MarTech Interview with Ashwin Navin, CEO and Co-Founder at Samba TV

Ashwin Navin, Co-Founder and CEO, Samba TV

“If you look at how much media is spent against traditional planning tools, market-mix models and traditional forms of currency, we still have a very substantial amount of work to do to move the industry forward.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What inspired you to start Samba TV?

I started Samba TV in 2008 with a few friends and colleagues. We had all been early employees together at BitTorrent, and witnessed the creation of digital media; the earliest existence of video and audio available at scale on your PC. The proliferation of digital media gave rise to some truly innovative companies and business models such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu — all of which were built off the thesis that people wanted digital media on their computers and, increasingly, on other devices.

Back in 2008, the founders of Samba recognized that the mass adoption of the internet and proliferation of myriad devices was not the ‘end of television’ but an opportunity for television to sit at the center of the new digital frontier. In order to do that, though, the industry would need to fast forward to realizing that TV would now be a vessel for multiple types of content and not just traditional broadcast and cable methods stuck in the 20th century. We wanted to be laser-focused on building out the data and technology that would enable television to participate in the amazing growth we saw in digital distribution and monetization.

What is Samba TV and how does it make TV Advertising intelligent?

TV advertising is basically contextual targeting. It’s about identifying content that appeals to people of a certain age, gender, and genre appropriate for your brand. That paradigm of age and gender demography has been in existence for many decades now, all tied to a single, opaque data set and methodology, which is the Nielsen currency. This might have sufficed when a broadcast tower sent video across the broadcast radius of what it could reach through the airwaves, and those sampling techniques were the only data that you could get from the consumer. But that methodology completely breaks when you factor in the fragmentation of modern-day viewing habits (OTT, time shifting, etc) and the possibilities of feedback from millions and millions of homes (verse thousands).

The small sample sizes simply don’t scale when you factor in literally thousands of viewing options a viewer might have at any given time. Much as the actual viewing habits of consumers have matured over the years, for our industry to do service to itself, the way we measure and advertise must transform what was a broadcast medium into something that is more personal for consumers, precise for marketers, and valuable for publishers.

How do you focus on bringing TV and Data Analytics together at Samba TV? What are the core technologies driving your product?

Our fundamental belief is that TV needs to be far more personalized to serve the consumer. Given the growth of digital, social and streaming media, we live in a different world today; one where most of the media that we see is actually consumed within a two-way platform. Our screen time, the hours that we spend in front of a screen in a day, are mostly with a screen that is connected to the internet. Even the time we spend consuming content from a traditional broadcast is likely to be from a TV connected to the internet. Samba turns that one-way medium into something that’s much more interactive and personalized.

With technology inside the TV that recognizes what’s on screen, Samba understands what consumers like and connects to the shows and brands most likely to appeal to them. So, our contribution to the TV advertising ecosystem is a wealth of insights that we didn’t have five or 10 years ago. That transforms how we plan, optimize and measure programming decisions, creative decisions, as well as advertising decisions. What’s unique about Samba is the fact that this data comes from 14 different brands of TVs and TV providers, across all demographics and regions of the world. We present to our clients the insights that allow them to make decisions and feel confident that this data is the new source of truth for what’s happening in living rooms across the US and 30 major media markets around the world where Samba is present.

Tell us about your recent integration with Google Marketing Cloud. How would it benefit marketers and advertisers?

Google is the pioneer and provider of many of the core pillars of the modern advertising ecosystem. They also own some very important consumer products such as YouTube and Google search. For entertainment clients that want to advertise across Google’s owned or programmatic platforms, it was very hard to understand how those advertisements convert into entertainment consumption — until now. What Samba and Google have done is an industry first — we have married Samba’s attribution model with Google’s advertising platforms. So, every form of media that you activate with Google can be measured with Samba’s attribution integrating the TV and digital data sets. As an industry, we need to get past the digital versus TV debate and start thinking the way the consumer does: TV plus digital is better, and now we have the data to prove it.

Could you tell us about your tune-in media strategies, cross-screen tactics, and creative messaging that could boost TV viewership?

As a media company today, you’re competing against all forms of entertainment, as well as all the ways people spend their time. Media companies live in a war for consumers attention, and it’s much harder to compete than ever before.

Linear network television has historically been consumed 4 or 5 hours a day by the average household, and while still highly relevant, now competes with social media, digital media, and over-the-top television (OTT), on every screen and more screens. An entertainment marketer that promotes a TV show only on linear TV might do well, but might miss significant numbers in order to compete effectively with all other forms of media.

To win mindshare and interest, they must promote across a variety of platforms. All of our clients have adopted and standardized on Samba’s form of tune-in attribution, which we call Verified Tune-in Rate (“VTR”) because they’ve seen exactly which tactics contributed to increases in ratings, and have been able to start to optimize their promotions so that they can achieve the best possible result for their programming. So, it’s become a source of truth for the tune in marketer.

If entertainment marketers don’t optimize in this way, we feel like they could be leaving 30 to 40% of their audience on the table for one of their competitors to steal away from them.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We’re big believers in Account-based Marketing, DemandGeneration, and Programmatic Advertising ourselves. We’ve got a full Marketing staff, with data management and programmatic activation within our arsenal. We practice what we preach, and believe that data sits at the center of a lot of our decisions that we make as a business.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in AI and Data Management Technology for 2019-2020?

If you look at how much media is spent against traditional planning tools, market-mix models and traditional forms of currency, we still have a very substantial amount of work to do to move the industry forward. We consider this disruptive, in the belief that if we spend money, we get more robust and accurate data sets that allow brands to reach substantially more of their target audience with the same or less budget.

So, there’s a phenomenal amount of efficiency to be had. But for this to reach its full potential, some form of AI and Machine Learning will be needed to fill in the gaps that traditional media has, which will happen through programmatic platforms, including OTT. When you have basically a true dynamic audience segmentation model coupled with traditional offline media, you get a very exciting outcome, which we’ll see in the next couple of years for the world’s biggest brands.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

We announced a partnership with a company called Reelgood, that has a very comprehensive catalog of all OTT shows across all services. They solve a real need that everyone who watches video today has, which is that it’s hard to remember which shows from back in the day are available for streaming consumption, and which are available on an a la carte basis. It’s hard to remember where those shows are buried in these massive catalogs of video. So, what Reelgood has done, is built a single point of search and discovery across the entire OTT catalog. We’ve married our recommendation technology with Reelgood so that people spend less time searching for something to watch, and more time enjoying their favorite shows.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

All applications of AI require data. I’d be looking to invest significantly in generating data sets and investing in data science teams to improve the quality of that data set and make that data ready for analytics. Fundamentally, this all comes down to having your data in an environment where it can be useful to you. But more than that, it’s important to have the data in an environment where it can be matched with and enhanced by other data sets that are external to your business.

Unless the data is in an environment where that’s possible, it won’t be working as hard as it can. The AI layer basically can be far more effective and powerful when it’s running on top of clean and available data sets.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

The people of Samba are predisposed to use technology and data to solve problems, so we’re looking to bring them into an environment where they’re surrounded by like-minded individuals who are highly motivated by innovation, by the potential for disruption, a tremendous work ethic, and creativity. That usually builds on itself, so we’re focused on creating a great culture first and foremost, and then allowing that to blossom into great results.

One word that best describes how you work.


What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?


What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Hire the most talented, hungry and humble people you can find, and then entrust them to get the job done.

What are you currently reading?

“Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History” by Jeremy Rifkin.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Intellectual honesty.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Naval Ravikant, CEO and Founder of AngelList.

Thank you, Ashwin! Hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Ashwin Navin is the CEO and Co-Founder of Samba TV, the largest developer of applications for Smart TVs. Samba currently reaches more than 30 million TV screens in 118 countries worldwide. The core of Samba TV’s technology lies in its ability to recognize video signals similar to Shazam’s ability to recognize audio. Samba TV offers users recommendations and interactive features for their favorite TV shows and movies.

Ashwin also founded the start-up incubator I/O Ventures where he is currently a Managing Partner after departing BitTorrent as the company’s President and Co-Founder. He spent time at Yahoo, as a member of the company’s Corporate Development group. He developed extensive experience in structuring and negotiating acquisitions, partnerships and alliances in the tech industry. While at Yahoo, Ashwin’s group was responsible for M&A, divestitures and company strategy in the US. and key global markets such as India and Korea. Before Yahoo, Ashwin worked with Wall Street powerhouses Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Merrill Lynch as an investment banker and research analyst. Ashwin earned a dual B.A. from Claremont McKenna in Government and Economics. logoSamba TV is a content recommendation engine and viewer tracking application designed for Smart TVs. California-based Samba, was co-founded in 2008 by early employees of BitTorrent, including Samba’s current CEO, Ashwin Navin.

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.