Chris Wilson, CEO of HyphaMetrics, joins Michael Beach to discuss the need for a fresh approach in video measurement. They discuss the hurdles of local cross-platform planning, the implications of walled gardens, and the complexities surrounding fragmented media consumption. Watch our latest Screen Wars Thought Leader Interview here and read the full transcript below!
Michel Beach: All right, Chris, welcome to Screen Wars.
Chris Wilson: Hey, Michael. How are you?
MB: I’m great. Where do we find you today?
CW: I’m currently in New York, enjoying the city.
MB: Well, you and I go back quite a ways to your RentTrack days. What was the path that led you to HyphaMetrics?
CW: What led me to HyphaMetrics was identifying which companies are going to be gamechangers in the industry, in terms of looking forward into what the marketplace needs. That is, legacy companies, people, and organizations, that have the ability to change the way the media landscape operates, how it generates revenue, and how it understands what consumers and viewers are doing regarding content consumption, and how they’re exposed to ads.
HyphaMetrics represents that. So moving away from RentTrack was about trying to create a new service for television measurement, leveraging set-top box data. That led to the merger with Comscore, that brought us into the cross-platform world. HyphaMetrics represents that next generation of what’s needed to appropriately have the materials and information needed to measure cross platforms.
It is an exciting opportunity, and it is exciting to work with the marketplace, identifying and solving those problems. And we’re just out there doing our part to make the media measurement and ecosystem as good as it can be.
MB: Explain more about the problem you solve, and who’s your ideal customer?
CW: When we talk about measurement, the first thing we need to understand is the current situation of the marketplace. You have to start with the consumer, and understand their behaviors. We’ve reached an era of personalization. For example, when it comes to personalization of media content, you and I may have exactly the same model of smartphone, but the content and the apps that we have are all individually chosen.
In the past, that wasn’t a case. We both could have a flip phone, and it would be identical. Now, everyone can decide what content they want to watch, and how they’re exposed to it. That has made its way into the media ecosystem. So when you think about television or digital today, you have individual profiles on your streaming services, for example. Companies are now serving dynamic content based on what people have watched in the past.
So you have a combination of individual personalization, where a viewer or consumer chooses the content they want, how they want it, and when they want it. And then you have this experiential personalization driven by generative AI.
So you have these two things colliding, of an individual deciding what they want to consume, and how they watch it, and companies using that information within a generative AI environment to make recommendations on what else they should watch and what ads they’re served. Now you have this constant loop that creates a huge challenge in measurement today. Measurement is no longer static, it has become completely dynamic.
All of that has created a really difficult situation for companies that struggle to effectively measure that marketplace, since they can’t keep up with the changes taking place. This situation has broken the entire ecosystem. You don’t have the information you need to be able to understand what content viewers are really watching, the value of that content, and who watches what ads.
The marketplace is in a difficult position nowadays, which is why you see so much emphasis trying to solve those problems in the press. You see initiatives out there around the ANA VAB. You’ve seen these JIC organizations and JIC measurement organizations trying to solve these problems that are going to create a very difficult situation in the next couple of years if we don’t address them.
MB: Over the years, the marketplace used traditional panels (predominantly from Nielsen) around thousands of households. You and I started working together a long time ago around set-top box data and more, bringing big data into planning measurement. Now, big data has taken over with ACR and other sources, but there are huge holes from co-viewing and other things. You really need a next generation panel. How does your data differ from other sources like ACR, and what are some of the big use cases it powers moving forward?
CW: When you think about ACR, you have to keep in mind that it’s a technology that is over a decade old, and it leverages audio signals to identify what content is on a particular television set. It is primarily TV focused, and, it requires some a reference library of that content in order to recognize when it’s played back on the screen. That creates a problem. So we have huge holes. We’re talking about all this new content that’s been created and all this new content that’s available.
For example, Google just announced that they will be providing 800 new channels. It’s virtually impossible to keep up with that kind of library in order to measure that content. It’s not sustainable.
So, knowing that that was the direction where things were going, we did two things at HyphaMetrics. One, we actually captured the information on the glass, from a video perspective. We’re able to look at what’s on the television screen and identify exactly what someone is watching and when they’re watching it. By taking information from the screen and processing it, the system doesn’t need those libraries to stay up to date.
Secondly, within our core meter, and within our panel, we have the ability to capture all the additional digital information from your desktop, your tablet, or your mobile device at the individual level. The technology needs to measure things at the individual level, it needs to be complete (capturing everything on the screen and processing it), and you need to have cross-platform at the individual level on all the secondary devices, which is what we do.
There’s no other company out there that has the technology to provide that information in the marketplace, especially at the person level, which is critically important. ACR doesn’t measure things like over-the-air television, the local marketplace, and all the new 3.0 technology that’s out there for local consumption. You’ve got the walled gardens, which are an issue. There are situations where the sound is off on the set, and ACR will not pick it up, but we are able to capture that. Not to mention the fact that when you’re starting to look at things like Hispanic content, it becomes harder and harder to get the reference libraries necessary to measure them. We don’t rely on those things. We don’t have those matchbacks, which makes us complete, accurate, and cost-efficient to provide the marketplace with the things that they need. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and a software background are the backbone of HyphaMetrics. AI created the current personalization of media content, and AI needs to solve this problem for the marketplace to keep pace with all the change and the personalization that are taking place.
In 2022, companies invested around $1.6 billion into AI to enhance media experiences, and virtually no dollars were spent to measure that output. You can see how quickly things are changing and how difficult it is for organizations to keep pace. And our role in the marketplace is about providing that source of truth to the measurement companies, to the brands, to the agencies, to the local stations that need to understand what’s going on with their audience.
Our customers are the entire marketplace. We’re not here to be a currency. We’re not here to compete with those alternative currency players out there and Nielsen. We’re here to provide them with the information they need in a way that the industry has defined specifications that help them solve their most important problems around personification, broadband only consumption, and cross-platform duplication, to address those core issues in a transparent and objective way, and then be able to provide that information to those currency companies, for example, to help make their products better and to keep pace with change.
MB: To your point about the YouTube loading up the 800 fast channels, we talked to people a lot who tracked this number, and a couple of years ago, it was 100, then 200, then 500. I’m interested to get your take on this, but for us, it seems like the end state is to have an infinite number of channels. Looks like the end state will be where everybody’s homepage is completely different. It won’t necessarily be the Star Wars channel, but the Michael Beach channel or the Chris Wilson channel. Do you agree with that as where we’re headed? And does that seem to play out, where a lot of the existing things are going to completely break down as we move towards that direction?
CW: Personalization is going to continue, and that’s why you need to think how to solve this problem differently. The media measurement business today is trying to use old technology and old solutions to solve modern problems. It’s like the old saying, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
We have reimagined measurement. If you were to start from scratch and say, “How would we do it today in order to keep pace with the change that’s taking place in the marketplace?” That’s the approach that we took. We took a completely different approach. We understood the shortcomings of the older technology, like ACR, and how that creates holes, how do we fill those holes?
The walled gardens are an important component of it. How do you capture that information if a particular streaming service isn’t willing to share that information, and they deliver ads? How do you start to measure that so that you can start to model it, or to understand how to calibrate your currency services to take that into account? We mentioned my background at RentTrack and Comscore before, and I strongly believe that advertisers will use this hybrid approach with high quality calibration panels that understand cross-platform duplication, along the set-top box data, and the streaming data, and that census type data to give you scale. And then using the panel to give you fidelity and the connective tissue to be able to bring all those pieces together.
Because all that is still measured in silos. It isn’t brought together in a way that allows brands and agencies on the buy side to understand how to allocate dollars or be able to buy different media choices and inventory, how it works together. The marketplace is in an era of frequency blindness. One of the things that HyphaMetrics is here to help solve is providing that connective tissue in a transparent and objective way that meets those needs and can help the media ecosystem move forward.
MB: Where do you see the biggest disconnect between buyers and sellers? Is it more how they allocate their dollars, the silos built inside their existing data sources?
CW: I think the biggest disconnect is around the cross-platform planning piece of it. They need to be able to say, “Here’s my total media budget. How do I allocate that across all my choices of inventory type?” Whether that’s connected TV, or streaming services, linear television, local, national, digital, or all the choices that they have. They want to understand, “He watched this on linear television, and then he went to this streaming service. And then he went to Instagram or Meta.” How are people potentially being exposed to those ads?
There are also pockets of the population that they can’t reach at all with certain media selections, and they have to go find them elsewhere. The brands and agencies need to have the tools to understand how to allocate dollars, and how those dollars work together to give them the best return on media spend.
When it comes to the actual buy or the currency component of it, they can still value that based upon individual selections, like having their television rating service, or having digital information that’s used to decide the value of their content. They can still buy in silos, but they need to understand how everything works together to deliver the best result for the brands that are spending the money, and the agencies that are putting the plans together to help them get the return that they need on their advertising dollars. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to put those pieces together to make that effective in today’s dynamic advertising market.
MB: Where do you see the disconnect between the local and the national market? We see companies creating a lot of the opportunities around national, but when will local advertisers be able to take advantage of the things you’re talking about?
CW: Maybe sooner rather than later. I think it’s going to be a similar approach to the local market, and it will depend on the support of the local station groups, and the local stations, to do it effectively. There’s nothing to say that these types of calibration panels can’t exist in individual markets to provide information to the Comscores and Nielsens of the world to be able to understand who’s in front of the set, so that it is not household based.
It still can be census led, where you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of households from set-top boxes and streaming services to understand what people are watching. But it would be the same exact process. You could collect that information at a smaller scale within those markets and use that information to understand personification, or who’s in front of the set.
OTA is a huge problem. Think about some of these markets, for example, the Hispanic front. Look at Phoenix or Miami, where a huge percentage of the population is Hispanic, and the viewers and the OTA percentage is high, there’s a lot of viewing that takes place that’s OTA that needs measurement. And that’s a really difficult thing to do. But taking this approach, you understand how to get the information needed to properly calibrate those rating services for hard-to-reach populations, and to understand how to fill in those gaps, whether it’s over the air or broadband-only viewing.
Or a lot of these new technologies that are coming out today, where people can receive local content in different ways. I’ll give you an example. YouTube TV has a huge number of subscribers, and that’s a blind spot. That information is not available to the currency services today, but it needs representation as part of that distribution and consumption of that local content within the marketplace. And then, with YouTube TV getting the NFL Sunday Ticket, you can expect their subscribers are only going to grow.
Services like HyphaMetrics can help fill in these kinds of blind spots to complete the picture for the marketplace and help provide them with the information they need to provide the best measurement that they possibly can.
MB: Yeah. If you look at local baseball every night, that would have the top viewership on any given night when you aggregate all the markets. And that model is collapsing, to where it appears like it’s going to go either streaming, or it’s going to go potentially over the air, like in Phoenix. That’s going to create an even bigger mess if you don’t have a solution like this for what really drives the largest audience every night across the country.
CW: I agree completely. And that’s a problem that is going to continue expanding. Understanding the size of the audience is about the aggregation of content, but also about the fragmentation that exists across how you can get that content. There are so many different ways to get that content today, and it’s important to be able to piece those things together to understand the total impact of advertising in the market.
The other piece that I don’t want to lose sight of too, it’s also about content. There’s a lot of talk about ad measurement in the marketplace today, and when you look at a lot of the organizations that have started to go down that road, ad measurement is in the forefront. However, we can’t forget that content measurement is critically important and being able to understand what people watch, making sure there’s proper representation of the consumption of that content.
For example, we talked about Hispanic earlier. It’s important that the size of that audience is properly measured so that advertisers understand how to serve that community better. There are dozens of examples where content has been taken off the air because it had huge viewership support, but it didn’t get the measurement that it needed. And it’s no longer on the air, because it can’t attract advertisers because their technology undermeasured it.
It’s really important that we get this right, and HyphaMetrics is here to do their part. It is here to contribute to the media industry, and provide them with the information, and that source of truth, to be able to understand what’s being consumed both on the ad and the content side. To have this source of truth that can hold the marketplace accountable, to understanding what kinds of cross-platform duplication there is, with things like the broadband-only viewership and over the air viewership. It’s really important to get that right.
MB: We’ll get you out of here with one question. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the video measurement space, what would it be?
CW: If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the video measurement space, I would speed up the adoption of new technologies to address these problems. Because at HyphaMetrics, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this problem. There’s a lot of conversation about AI these days, but this is something we’ve been doing for years, and we’ve got a lot of experience on that, and the machine learning side of it, and that was necessary to be able to really keep pace with the change in the marketplace.
But these are new ideas, these are new approaches. So the adoption of this new approach by both, the publishers in the marketplace, and the agencies of brands, is critically important. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of years on that front. But I think we need to move faster. This problem is not going to get better with time. And the sooner we start to use some of these new approaches to understand what’s going on in the marketplace, the better off we’re going to be as time goes on.
MB: Excellent. Chris, I’m grateful for your time and I know our audience is going to love this conversation, so thank you.
CW: All right. Thanks, Michael.
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Chris Wilson is a dynamic senior Operating Executive and entrepreneurial Business Leader with a record accelerating revenue/EBITDA growth and long-term shareholder value at the intersection of media, measurement, and advertising in B2B data intensive, technology-driven publicly traded and privately held companies. Chris’s particular area of expertise is developing the vision, strategy, and technology to stay ahead of the media industry’s evolution and capture a significant market share of the TV, digital, cross-platform, and advanced advertising video space. He has built a reputation in the research industry as a true visionary through forward-thinking, innovative strategies to create cross-device measurement products of the future.
As Chief Executive Officer of HyphaMetrics, a media technology venture-funded startup, Chris is leading the company to forge the future of measurement using cutting-edge Computer Vision Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technology that is fast, cost-effective, flexible, precise, and complete in providing insights for media publishers and brands across all content, ads, and devices at the person level.
Prior to HyphaMetrics, he was Chief Commercial Officer at Comscore where his mission was to further the development of new products and services to measure TV across every platform and to better integrate the digital, TV, and cross-platform sales through consistent best practices across Comscore’s commercial teams. In this role, Chris oversaw the global Commercial, Sales Operations, and Marketing teams.
Throughout his career, Chris has played a critical role in the growth and evolution of TV and Digital measurement. Prior to his role at Comscore, he served as Executive Vice President, National Television Products at Comscore; President of Rentrak Television; President at Experian Research Services; President & COO of Simmons Market Research Bureau; and CEO & President of LogicLab, a division of Merkle LLC; Senior Vice President, Sales at Scarborough Research Company.
Cross Screen Media is a leading CTV activation managed service for marketers and agencies, built on a proprietary technology platform that enables advertisers to plan and measure advertising across Connected TV and audience-driven Linear TV at the local level. We seamlessly fit into existing workflows to help agencies scale, differentiate and deliver high-impact campaigns for their clients. For more information, visit CrossScreenMedia.com.