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SureWaves is one of the top 5 media options: Rajendra Khare

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BENGALURU:  The office of SureWaves CMD and founder Rajendra Khare has the word ‘connectivity’ splashed across its walls while that of his colleague and SureWaves co-founder Anant Kansal sports ‘diversity’ on its walls. According to Khare, the two words sum up what the pioneering media convergence company is all about. In an interaction with Tarachand Wanvari of indiantelevision.com, Khare talks about SureWaves’ journey so far and the road ahead. Excerpts...

What role does SureWaves play? Tell us something about your team.

SureWaves is a technology-driven media company that infuses the smartness of digital media like internet and mobile into the mainstream medium of television.

A leading advertising medium for a vast number of advertisers, television accounts for 40% to 50% of overall ad spend in most parts of the world. With close to 800 satellite TV channels in India, the audience is fragmented and reaching them in a cost-effective manner is difficult. Distinct socio-cultural regions in India necessitate advertising be communicated in the right language and in a locally relevant context. Cable TV is a viable alternative to satellite channels in delivering highly targeted advertising and at lower costs. As reported by TAM, regional cable enjoys significantly higher viewership than most satellite channels. The challenge is to be able to aggregate the inventory across cable TV channels in India to provide a single window for advertisers to buy inventory and provide accountability.

In one of the biggest technological initiatives in the Indian television industry, SureWaves has been working on nation-wide integration of cable TV advertising through the ‘SureWaves National Spot TV Network’. With over 250 cable TV channels run by key MSOs in different parts of the country now connected to SureWaves’ central grid, it offers instant access to the combined viewership of regional cable on a market-by-market basis. The SureWaves network is now positioned as one of the top five media options for national advertisers in all parts of the country.

This has been made possible only through the sustained passion and efforts of the SureWaves team – a rare combination of top talent in technology, media, marketing, research and analytics. SureWaves co-founders Anant Kansal and Tapan Datta bring significant experience in technology-based operations and marketing communication. Chief Operating Officer Mandar Patwardhan is a media veteran who has served long innings in mainstream television and radio. Our business leadership team is constituted by people who’ve had stints in organisations like Star, ESPN, Zee, NDTV, Times, Radio Mirchi, Radio City, Group M and Reckitt Benckiser.

Please describe the technology deployed by SureWaves.

At the heart of our technology is the ‘SureWaves Media Grid’, a cloud-hosted scalable platform which allows instant access to multiple TV channels, filters them basis geography and genre, checks on available inventory, and schedules commercials. The grid also provides telecast reports in near-real time for each spot across all channels with time stamps.

The ‘SureWaves Media Grid’ works in conjunction with edge devices called ‘SureWaves MediaStation’, which reside in the respective television channel studios or cable-head ends, and perform seamless insertion of ads during scheduled commercial breaks. Technology allows not only the capability of centralized delivery, scheduling and monitoring of advertisements but also integrates with industry standard tools to enable effective campaign evaluations to seamlessly integrate with the clients’ media planning process.

In effect, SureWaves technology is a solution for large scale media fragmentation, whereby people can watch what they like through the growing number of niche and regional channels of their choice and yet, it is possible for advertisers to reach out to people, irrespective of what they are watching. Technology makes it possible to buy inventory on a market-by-market basis, achieving a sharp targeting capability on television for greater efficiency and effectiveness. SureWaves has been a pioneer in the field and has filed several national and international patents for its innovative technology.

You tinker only with the cable operators/MSOs’ own content, own channel, not the broadcasters’ content aired through the cable operators’/MSOs’ infrastructure?

That’s right. We partner with MSOs, who run and own their channels and also own the channels’ commercial inventory. We do not tinker with broadcasters’ content, where the MSO is acting only as a last mile distributor of the content through their cable network. Some niche and regional satellite broadcasters have also joined the SureWaves network, and partnered us to benefit from the seamless access made available to their inventories to national advertisers by us.  

What is your estimate of the market size?

What SureWaves offers is comparable to the top four or five GECs in the country in terms of reach and viewership.  Top national advertisers have already tasted the benefits of our network and are making it a part of their regular media plans. In addition to the huge viewership and reach, SureWaves also offers sharp targeting capability on a market-by-market basis. International trends show that marketers and advertisers gravitate towards media, which enables superior targeting. In bigger media markets like the US, where choice of market-wise targeting on television has been available to national advertisers through Spot TV, Spot TV commands nearly 20% of the overall television ad spend on account of national advertisers.

What kind of infrastructure do you have in place, and in which regions of India?

The ‘SureWaves Media Grid’ is a cloud-based infrastructure which works in conjunction with Media Stations that are deployed in the studios of each of the channels who are part of the SureWaves network. We now cover all 28 states and union territories of India and deliver upwards of 80% regional cable viewership in all markets. 

So you depend on TAM or maybe BARC, once the data is in place. Don’t you think that the sample size is too small, particularly in the case of regional cable, to present the true broader picture?

Industry has already taken cognizance of the sample size being small for a large country like India, and concerted efforts are being made to increase it. Since the viewership measurement is presently limited to metros and 160-170 large towns, a big majority of the television-viewing population in India which resides in the 7000+ small towns and in rural India is not covered. Cable TV channels have a relatively stronger hold in these areas and the numbers for regional cable would begin to look even better as and when these towns begin to get included in measurements. In the coming years, tier-2/tier-3 and LC1 towns will be seen as real growth engines and advertisers are already beginning to factor the power of regional cable despite the gaps in formal measurement in these markets.

Since you have a Broadcom background, don’t you think that a reverse signal will take care of a number of problems? Is a reverse signal possible, given the infrastructure at the last mile? What kind of changes will have to be made at the MSO end? Will it be cost-effective for all players, viewers and the current ecosystem?

Reverse signal can help to an extent but it also needs to be combined with demographic data, which is an important part of the people meter-based approach to viewership measurement. There are new technologies that can be applied for recognition of television viewers. However, standard STBs serve a different purpose and are not designed to gather and transmit back the measurement data through reverse signal. Further, reverse signal data would also need to be further collated from the MSO head-ends to the measurement agencies, which may not be trivial. It is a good problem to solve but industry is in a comfort zone and there has been no real momentum in using the reverse signal for audience measurement by leading measurement agencies. A combination of reverse signal and secondary research data is perhaps an option.

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