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AdExchanger | On TV & Video

"On TV and Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

After this exclusive first look for subscribers, the story by AdExchanger’s Ryan Joe will be published in full on AdExchanger.com on Monday.  

The data and analytics company Samba TV launched in 2008, around the same time the first smart TV came to market. Over the next few years, the concept of a TV that hooked directly to the internet would remain a novelty.

But now about 62% of the US uses smart TVs, according to eMarketer. With that scale comes data, and with that data comes opportunity – and paranoia. In early July, Samba was the subject of a New York Times profile that investigated data tracking in the smart TV space.

Certainly, Samba has huge data aspirations.

“Between now and the end of next year, our goal is to be the largest global TV data set ever constructed that provides a more personal TV experience in multiple countries,” CEO Ashwin Navin told AdExchanger before the Times’ story published.

But Navin, who previously co-founded BitTorrent, also argues that Samba is fundamentally a consumer-facing company due to its content recommendation component, which uses data to suggest shows it thinks consumers will like.

“We started with a consumer relationship, improving the TV experience for people who love TV,” Navin said. “That gave us a wealth of data that lets us provide recommendations with great accuracy and ease of use. It let us improve the viewing experience by making advertising more relevant and less interruptive and annoying.”

Samba is in 14 smart-TV models, including Sony, Philips and Toshiba. That covers a lot of ground, though it leaves out the two biggest manufacturers in the US: Samsung, which uses its data to power its own advertising offering, and Vizio, which sells data through its Inscape business.

Navin spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: When I think of the ACR (automatic content recognition) space, there’s you, there’s Gracenote, there’s Alphonso. On the surface, you seem to do similar things.

ASHWIN NAVIN: None of those other companies have a consumer relationship. Most operate in the background or with some minimal consumer benefit, whereas Samba has always been a consumer-facing company and started its business with a consumer application.

Second, within the ACR category, there are companies that have been focused on the ad targeting space, which is certainly one of our businesses. We are unusual in that we present a really world-class solution for both cross-screen advertising and attribution.

What’s powering the cross-screen capabilities and the attribution capabilities? How do you get that information?

There’s an [opt-in] consumer product. There’s a similar proposition in a set-top box environment and mobile applications. The combination of these things provides a wealth of data that powers our product.

In terms of attribution, how do you know there was a desired result?

The holy grail in advertising is being able to connect what you do to promote the business with the outcomes. We utilize our data as well as matching with our customers’ data to resolve how effective TV advertising is, digital advertising is, toward those business outcomes.

Besides the 14 smart-TV brands, what other devices are you in?

We partner with several operators across the world and over 400 digital publishers who have a presence on desktop, mobile and smart-TV platforms.

As GDPR surfaces data privacy worries, does that change the way device manufacturers share data with you?

Absolutely. It brings privacy to the forefront in terms of how our industry needs to operate. With clear rules and regulations and the clear deadline of when they go into place, it puts a lot of focus on the industry to make sure that we and our partners are in a place of compliance.

So what’s the data sharing agreement with consumers? If you use Samba’s ACR technology, then you have to share data?

[Under GDPR, we] are a data controller. Our legal basis for having data is a direct-to-consumer relationship and the agreement we have with the consumer.

I never thought of you guys as a direct-to-consumer company. I always felt the device manufacturers owned that relationship.

We don’t think of ourselves as an ACR company. That term will create issues for competitors. If you don’t have a reason for being in a smart TV to provide consumer benefits, then you shouldn’t be in a smart TV.

How do you own the consumer relationship where your competitors, which have an ACR component, don’t?

What investment do you put into making the TV experience better? Our belief is that that needs to be table stakes for being in this business. If you don’t have some product that consumers want to have on their TVs, then you’re acting as a spyware company.

Is there a certain investment threshold that makes you a consumer-facing company?

The technology needs to enable better viewing experiences. And that involves building products consumers want on their TVs, as well as enabling products in an ecosystem of services that benefit from data being more personalized in their TV experience.

It starts with discovery and helping people find something to watch. When you sit down to watch TV today, it’s amazing how long it takes to find something to watch, especially if you have to use the keyboard. That’s a terrible experience. If data can improve content discovery, that’s a huge win for the consumer.

What’s your revenue breakdown? You’ve got media sales, analytics, etc.

We haven’t provided a mix, but we’ve developed a diversified base of revenues from both our analytics and audience business, which have more than 1,000 clients. Typically, our solutions are used together.

So analytics is the advertising business and audience is the ACR business?

Audience is basically the targeting business and analytics involves various forms of research.

And the targeting business is media sales or software?

We have what’s basically an audience platform that allows you to construct a TV audience and act on that programmatically. So it’s a full programmatic capability.

Is that managed service or self-service?

Both. It’s client’s choice.

Which do they want more?

It varies based on the client. There’ve been some bold predictions over the years, and certainly people think self-service is the way to go, but most people have been wrong with how long that would take. It varies by client and client capacity.

Do you work directly with advertisers or agencies?

With both.

Split down the middle or do you weigh more heavily to one side?

 Similar to programmatic, we work with clients based on their needs and capacities.

Is the data you have access to exclusive to you?

Typically, yes.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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