and potentially more trusted – overall viewing experience for consumers.

Learn more about how Zefr can help you master video content targeting on YouTube. 




technically speaking: machine learning episode
Product & Tech

Inside the Minds of Zefr Technology

The key to success in video advertising today? Relevance. It sounds simple enough, but once you layer on challenges such as 3rd party data accuracy, reporting reliability, scalability and cost, it’s no wonder brand advertisers often feel like this –

overwhelmed face emoji

Like with traditional TV advertising, the best results in digital video advertising are not going to be achieved through audience targeting at the channel level, but rather, content targeting at the video level. But with the vast amount of content on YouTube, that is impossible to do with human review alone. This is where machine learning comes in. Simply put, machine learning is a process that leverages knowledge (in the form of patterns) extracted from human review and feeds it to a machine that applies those patterns to algorithms that allow human-guided review at a massive scale.

In our latest episode of Technically Speaking, I sat down with the Head of Data Science at Zefr, Jon Morra, to discuss how Zefr is using machine learning to scale ad relevance through content targeting at the video level across all of YouTube.

How does it work? Morra explains,

What machine learning is about is extracting patterns. We have a team here at Zefr, who watches a sampling of videos on behalf of brands to identify them as either “relevant” or “irrelevant” for each brand or specific campaign. We look for patterns that identify videos that are good for one brand and bad for another. Once data science has extracted those patterns, the machine can then “watch” every video on YouTube, using the knowledge of the human-identified patterns to deliver results at scale.

Morra acknowledges that understanding videos is at the core of data science at Zefr,but understanding brands is the real differentiator. When you know your clients and you can speak their language, you can deliver the results they are looking for. Morra adds that,

We take our understanding of what is important to brands and we align it with the right content on YouTube at a scale that no one else can do in a brand-specific way.

Watch the full episode to hear more about machine learning and a sneak peek at what’s next for the data scientists at Zefr

Want to hear more about how our content targeting solutions can help you reach your audience?

Product & Tech

We have always known at Zefr that whenever a video ad is placed around relevant content the viewer will have a more engaging experience. We have largely delivered on this promise by offering our customers content “packages” which provide an assortment of well-defined online video content targeting solutions around specific themes, trends, or categories beside which our customers can choose to place their digital ads.  

Some clients, however, are less interested in “packages” and simply want to run their campaigns against all YouTube content that is suitable to their brand (or campaign).  This requires a higher level of customization wherein we must identify subtle, yet important, nuances among brand preferences at the video level which means we end up making a unique list of videos for each customer.  The challenge for us then is to make these brand-customized content targeting solutions scalable across campaigns. This is all made possible by data science.

Data Science

We have always relied heavily on data science to generate business growth in a variety of ways. However, as we begin shifting our approach to curation more and more towards these highly customized solutions for every campaign, data science has innervated more of our processes.  Our customers lean on us to provide detailed insights around every online video on YouTube; we use data science to create unique video lists that would be most appropriate for each customer.

To do this, three components must work seamlessly together.  First, we must create campaign-level labeled data to identify videos either as “relevant” or “irrelevant” for each campaign.  Second, we must extract key bits of knowledge about videos to allow machines to “learn” and “understand” what a specific video is all about. This allows us to create context logs.  Finally, we then must leverage machine learning to detect patterns in all this data, helping to more accurately distinguish relevant from irrelevant videos for each customer and every campaign.

Human Review

The most critical step in this process is human review.  Humans must watch every video to determine which videos are “good” or “bad” for any given campaign.  Video-level review is the fuel for the data science engine. At Zefr, our video reviewers are the account executives, account managers, and ad operations experts working on every campaign. They know our customer’s preferences inside and out.  Here’s a great example. Our team has the knowledge to help a major makeup brand ensure their ads are only seen adjacent to videos about “daily makeup application” (and not videos about “Halloween makeup”). This is because, in data science, when humans make decisions holistically, the discoverable patterns in the data are much richer. Combining this with our deep understand of YouTube allows us to make customer- and campaign-level decisions that take all elements of a video into account appropriately.

Information Extraction

The data science team springs into action once the human review of videos is complete. This begins with featurization: the process of taking a complex piece of data, in our case a YouTube video, and breaking it down into its component parts.

No machine learning algorithm that we know of currently exists that can natively “understand” a YouTube video.  Each video consists of numerous pieces of information (i.e. thumbnails, title, description, number of views, publish date, etc.).  During featurization our data scientists extract this information from a video and organize it to be ingested by pattern recognition algorithms.  This is known as multi-modal learning because we are consuming many different kinds of data –  image, audio, text, and numerical. Multi-modal learning allows us to find patterns in the different components of a video. This helps give Zefr a competitive advantage over other solutions that analyze only a single component of the data (i.e.text).

Machine Learning

Machine learning boils down to this: algorithms that find patterns in data.  In Zefr’s case, our objective is to find patterns that distinguish “relevant” videos from “irrelevant” videos for every campaign we run. Human review and featurization are the first steps in this process; machine learning comes next.  

Our data scientists use state-of-the-art algorithms – including random forests, gradient boosting machines, and deep neural networks – to find distinct patterns in our data.  We also tap into some of the best machine learning platforms like Vowpal Wabbit, H2O, MxNet, and scikit-learn to ensure we find every pattern present in our data. Using a variety of machine learning platforms allows us to select the best algorithm to suit both our data and the desired customer outcome.

There are billions videos in the YouTube ecosystem – and we know a lot about them. Because of this, we need both a rapid experimental environment to test new ideas as well as a robust production environment to deploy successful experiments.  We are able to accomplish both using high-quality open source tools as part of our process. In fact, we’ve also contributed to the ecosystem with a paper about our production environment, Aloha.


Our customers get the best outcomes when their ads are aligned with relevant content. Improving our machine learning capabilities is one of the ways we achieve this at the campaign-level.  We start with human review, watching videos on YouTube with our customers’ brand guidelines in mind to create a new data source that is wholly unique to and deeply aligned with our customers’ needs.  Data science allows us to derive actionable insight using the learnings from our own human review of the videos with our customer’s needs in mind. We can then predict, for every video on YouTube, whether or not it will be suitable for every customer.

Video Visionaries interview series with guest Michael Kassan
InterviewsThought LeadershipTrail Blazers

The Importance of Content Adjacency

Regardless of who you speak to, one thing is clear: the concept of relevance is more important now than ever before. Whether it’s relevance of message or relevance of context – or anything in between – the world of digital advertising is now about getting the right message paired up with the right content on the right platform in front of the most relevant and engaged audience. Zefr probably understands this better than anyone else. Content targeting is what we do. It’s all about driving relevance for brands – and their target audiences – through online video content in the most effective, engaging, and brand-safe ways possible.

Video Visionary, Michael Kassan  

But there’s someone else who knows a thing or two about the notion of relevance – and that’s MediaLink Chairman and CEO, Michael Kassan. An industry veteran and an expert on all things digital media, Kassan reiterated the importance of content adjacency as well as why it’s become such a hot topic of conversation among brands, content creators, digital media companies, and tech platforms today – especially at a time when consumers are less trusting of digital advertising, overall. Here’s a sneak peek at our conversation with him.

ZEFR: What is the importance of content adjacency for brands?

Michael Kassan: There’s never been a time when the combination of a strong marketing message paired with great content has mattered so much. In fact, the filter for what’s acceptable versus what’s not acceptable has changed dramatically over the last few years. Brands can no longer risk putting their marketing messages next to content that doesn’t embody the same message or convey the same brand values. This is why the notion of content adjacency has become top of mind for marketers today. Digital advertising has evolved. Our approach to digital advertising must evolve, too. Brands have to be aware and think strategically about where they put their marketing messages now. One slip up could be a disaster.

ZEFR: What are some of the positive developments of online video?

MK: We’re in the “golden age” of content right now. The Internet, from its very beginnings, was a promise of the democratization of content creation. The proliferation of online video content alone proves that to be true. There’s more content out there than we even know what to do with – and this has posed a challenge to the platforms that make it available to consumers today. It’s important for these platforms to understand the responsibility they have when they move from simply being a platform into a bonafide media company. And as they do, content adjacency will become even more important for them.

“Content targeting in online video is more than simple the future of targeting; it’s quickly becoming the best way brands can pair their marketing messages with relevant and engaging content that their target consumers are already viewing. And Zefr is leading the charge here.”

ZEFR: What’s your take on content targeting for online video?

MK: That’s easy – it’s more important today than ever before. Audience targeting is becoming harder and harder to come by given the issues around privacy and data collection affecting the entire industry. Therefore, content targeting in online video is more than simple the future of targeting; it’s quickly becoming the best way brands can pair their marketing messages with relevant and engaging content that their target consumers are already viewing. And Zefr is leading the charge here. The team saw the writing on the wall and realized that a better, more relevant targeting option was critical in order for brands to succeed in their digital advertising efforts in the future. Content targeting is the answer.

ZEFR: How would you define a successful brand partnership?

MK: I like to say that for a deal to be successful, there must be equal parts pleasure and equal parts pain. If you don’t strike the right balance, you won’t have a good deal, when all is said and done, and whatever deal you do have will likely not be a solid long-term solution. Today, we’re seeing brands, publishers, and tech companies (platforms) working together more and more to satisfy each other’s needs. The combination of all three is the recipe for success in today’s rapidly evolving digital media landscape. They all need each other to succeed. The unique role that MediaLink plays in all of this is that we help connect the dots to make these partnerships much more successful. It’s not always easy to navigate. We’re here to help.

ZEFR: How important is a channel like YouTube for marketers today?

MK: There’s no question about it. YouTube is one of the most effective marketing channels today. It’s been proven time and time again. The team there has done an incredible job of creating a better experience for marketers, especially around brand adjacency. They are focused on doing the right thing: creating a safe environment for marketers to communicate their messages linked with content.

Product & Tech

The popularity of YouTube, the world’s largest video platform, continues to soar and with that comes an increased appetite for online video content. This comes at a time when (US) online video viewers are expected to hit 236 million by 2020, up from 213.2 million in 2016. For advertisers, the situation is pretty straightforward: spend more advertising dollars where there are more eyeballs. However, achieving precise content targeting at scale remains a big hurdle.

Zefr harnesses the power of machine learning – with a touch of human curation – to wade through YouTube content and classify it at the individual video level. Why is this important? By doing so, we’re able to provide brands and advertisers with a content targeting solution that is relevant (at the campaign level), brand safe, and highly scalable. Only machine learning can do this – effectively – at the truly massive scale of YouTube. (We’re talking billions of videos!)

Machine Learning

Let’s start with the basics: what is machine learning? Machine learning is a computer’s ability to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed to do so. It is another way of talking about artificial intelligence, which was specifically designed, in its early days, to improve the overall speed and efficiency of data-heavy processes. Today, this allows us to tackle otherwise costly and time-consuming tasks at a manageable scale.

As you would expect, machine learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. There are actually three primary types of machine learning: 1) unsupervised, 2) supervised, and 3) semi-supervised. All three types require data input – either “labeled” (manually done by humans) or “unlabeled.”

  • Unsupervised Machine Learning
    How an “intelligent” system learns through unlabeled data inputs. Because this isn’t human-curated learning, there is no easy way to determine learning accuracy through the output (as it’s hard to identify the relationship between input and output). If the output of unsupervised machine learning eventually delivers against a pre-stated hypothesis, you know that “learning” is taking place and delivering the desired end result(s).
  • Supervised Machine Learning  
    How an “intelligent” system learns through a combination of labeled input and output examples. Because the inputs and outputs have been guided by humans upfront, this is the easiest way to ensure learning objectives and, once achieved, begin applying that learning to new functions.
  • Semi-supervised Machine Learning  
    As you may have guessed, this is a hybrid of the two learning models above. This process is guided primarily by unlabeled data, but influenced by a small amount of labeled data to guide and expedite the learning process to achieve the desired outcomes. Combining the two processes have not only been found to be more effective overall, but more cost-effective as well because it requires less time and attention from a human to curate that learning process.

How it Works

The team at Zefr primarily relies on supervised and semi-supervised machine learning models to make the magic happen. According to Zefr Principal Data Scientist, Ryan Deak:

“We have millions of videos to categorize in some way. If we had an infinite amount of time, we (humans) could go through them one-by-one and say, for example, ‘this video has X property, so we want to group it with other videos that also have X property.’”

Unfortunately, we don’t have an infinite amount of time nor would anyone in their right mind want to dedicate that much budget to tackle a process like this manually. Doing so is simply not scalable in any way. That’s precisely where the supervised machine learning comes into play.

“We can go through the ‘cherry-picked’ process for a select number of cases to label videos based on the properties we find. At that point, however, we pass those labeled videos over to the machine learning algorithm, and it analyzes that input to predict which unlabeled videos should be associated with a particular category. The ultimate goal of machine learning, therefore, is to be able to generalize what it’s learned, based on the labeled data provided, and accurately apply that learning to data it has never analyzed before. This is how Zefr scales a massive amount of online video content to deliver a precise content targeting solution to brands and advertisers.

Precise content targeting for online video content at scale is the challenge that Zefr's technology solves for.

One of our key differentiators are the proprietary tools we use to streamline this machine learning process. We use a framework called Aloha, which makes it easy to extract data (from content) and integrate it into our learning and prediction pipelines. This is huge! All too often, as much as 75 percent of a data engineer’s time is spent on manual tasks – like extracting and cleaning data – instead of focusing on more complex, problem-solving-oriented tasks.

“In the past 5 or 10 years, there has been an explosion of higher quality open source machine learning libraries, like Spark, Vowpal Wabbit, H2O.ai, and MXNet to support our deep learning needs. The fact that we operate on a single framework (Aloha) to integrate all these libraries means both our data scientists and data engineers can do their jobs much more efficiently without being bogged down by the typical troubleshooting that comes with model deployment.”

*More information about these libraries is outlined in “Hidden Technical Debt in Machine Learning Systems” and in our own SysML 2018 conference paper, focused specifically on Aloha.”

Human Review

The massive volume of videos on YouTube means that machine learning is table stakes when it comes to developing and deploying a precise content targeting solution. It is the only efficient way to navigate – and make sense of – the totality of the YouTube online video ecosystem. As Deak points out:

“It’s not like TV where you have maybe 1,000 TV shows at any given time in a year vs. a billion videos on YouTube. It’s both a problem and an opportunity for us as well as for advertisers. The only hitch: it’s an opportunity that’s about a million times the size of TV.”

The truth is, without some human review mixed into this process, it’s difficult to accurately assess the relevant alignment of a particular piece of video content to a particular brand message. That’s all about brand safety and, in spite of how advanced machine learning has become, we’re not ready to let artificially-intelligent algorithms take complete control of the driver’s seat here. There’s a certain ethos involved with human review and curation that rounds out this process – and all with the goal of driving the most value to brands and advertisers at the end of the day. Eliminating human review from the machine learning process raises the chances of “unsafe” content slipping through the cracks or, more generally speaking, content misalignment with brands. At this point in time, that’s not a gamble we’re willing to take.

Our machine learning process starts and ends with human review. We feed our algorithms useful data and then assess and evaluate the output from those algorithms. And it’s thanks in big part to this human-machine collaboration that we’ve been able to create highly accurate models that can blacklist unsafe content, whitelist safe content and deliver more precise content targeting.

The Zefr Touch

The team at Zefr is evolving alongside machine learning. We’re creating new ways of making machine learning more accurate, effective, and efficient vis-à-vis YouTube while simultaneously taking those learnings to make our (human) team more effective as well. The foundation of our system is based on modeling and scoring. This means that our algorithms are built specifically to provide high quality machine learning models that improve as they learn over time. Adding the human layer to this dynamic is our “secret sauce.” We know the ins and outs of the YouTube ecosystem better than anyone else (except maybe for YouTube). For this reason, Zefr is uniquely positioned to provide brands and advertisers with a precisely targeted opportunity to align their promotional messages with contextually relevant online video content – all at scale!