Television

Chrome DM services help optimise viewership ratings: Pankaj Krishna

Owning many titles makes it easier for as it won’t have to spend on creating a library

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As you walk into the Chrome Data Analytics & Media’s office on the outskirts of Delhi, you see the company chief executive Pankaj Krishna 'talking to himself’ in the wide-glass paned conference room. Only after being ushered in, you realise, he’s actually holding a business conversation with his colleague in the Mumbai office whose live images also appear on the big TV screen placed in the room. “This connection is always 'live’ so any issue can be discussed asap," he informs languidly, pushing back the chair’s backrest to the maximum.

For a technology-driven market research and advisory firm with a pan-India on-ground presence and a list of clients that include Indian and global companies, apart from a prominent political party, Krishna looks less like a chief executive and more like a person out on a beach holiday. His hair pulled back in a casual pony-tail, and clad in a stylishly crumpled linen shirt, cotton trousers and kohlapuri chappals, he seems out of place in an office that’s buzzing with activity and some serious data analytics. “Just returned to office some time back after being up the whole night in the office with the masons, plumbers, etc. trying to get the main washroom relocated and refurbished according to Vaastu (the Indian system of architecture),” the man offers an explanation apologetically. Huh!!?? Probably, that’s also an indication of the nature of the person that he likes to get involved in even the smallest details of business.

As of late 2017, the organisation had a big team of field staff, 150+ managerial staff and 450 tele-callers speaking over 22 languages to gather data from over 3,000 towns. With a major presence in villages too, Chrome DM also has a fairly expansive reach into rural India. That’s what the company website states. Krishna adds that there could be some small changes in those numbers as the company forays into new verticals (human resources placements, for example) and targets new avenues to monetise the huge amount of data that’s collected on a daily basis. So, you can very well be India’s Cambridge Analytica, one asks him cheekily. Without batting an eyelid, Krishna guffaws and counters: “Yes certainly, but minus the data leaks. We are very particular about data protection.”

Chrome DM’s office on the eight floor of a building overlooking the expressway connecting the industrial hub of Noida to Delhi offers a great view, especially from Krishna’s personal office adjacent to the conference room. The vastness of the view also compares with the vision with which the company had been set up to do research, offer advisory and indulge in data crunching for an expanding list of clients --- many of them from India’s billion-dollar broadcast and cable sectors.

Indiantelevision.com engages Krishna, a first-generation entrepreneur, on a variety of issues ranging from TV audience-related research, dual LCNs, piracy of TV signals, India’s ongoing digitisation of TV services and data analytics. Excerpts from the interview:

How would you describe what Chrome DM does?

Chrome DM is a tech driven primary research and data analytics advisory catering to over 450 clients (broadcasting, FMCG, policy, government organisations, etc.) with over 1,000 data collection executives (field and tele-calling) covering 3,300 towns and 315,000 villages in India.

Chrome DM has two major verticals: broadcast and media solutions (B&MS), and consumer and brand analytics (CBA). B&MS operates in real-time distribution tracking and monitoring and content research. CBA offers quantitative and qualitative research to brands in the form of primary surveys, retail audits, focus groups and campaign assessments.

Is the company also into TV audience and viewership measurement?

The company acts as an advisory for its broadcasting clients to optimise viewership ratings through efficient distribution practices and qualitative content research through its proprietary tools.

How is the company different from BARC India, which measures what India watches and its numbers are used as benchmarks?

Chrome DM is not in the viewership ratings space, but in the advisory space to enhance the same. We provide actionable data into optimising distribution, content and FPC practices, which have a direct bearing on ratings. Additionally, there are fundamental differences in sampling methodologies from what BARC India follows. Chrome operates in real time tracking through its proprietary Chrome Boxes, installed at respondents’ homes, offered to broadcasting clients as Chrome Live. However, that does not mean we do not respect what BARC does.

Are all the services paid-only services?

Chrome DM’s products are a mix of subscription services and one-time cost offerings.

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What are the new services/initiatives being launched by the company?

Chrome DM is launching Chrome Live, an unprecedented service that lets broadcasters watch what the audience is watching while they are watching it. The technology, developed in-house, uses proprietary ChromeBox (patent is pending registration) installed at the respondent end that enables access to the respondent’s TV screen. This live access to the screen is complimented by advanced data analytics to create a one-stop, fully automated broadcasting solutions. The same is used as part of the advisory B&M services, which help in optimising channel spends towards maximising ratings

How does live tracking work and in what way such data would benefit a TV channel or a subscriber of the service?

Live tracking lets broadcasters know in real time the effect of their distribution practices, content planning and air presentation on audiences. It also helps TV channels to identify areas where piracy is being done and helps taking precautionary measures. It could also help government organisations in understanding how’s and when’s of piracy of TV signals and other maladies prevalent in the industry and help them in cracking the regulatory whip for the benefit of the industry at large.

(A demo given during the interview showed how on a particular day around 12.45 pm, a popular Hindi GEC was being aired illegally to the subscribers of a cable network in a Bihar town. After the LCO had been switched off by the broadcaster owing to some differences, the LCO was downloading signals of the said TV channel from a DTH platform and illegally relaying it on his network for its subscribers. Even the logo of the DTH platform could be seen on the TV screen via the ChromeBox installed on consumer premises. The routine was repeated for another GEC and this time the piracy was happening in a small town of Uttar Pradesh.)   

If the owners and managers of the two TV channels shown for your benefit here could get hold of such an information on real time basis, then it would help them a lot in identifying the trouble spots and take corrective measures immediately.

Has live tracking service being formally commissioned and how many clients are there at present?

Chrome Live has just been launched and already been subscribed by some of the major broadcasting companies across genres. We are also in the process of closing negotiations with the remaining existing clients. As a value proposition, Chrome Live is the future of distribution, content and on-air- presentation (OAP) monitoring.

Are Chrome DM data services mobile app based or can be tracked/accessed by a client in a traditional way on his/her desktop?

The service comes in the form of a comprehensive web dashboard as well as an Android and iOS technology, as we prefer to call them. The technology is just one of the interfaces our clients can access Chrome Live on. Incidentally, the tech itself is a global first, and a mix of proprietary software and hardware. Clients can log on to the web dashboard at chromelive.in and access the technology on Google Playstore too.

Is the analysis of data done in-house or outsourced to a third-party vendor? How is data protection ensured considered Chrome would be sitting over huge amount of consumer data?

The analytics division is 100 percent in-house with a 150+ strong data analytics team. All data collected is anonymous and securely encrypted. The data is also collected with the express consent of respondents so nobody can accuse of mining data illegally.

How is generating and analysing TV-related data different from, say, data/analysis done for a political party?

While the nature of projects remains very different, the guiding principle of reducing human error and turn-around time by introducing technology remains the same. Often, learning from one leads to procedural improvements in the other.

What, according to you, are some of the ills affecting the distribution of TV services in India?

A lack of transparency, even after the introduction of digitisation, remains the foremost concern. In analog feeds, we have seen under-declaration of subscribers. Piracy remains rampant. Multiple subscriber management systems in the digital MSO space, akin to keeping two books of records, is also witnessed.

Hasn’t ongoing digitisation of TV services brought about more transparency in the whole eco-system or is the system still as opaque as before?

Yes, and no. Chrome Live registers some 34,000 fluctuations every week on the ground. These could be anything from LCN change to channels being switched off/on. But we also see majorly analog markets, like Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh, along with smaller pockets of other states, which have so far resisted the digitisation process.

As many TV companies and even distribution platforms now have in-house anti-piracy units, do you think the practice of piracy has gone down?

Curbing piracy will always be a function of effective monitoring of the feed at the audience end. Chrome DM monitors 3,300 unique feeds on a daily basis, and we see that piracy remains a consistent practice. In a recent week, we had 173 instances of piracy being caught by our data collection team.

How rampant is the use of dual LCN?

According to Chrome Live, there were some 1,433 instances of dual LCN across all genres across the country in our Week 28, for example. Of these, TV channels falling in the genre of tele-shopping, Hindi GEC, Hindi movie, Hindi news and kids were the top five genres where dual LCNs were employed.

Did regulator TRAI’s ban on employing dual LCN impact the industry?

As stated earlier, with 1,433 instances of dual LCN in a single week, the practice is obviously prevalent. The objective of dual LCN is to monetise the simplest law of probability on the ratings. Of the over 1,250 channels we monitor, the fight is for the 106 channels in analog or approximately 300 in digital realm. This difference in supply and demand is made worse by dual LCNs. The practice is mostly seen during blockbuster events like presentation of Union Budget (for business news genre) and during new launches as part of the channel’s marketing exercise.

As the data that the company generates relating to TV services are based on sample sizes, how many boxes are actually seeded in the market?

Chrome operates on a census-based distribution monitoring service --- there are over 3,400 unique cable feeds (parent + child) --- and we monitor each and every one of them. Of the 183.7 million cable and satellite TV households (Urban+Rural, ChromeTrack 2.0, May 2018), Chrome DM covers 119.8 million households.  

Are there plans to ramp up number of boxes as the total number of TV HHs have gone up?

Absolutely. As I mentioned, this is a real time track of distribution, OAP and programming. We have a long way to go, and the seeding process will continue going strong in the foreseeable future.

Are the Chrome Boxes made in India or imported from East Asian countries like most other such boxes?

Majority of the boxes have been indigenously created, with small parts being sourced from markets like Taiwan and China.

How much of the tech in the boxes proprietary?

The software and hardware have been designed and developed in-house and third-party vendors have been commissioned for manufacturing of boxes for large-scale seeding.

As the company expands, investments are needed. How are funds being raised and how much does the company plan to invest in the current FY on expansion, technology and manpower?

The business itself is hugely profitable, so we have enough working capital being generated. Most of the major investments have been into R&D, technology, including setting up and expanding the in-house tech team, and shoring up infrastructure like the seeding of boxes. These investments have been promoter driven.

Are there any plans to take the company public?

At the moment, there are no conscious plans of doing it. But we are not averse to the idea of exploring the option at the right time.

Are Chrome DM services available only in India or are they available in other countries too?

Chrome DM services can be replicated in any market in a cost-effective manner owing to the wealth of experience the team brings in. We’re actively looking at several markets other than India to expand into. Apart from bagging our first international client in the Q3 of last year (Trivago, Germany, for our media planning tool Chrome Optimal), we’re looking for suitable markets in the Middle East, South East Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

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