Chasing the ‘holy grail’: Kantar Media CEO Patrick Béhar interview

Chasing the ‘holy grail’: Kantar Media CEO Patrick Béhar interview

“I can tell you what I told Adam Crozier: ‘I came here to write a big chapter of my professional life, not a few pages’.”

Having just been appointed Kantar Media’s CEO in September, Patrick Béhar finds himself in a rare position for a media executive. Having just completed a stint running pay-TV operator Sky’s commercial operation as chief business officer, he is now running the business that services Barb, UK TV’s jointly-owned measurement company.

Speaking to The Media Leader on stage at the ASI TV and Video Conference in Nice last week (9 November), Béhar talked about the importance of building partnerships as Kantar Media provides more services that will feed into “the holy grail” of cross-media measurement.

The interview also revealed:

>> Béhar’s priority is to meet as many clients as possible and focus on developing relationships. He wants Kantar Media to drive innovation, and to be “a bit of a provocative force”.

>> The C-Flight product, originally developed by NBCUniversal in the US, has become “more sophisticated” in the UK thanks to being developed as a joint venture.

>> The “positive forces” and challenges with delivering a cross-media measurement solution in the US for the ANA advertiser trade body.

>> He “welcomes” the arrival of new competitors like GWI and YouGov in the UK because it will foster innovation, while recognising Kantar Media will “need to adapt our cost base”.

Watch the full interview or read a (lightly edited) transcript below:

Omar Oakes
Why did you want the job of Kantar Media CEO? And why did they want you? 

Patrick Béhar
Look, there are couple of things.

One, as you know, I’ve been I’ve been serving the media and entertainment industry for over 20 years and, in some ways, I feel I’m part of the ecosystem. And I still share a huge passion for trying to help the ecosystem continue to transform.

I felt that the audience measurement ecosystem in particular, and Kantar Media, was incredibly effective, but at the same time, on the verge of quite a big transformation.

We [have been] talking together for the last couple of years about cross-media [measurement], and what does that mean… but I felt that being part of it was really exciting. And having been a consultant for quite some time, having being an operator at Sky for five years, I felt that was a natural step forward to do that.

And then I met some of the team and I was really fascinated by the work that we’re doing; the work that the Kantar Media team does in Latin America under the leadership of Antonio [Wanderley] is amazing; the work that we do in Europe is amazing. I just wanted to be part of it, and see if I can add a bit of had a bit of my experience into the mix.

So what are your priorities for the first 100 days? I mean, it’s quite interesting, as you’ve just alluded to, I’m struggling to think of someone who’s made a move like this where you’ve been a major broadcaster running the commercial operation. And now joining a measurement company. What were your priorities?

First, I’m always a bit careful about the 100 day stuff. As you can imagine, I’ve read a number of books of how do you start as a new CEO somewhere, and I got a lot of wanted and unwanted advice from tonnes of people. It’s tough to decipher what needs to be done.

What’s the worst advice you got?

I had one person telling me that as a CEO, you need to think of yourself as a professional athlete. And you’ve got to have an ecosystem working around you for you.

And I came out of that meeting thinking, ‘but that’s the opposite of I want to do; my role is to be serving people, as opposed to the opposite’.

So how do you want to do that, how are you going to “serve”?

I think it’s very simple. We have a business that spans across more than 60 countries, we are already doing cross-media measurement in more than 16 countries. As you know, there’s a big presence in Latin America, there’s a big presence in the UK. There’s amazing things going on in the Netherlands, the Nordics, and Switzerland.

So I think my first role is to try to meet as many of the teams and as many of our clients in my first 100 days, I don’t know if it’s 100, 150, frankly, I don’t have a limit around that. But I think getting to know the individuals behind the product, the relationship, the lengths, the tenure, the strengths, the weakness of the relationship. That’s my priority.

Now, out of that, I can always write — any new CEO can write — a set of new priorities that I share with that board and do that. But, frankly, that list will only make sense after I’ve met many people. We’re in France, so let me use a French expression. It comes from Auvergne, which is in the centre of France; they’re like the ‘salt of the earth’ of France. And they say that you can really know someone if you share 10 kilogrammes of salt [with them]. That means a lot of meals, right? (By World Health Organisation standards!) So you know, [meeting] people and spending some time with them.

Given your unique background, the Patrick Béhar who is running Sky Media: what advice, or maybe even concerns, would he raise with Patrick Béhar the CEO of Kantar Media?

Look, I’ve learned a few things along the way. And I think Sky Media has had amazing performance over the last three to four years. There’s a number of things that, like everyone on Earth, I would do differently if I were to write that story again.

I think that the one thing that I’m going to try to bring to Kantar Media and that we started discussing with the team is an absolute obsession — and let’s spend some time on this — with our client relationships.

As you know, the world thinks itself has been divided between a market where there’s a joint industry committee and a market where there is not a [JIC]. I think about our role is to be similar in both markets, which is to drive innovation, and to be a bit of a provocative force, even with markets when there’s a joint industry committee, and building the partnerships, one step forward into that.

And that’s one of the things I think I’ve tried to do when I was at Sky. You mentioned Sky Media, yeah, but I was also blessed with running our partnerships and our distribution business. And, as you guys know, for those of you who are not British, Sky comes with a bit of a reputation for not just being the 800-pound gorilla, but historically being a bit rough around the edges. And that’s one of the first things my boss and the most amazing CEO and role model Stephen Van Rooyen told me was, ‘exercise that with prudence and with elegance’.

And what I tried to do was bring a lot of partnerships into the equation. So when Sky Media developed C-Flight, the first thing I did was to try to bring ITV and Channel 4 into the tent. C-Flight was invented by our cousins at NBCU, brought it into the UK, made it a lot better. To be fair, you know, notwithstanding how many Americans are in the room, I think, C-Flight in the UK is a lot more sophisticated.

Is that what you’re saying? You’re looking to bring in partners to collaborate?

Yes. And now and obviously C-Flight is administered and managed by Barb, which is fantastic.

As you mentioned, you’ve got businesses in the Nordics, an owned business in Spain, lots of assets in Latin America. So it seems to be a nicely growing business. And just recently, you’ve announced a deal with Foxtel on set top boxes in Australia. So where’s the growth coming from next for Kantar Media?

The growth comes for every one of us in industry. And I mean, there’s a holy grail as well, which is cross media audience measurement. And, in my mind, behind the word is the number of things.

The first thing is, we talk a lot about advertising. But let’s not forget that we serve a content industry. And for every one of our broadcasting customers content is roughly 60-65% of the cost base. So the data, we provide the insight, the foresight, we provide it to help make better content investment, choices, and decisions.

And in a world where content costs are exploding. And in a world where content choices are becoming incredibly complex, I can tell you that from my Sky experience, that data is even more important than the advertising data, to some extent. (I have to be careful about that.)

So I think that’s the first thing, which is, “how do I add on top of the data we providing?”

We can talk about the role of the panel, the intelligence, the foresight, insight; as you know, we’ve got a fantastic company called TechEdge that does a lot of that to our clients.

The second thing is, obviously we’re always looking at opportunities to expand our footprint in that process; cleverly, intelligently. We’re not a huge company, so 60 markets, is a lot stretch for the resources that we have, and we’re trying to be clever about it.

What about the opportunity in the US? Some time ago, it was reported that you were the preferred bidder for this project that the [Association of National Advertisers] wants to do for cross-media measurement. If I can be reductive I’d call it a Project Origin in the US sort of thing. But we haven’t really heard anything since then. Presumably they’ve not commissioned you to do a panel to build a panel there? Can you talk about what’s the status of that project? And what’s what’s generally your strategy in the US?

Look, we’re open, we’re talking to a lot of people. It’s not a secret that I went to the US a couple times to meet some old friends that I know from NBCU, and from other broadcasters that were my partners. I think you’re facing a very similar situation that you’re facing in other markets, which is everyone wants to do some things and move the ball forward in terms of cross-media.

The question is, how you do it? Who do you do it with? And how do you orchestrate all that?

I think there’s a set of very positive forces. I mean, you’ve seen all the speeches that the CEO of the [Video Advertising Bureau] has made recently. You’ve seen the speeches or the announcements that the ANA has made on the advertiser side, I think there’s a lot of goodwill and willingness to take things forward. I don’t think the puzzle has quite fitted yet.

So what are the challenges in the short term you need to overcome?

I think all those people need to make a decision how they want to work together.

And in that role, where it’s very simple, we have a role of servant leadership. We can provide some advice, we can provide some experience. But but that catalyst needs to come from inside the ecosystem in the US.

Because that project would be transformational for your business, wouldn’t it in terms of the opportunities? I can imagine, that would drive up the value of Kantar Media significantly. And obviously, your owners Bain [Capital] would be looking at that and thinking, ‘Oh, this is an opportunity to maybe look at selling the business again’. I mean, there’s always concerns about what’s the future under this private equity company. Do you recognise that, first of all, in terms of the opportunity? And what would happen next?

Actually, no, I’m gonna push back on that.

I spent quite a bit of time in McKinsey and there’s one sentence that has been drilled into me, which is: ‘if you do the right thing, the right thing happens to you’. And, it happened to me as well in my personal life.

So if we can be helpful to the US ecosystem, if we can be helpful to the UK ecosystem, if we can be helpful to the Australian ecosystem, good things happen to the ecosystem, good things happen to Kantar… I’ve been under many shareholders that are different, right? Consulting, private ownership as partners, senior partners, we own the firm, I’ve been owned by Comcast, we’re owned by Bain Capital… at the end of the day, and we can have an endless debate about this, it doesn’t make any difference.

I think shareholders try to do the right thing. They have their own constraint from a money standpoint — trust me, getting your Capex investment when you’re at Sky from Comcast is as complex and as rigorous as it is getting your Capex investment from Bain Capital. And I’m going through the budget process right now. So I think I know.

A lot of people in the room will be thinking about the long term ambitions of the company. Are you in it for the long haul? Frankly, have you had conversations with Adam Crozier [Bain Capital chairman and former ITV CEO] about splitting up P&Ls, looking at what you can sell? You’ve already sold Vivix in North America, the ad measurement business.

It’s a good question.

As you know, Kantar Media is separating from what I call ‘big Kantar’, which is insights and all the rest. So we have our own board. We’re operating independently. So that’s the one thing.

Now in terms of our destiny, and my destiny, I can tell you what I told Adam Crozier, which is “I came here to write the big chapter of my professional life, not a few pages”. And I do love that analogy. And I think everywhere I’ve been, I tried to write a big chapter. I don’t like a few pages. I find them unsatisfying.

We touched a bit on panels, talking about the US. What do you think about the future of panels as you try to capture more digital audience behaviour? You know, mix of weighting of panels versus first party data, return path data. How are you tapping into that? How do you see that evolving?

I think I’m opening an open door and remember, I’ve been there eight weeks, so just give me the right to make a few mistakes, please be indulgent.

But one of the things I’ve observed is I think the role of the panel becomes even more important but slightly different from just measuring what’s going on in terms in terms of audience, both on the content and the advertising side, into calibrating big sets of data, because they’re going to be a multiplication of big data sets. Whether they’re coming from digital platforms, coming from the digital side of the traditional broadcasters, coming from new players in social media as well.

And then the question is, in front of that big data set, how do you cross calibrate them, correct the biases, add some value, compare them, have the ability to do deduplicated reach and frequency, contrast? And, therefore, the panel remains incredibly important. But the layer of data intelligence and data science on top of it becomes even more important to be able to have an integrated view, which I think is the holy grail [that] we are all trying to bring to our customers, whether it’s advertisers, broadcasters, or agencies.

Question from audience: Jeff Eales, director of systems strategy, Sky Media
In a world where, for the last 30 years, we’ve had linear panels, and we all transmit the same kind of things. Would you believe in each country we will have a slightly definition of what a view is? And now we’re in a new world where we could set standards so that we know what the definition of an impression is. And we know what a 30-second view is. To what extent can Kantar, Nielsen, and GFK help broadcasters set those standards as opposed to each country saying we want it done this way?

Standards? Yes. Standardisation? Probably not.

I mean, you know me pretty well, right? Jeff is part of the Sky Media team, so we’ve been working together for five years.

One of the things I firmly believe in is putting back the tool and the flexibility of the tool in the hands of the advertisers, in the hands of the agencies, and in the hands of the people that use it, as opposed to constraining the tool by the maximum amount of standards around that. I think we can have a philosophical debate about that. But, if we look even outside of our industry, every time someone in industry has given the flexibility of the tool back into the people that ultimately use them, and by the way, ultimately pay for them, we end up in a good situation.

I have question about TGI. You’ve been the preferred market supplier in the UK, at least for a long time. But now you face increasing competition from GWI, YouGov. What’s your plan for keeping these competitors at bay?

Look, as you know, TGI is part of the DNA of Kantar Media. We have a lot of emotional attachment to this business.

We welcome the arrival of new competitors and different ways of doing things. I think it’s going to challenge us. And I think it’s going to force us to look back and think about how do we change and adapt that operating model? For sure. We’re going to need to adapt our cost base. That’s some of the early findings that I’m seeing. But I think we can do that in a clever way, we’re probably going to need to, to focus TGI on a few things that TGI does really well, in the UK, in Nordic, there’s some other markets as well.

Frankly, I welcome the competition, I think it’s going to foster innovation in the industry.

And what about panels generally, do they need to be bigger? Do panels just needs to be bigger to capture more audience fragmentation. In the UK, Barb does the monthly 100 shows and it’s something like four or five of the streaming shows make it in there. Do you think that data has actually been captured as well as it can? How do you improve?

First, as you know, Barb, under the under the leadership of Justin [Sampson], is moving its panel size from 5,000 to 7,000, which is a great thing.

As a trained statistician, and you guys [the audience] know better than me, there’s a limit to the value you have by just multiplying the size of the panel, right? If you think the role of the panel more and more is around cross calibration of big data sets and not just ‘viewing’, then you’re probably okay with that type of size. You may want to hit a few to capture some specifics or recalibrate constantly for the younger demos or other type of behaviour, but you’re not going to get massive value from moving from 7,000 to 700,000.

To do that, and I can tell you and my friend Jeff could say, that Sky has its own panel with a few hundred thousand and even 7 million that that Sky uses for different things. At the end of the day, you don’t use that many people to do that statistically for what you want to do.

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