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DIGIT Q&A | Calum Smeaton, CEO of TVSquared

David Paul

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Calum Smeaton

Advertisers increasingly use tech to identify how customers interact with TV services to improve the experience. DIGIT spoke with Calum Smeaton, CEO of TVSquared, about building startups, Covid-19 and measuring what we watch.

Tell us about the early part of your career, and the path that brought you to where you are now?

Since my university days, my passion has not only been data but making it actionable. I began my career at the start of the Internet revolution, and the experiences I had living in Silicon Valley were the catalyst for building my own companies. From founding Orbital Software to running Sumerian, making data actionable so businesses could run more effectively and efficiently has been my focus.

In 2012, I started TVSquared in my kitchen in Edinburgh, to change the way the $200 billion (£150.7 billion) global TV advertising space measured campaigns.

While millions and millions were spent on TV ads, there was no real-time, data-backed way of knowing whether or not they worked, if the right people saw it and took action or to quantify business impact. We set out to change that, and eight years later, we have.


Tell us more about what TVSquared does, and the impact this type of firm could be having on what we watch.

None of us watches TV the way we did five years ago. We consume content whenever and however we want – via linear, over-the-top (OTT), on-demand, across a multitude of devices, 24/7/365. Viewers are in control, and the way people “watch TV” will always be evolving.

I started TVSquared to help advertisers measure TV how people watch it – across time, platforms and devices. We now have thousands of brands, agencies, publishers, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and demand-side platforms (DSPs) in 76 countries using our platform to get real-time insights on the reach and performance of their TV campaigns – whether they are running on linear, OTT, video-on-demand (VOD), etc.

We’re allowing buyers and sellers to measure TV like digital, have quantifiable proof that TV works and get the intel needed to make it work even better.


If you were trying to set up TVSquared in 2020, what challenges do you believe you would face now that you would not have back in 2012?

Before Covid-19, the TV industry was undergoing massive fragmentation due to cord-cutting, the rise in streaming and the changing way people consume TV. Advertisers need to work harder than ever to reach their target audiences across a plethora of viewing options. On top of that, cost optimisation is still a top priority; I’d argue even more so now.

In 2012, we had to do a lot of educating in the market – making advertisers aware that TV could be measured and attributed in a more modern, effective way. In 2020, advertisers have come to expect digital-like measurement from TV, but are now focused on finding the right video mix to reach and engage with the right audiences across linear and streaming. Couple the challenges around fragmentation with the impact of the pandemic, and the TV ecosystem is certainly in a very different place.

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If I was launching TVSquared in 2020, our focus would still be about measuring TV how people watch it. We would still be a resource for our clients to test-and-learn new cross-platform TV strategies, to prove the return on investment (ROI) of campaigns and get the insights they need to continuously optimise media spend for reach and performance.


How, as a business, how have you managed to continue scaling up?

TVSquared is platform-based, which allows us to be inherently scalable and flexible. If our clients needed to pivot and change up their media mix and, in turn, what they measured, we were able to easily accommodate that. It’s also a time when the sell-side – broadcasters, publishers, MVPDs, etc. – are prioritising proof of TV performance, in an unbiased and transparent way, at scale. In the last 18 months, our platform has been integrated into Sky, Effectv, NBCU and more.

We’ve also continued to grow this year, but have had to do that 100% remotely, which was new to all of us. That speaks volumes about our extraordinary team members. While experiencing changes in their day-to-day lives due to the pandemic, each and every one of them adapted to this new environment and continued to be big resources for our clients


You are currently running a business through a difficult time. What major changes have you had to make to stay afloat, and what are some of the pitfalls of running a firm at this time?

TVSquared has continued to grow during a very difficult time, which is something I never take for granted. As I mentioned before, we prioritised being a flexible, supportive resource for our clients – and we carried that over to our employees too.

That meant ensuring they had everything needed to be productive from home, being flexible with hours and work schedules (especially for parents and caretakers) and increasing the amount of transparent, cross-company communications.

While I wouldn’t call it a pitfall, not being able to travel and be on the ground in our different markets, talking to clients and colleagues, has been a challenge for me personally. The past seven months have forced me to think differently about how I can be an accessible, regular fixture for the team and our clients.


What do you do differently at TVSquared to put yourself ahead of other firms doing similar work?

We are the only TV ad measurement provider that works in every country in the world. We’re platform-based and always-on, which means our clients get real-time insights and can centrally measure and attribute TV at scale.

We provide immediate and long-term performance insights, as well as reach and frequency, unduplicated reach and audience metrics.

Our platform can ingest all disparate datasets, harmonise them and link them to business outcomes. Plus, we’re proven, working with more than 5,000 clients in 76 countries. No other measurement provider can make those claims.


Can you please explain in more detail what ‘data analytics’ actually means, and what areas are currently utilising it?

Advertisers, spanning industries, use cross-platform TV for different reasons. Some want to drive performance, which means having viewers to take an action like make a purchase, download an app or engage with a website. Others use TV for awareness, making sure they are reaching the right people, with the right message in the right places and times. Most advertisers use TV for a bit of both.

The analytics we provide an advertiser is unique to that advertiser and what it wants to get out of its campaigns. The types of things we measure include optimal reach and frequency, unduplicated reach, outcomes and audiences. Our clients then use those insights to inform video mixes and drive growth.


Why do we need data analytics? Can we not choose for ourselves?

Advertisers need real-time analytics to be more effective and efficient, prove their media investments work and reach and engage with the right viewers to drive growth.

It’s not that we don’t make decisions or choose for ourselves, but raw data is messy and there’s a lot of it. We use technology to take the friction out of this process, make sense of it and draw out actionable insights.


Some could argue that collating statistics and viewer habits could be intrusive, what do you say to that?

Yes; it could be, which is why governments have introduced legislation like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

TVSquared’s founding team comes from the world of fintech, a highly regulated space, so data security and privacy is core to our business and part of our global DNA. We’re GDPR and CCPA compliant, and transparent with how we use data.


Off the back of Mark Logan’s recent report, what are your thoughts on the growth of Scotland’s tech sector over the last few years and what do you think are effective ways Scotland could boost global outreach/awareness?

I’ve been a part of the Scottish tech sector for decades and I feel we’re in the most exciting time in terms of growth and innovation. Our Scottish HQ has been in the heart of Edinburgh’s technology hub – Codebase. I fully support the proposal to create a national network of these types of hubs for technology businesses.

It’s no secret that Scotland has been the birth-place of some of the UK’s best technology companies and a new fund that invests in the Scottish tech sector and puts startups at the heart of Covid-recovery will further accelerate that entrepreneurial spirit.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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