Ali Vahdati, CEO of Digital-i, tells us how he created the company from a desire to automate TV ratings provision and create imaginative solutions and reports that analyse all sides of the media landscape.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ali Vahdati: We’re doing well. Working from home has made us all a bit stir crazy but has fuelled some serious digital innovation in my company.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Digital-i.
Ali Vahdati: I founded Digital-i in 2003 with the view of automating the TV ratings provision. The ratings industry is an interesting beast because it both relies upon and fuels the creative industries. When I started working in TV research, I was astounded that the glamour and innovation of the media industry hadn’t trickled down to the research methods. I started Digital-i to change that.
How does Digital-i innovate?
Ali Vahdati: Digital-i doesn’t believe in giving employees repetitive and tiresome work, so we have always been at the forefront of automation. I’m also from a mathematical background, so I’ve run the challenge of combining statistics and mathematical excellence with creativity and content. Not an easy feat.
Lately, we’ve revolutionised the way the industry can gain competitor insight into streaming services. Before we created a new methodology that can accurately report on 100% of a household’s Prime Video and Netflix viewing, the industry was still relying on a technique invented in the ’80s… We combine new tech, top maths, and industry knowledge to produce creative and impactful results.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ali Vahdati: At first, the creative industries were hit hard. Our clients were pulling budgets, having to stop production; there was a rush to cut services that weren’t deemed ‘100% necessary’. However, as time went on, we’ve had more success, the surge in SVOD viewing increased the interest around our research and software, and I’m hoping to see budgets get back to normal by next year.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ali Vahdati: When we were putting staff on furlough, I was very worried about what it would do to morale. There’ve been a few more tough decisions, especially when our office landlords wouldn’t make concessions. But I’ve learnt that in times of strife, our team really sticks together. Everyone stepped up to the table and supported one another.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Ali Vahdati: We’re transitioning into a tech company and so are in the process of implementing the Agile Project Management system both in Sales and Marketing as well as the Development departments. We’ve also lived and breathed Slack and Mondays. Incredibly, I think we’re more organised and have more visibility of projects than we did when we were all in the office!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ali Vahdati: We have a whole range of competitors from companies that are still favouring self-report or recall data collection, as well as some really exciting and innovative companies like Comscore, Plum Research, and Nielsen.
It’s going to be tough to stay ahead, but the new features and developments of our competitors have spurred us on to achieve our potential.
In April, we’ll be launching SoDA 3.0 – the third iteration of our behavioural SVOD measurement and analytics software. This’ll include Prime Video and Netflix viewing for at least 5 territories, cross-platform analysis, time-spent metrics, and even information on devices used by SVOD subscribers.
We’re also a few clicks away from adding Disney+ to our list of platforms measured!
Your final thoughts?
Ali Vahdati: It’s been a really tough year for the industry and for all of us personally. The truth is, work can be a cause of stress, but it has also served as an escape for me. I truly believe that the research and analysis we are producing is the future of the media measurement industry. When you believe in what you’re doing, it’s much easier to find the passion to continue, even during the more difficult times.