Qantas Talking Business with Alan Kohler: Elgar Welch

Elgar: Thanks Alan.
Alan: Hi Elgar. Now you were in the Prime Minister’s Office, 2013.And decided that what the world needs is real time media monitoring of everything, because at that time I guess social media was starting up and the existing media monitoring weren’t even doing that.
Elgar: Yeah, that’s right. We worked in an environment that required really speedy response to media and in that role, when I was there, we found that the time it was taking for us to get media coverage out of the current offering in the market was wholly unacceptable and waiting hours for things to come through. So that’s really where Streem was born out of, my experience in that time.
Alan: And was it hard to set up?
Elgar: It was. We’re nearly into our fourth year now. So there’s enormous barriers to entry within the media monitoring sector, it helps explain why there’s really only been one company.
Alan: Which is ISentia.
Elgar: Correct.
Alan: Started off as Media Monitors.
Elgar: That’s right. Really you’ve got to do print agreements, online agreements, broadcast agreements, social data feeds. There’s a lot of content there. There’s a lot of infrastructure to put in place. Account Management, marketing. It’s like any other business.
Alan: How long did it take you to set it up?
Elgar: We started as an online only monitoring company. So that’s really where we began for the first year or two. We confirmed our suspicions that people wanted something faster and more flexible. And then we started building in broadcast, we started adding in social, just recently we’ve added in print – the actual print clippings, which in some ways is sort of a step to the side of where we were as a realtime company. But customers want the full product offering, the full content offering in one place.
Alan: Isn’t everything that’s in print also online?
Elgar: A lot of CEOs, managers want to see how it appeared in a newspaper. And it’s still extremely valuable to know what picture ran, how big was the picture, and you know what was written in that. Often Newspapers change what’s in the paper vs. what’s online as well…. A positive article in print can be a negative article online, so it’s quite important.
Alan: So you’ve been busily disrupting ISentia?
Elgar: We are offering a different product to what they do - that’s a very old-world, traditional product, what we offer is a realtime product. A customer can expect that if they’re publicly listed, issue sensitive, running a campaign, engaged with consumers, voters, that they can see coverage of issues, topics, people, products within about a minute of it being published or broadcast so it’s very very quick. It’s much different to the old-world offering.
Alan: And are you cheaper than them too?
Elgar: We don’t look to cut down the price of the market, we’re trying to add value - we’re competitive but we’re not trying to be sort of half the price. We think the product is better than what they offer.
Alan: In a way the development of the internet and social media and all that stuff has made media monitoring more needed.
Elgar: Yeah I think there was a time there, and in fact John Croll who is CEO at ISentia said this, there was a time there where I guess people thought “Well! We can get everything on the internet for free now.” But as it’s got louder and more noisy and you need someone to filter it, I think there is a real value to having a business there who’s doing that role for you and filtering.
Alan: So your business is going alright?
Elgar: It is going well.We’re going very well. We’ve got good customers, we’re growing; we’re certainly not on the scale that our competitor is, but we’re getting there.
Alan: So tell us abut the structure of the business is it just- do you own it?
Elgar: I’m the majority owner of it the other owner is Antoine Sabourin who’s our Technical Lead and Antoine and I formed the business together in the early days. So Antoine manages the technical side and I’m on the business side.
Alan: And you haven’t to raise capital yet?
Elgar: We have done one raise of capital which was this year which was really good. We got some good people with some good networking in there and that’s really what we’re looking for, we’re looking for people who can spread the message out about what Streem is doing. So we were about 3 years into the business before we took capital on.
Alan: So is it a duopoly now with you and ISentia?
Elgar: It is in terms of a full service offering, there is another provider that is a Norwegian business that provides more digital, social content…
Alan: That’s Meltwater
Elgar: That’s right and they’re a different offering to what Streem is it’s not a comprehensive offering it doesn’t include print clips for example, the broadcast content is not comprehensive. So when you want to compare apples and apples those are really the two businesses that provide a full service product the market.
Alan: How do you do the full service broadcast monitoring?
Elgar: So we spent about 3 years developing a technology-enabled solution to that. We didn’t want to put people in overseas markets to sit there and watch television and listen to radio, and we built a system which is very very good at determining: is this a mention of an organisation or an issue or a topic straight away, and it means for a customer they get that content within a minute of it being broadcast so it’s very very fast.
Alan: So does your technology monitor all broadcast-
Elgar: Correct
Alan: All the time?
Elgar: Correct 24 hours a day
Alan: And turns it into text?
Elgar: That’s right and then people can play that video as well or listen to that audio straight away.
Alan: And the text obviously then is searchable?
Elgar: Exactly
Alan: By your system
Elgar: Which is the most important bit because you’ve got to be able to tell someone that they’ve got a mention in the media. So if you’re, I’ll take an example Nine Entertainment, they’re a publicly listed business, now if something is said about them that is not correct, they need to know about that straight away they don’t want to wait around for three hours to find out about that.
But Speed is one of the things that we do; accuracy of the information is very important as well. We spent a long time building filtering engines in the background to make sure that the content was right and it wasn’t incorrect and added to the noise. And flexibility as well, being able to track lots of different issues. The model previous to when Streem entered the market was a very constrained one it was ‘tell us what you want to track and if you want to change it the price will increase significantly’. We’re not of that sort of view - we want to make sure that a company or a government can track anything they want; issue crops up, campaign starts.
Alan: So did you guys build that yourself?
Elgar: Yes, correct.
Alan: Well done.
Elgar: Thank you. It’s working well.
Alan: That is quite an achievement. Now what about social media that’s like this constant Niagara Falls of stuff!
Elgar: It is, it is. There’s real deluge of information and the way we handle it is we actually have a partner for that called Brandwatch which is Europe’s leading social media intelligence company. Rather than building a social media monitoring business which is actually what not really what we are, our customers said “look, what we want to see is influencers - people who are leading conversation, something coming out of nowhere that’s important. We don’t want to sort of see where….”
Alan: Oh so you’re not picking up every mention…
Elgar: Look we do look at everything, but we actually filter it for them so that they don’t see everything. So a PR and media manager doesn’t really want to know when Joe Blow in Marrickville is angry about product X because it broke, that’s a consumer team issue and those products exist, what we’re trying to say is journalist X says something bad about your business or CEO comes out and attacks product Y. That’s really what this is about. Influencers.
Alan: And are you saying that this mob you’ve got a partnership with in Europe they do it for you?
Elgar: Yes they have a good filtering engine they have the agreements with the social networks to do those things. There’s no sense in us building that as well, we’re very good at what we do but Social is not the core offering with Streem.
Alan: There seems to be another social media thing popping up all the time!
Elgar: There are. There’s thousands of these businesses and that’s why we made the decision not to be another one of those. We knew that from customer feedback they really just wanted to see “give me influential content, don’t give me absolutely everything”.
Alan: So where do you think this is heading? ISentia’s been struggling lately… where’s it all going…how’s it all going to unfold Elgar?
Elgar: For us we want to see significant customer growth and we’ve experienced that this year which is good but we really want to shift out bigger businesses from that old model into the new model, we’re having a lot of success doing that.
We’re still in an early stage of growth we’re not certainly at the size of our competitor. But the offering is quite a lot different, we get a very good response from companies because they need that speed and accuracy, and look for us it’s about growing the market we wanna make sure people are getting the product they paid for.
One of the things we’ve come across is that monitoring got to a very high price because of the content involved and the systems involved from our competitor but the value proposition was starting to shift quite a lot and slip. And we have come to the market and said look, we think you should pay the same amount but we can add all the value back. You know insights and information and data about the coverage that you’re achieving and who you’re reaching those are really important things. Not just “here’s your media”.
Alan: Do you think you’ll get to a point where you can come up with a product that will suit, or be ok for an individual to monitor the media about themselves?
Elgar: There’s no consumer application from our point of view.
Alan: Because it’s too expensive!
Elgar: We’re subject to copyright and licensing agreements with the publishers, we have good relationships with News Corp and Fairfax Media and WAN and others in the market the broadcasters too, so there may be an application for it for another business but it’s not what we’re focused on. We’re looking at enterprise; government and corporate.
Alan: And is there any reluctance on the part of the publishers to do these kind of deals?
Elgar: Look I think if I’m being honest there is always a trepidation from publishers because they see that this could damage their subscriptions, and that’s a big focus now for those businesses, so they see media monitoring as potentially taking away from those. But we need to show them that there’s more value to be had from giving people insights making them see how they can pay a certain amount for that that’s not seen as a big burden on the business.
Alan: But you pay the publishers money too don’t you?
Elgar: We do, that’s right. As part of our agreements with them.
Alan: Yep.
Elgar: Yeah. And it is a fair point, but I think an organisation still needs a one-stop shop for all this. They need broadcast, they need print, they need online. And really for us print is just something we’ve brought in in the last month or so so it’s quite new for us.
Alan: Yeah but I suppose the principle is not something you’ve invented. Media monitoring’s been around a long time.
Elgar: Correct. It’s been around a very very long time it just needs to be changed and done differently.
Alan: Well it’s great to talk to you Elgar, thanks very much.
Elgar: Thanks very much Alan.
Alan: I’ve been talking to Elgar Welch who’s one of the founders and the CEO at Streem.

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