Insights into “PIXIGHTS”

Sumit, Monalisa and Debarati — three MICAns who decided to redefine the market research as Media Consultants, in conversation with the Alumni Engagement Committee at MICA.

MICAns at work — The founding team at Pixights

Q . Can you take us on a journey from ‘Pixights’ as an Idea to ‘Pixights Consulting’ and tell us what does Pixights Consulting offer?

PIXIGHTS as an idea took shape in 2012 over a dinner argument! The bone of contention was thevalue market research firms adds to clients especially those in Media industry. The major concern that was that senior researchers were not consumers of content, especially Hindi general entertainment content and consequently, the findings were neither insightful nor actionable.Traditional research agencies were also not geared to match the pace at which TV industry moved. For example, a month long gestation time for a research report meant that it was 24 episodes old and practically useless. Arguments (and morsels) flew thick and fast and by the end of it we had discovered a need gap!

The first thing we did the next morning was, well, to take an aspirin for our hangovers. The next thing was to call up our friends (most of them from MICA) in Media companies to validate the idea. The concerns were echoed unanimously. We were on to something.

Then came the introspection time. Yes, we had found a need gap. But were we the right people to service it? A lot of those doubts dissipated when Monalisa rattled of names of every Hindi GE show and the key characters (along with the clothes they wore and length of Sindoor in their maang). If we remember right, she did it first chronologically, then alphabetically and then by popularity. We might be getting the order wrong, but you get the picture! One problem solved- our key researcher was a consumer of content.

One thing we never had doubts about was our ability to produce good research output. Monalisa had a decade long experience as a market researcher, while Sumit had similar experience in research as well as management consulting. In fact, Sumit consulting experience had drilled “actionability” as a key filter for any recommendation- another missing piece for the need gap.

Once we were sure that we had the core ingredients in place, we activated the MICA network in media, this time to ask for research projects. It was the power of the MICA network that an inexperienced firm like ours got a few early projects.

LifeOK had just launched around this time and they were looking for research partners who could provide actionable insights, very quickly. It was an ideal alignment of their need with our product offering. LifeOK became our first long term mandate.

Our big breakthrough came when we conducted a trendspotting exercise for UTV Motion Pictures now Disney Studios. The additional challenge one faces when working in a creative sphere is the apathy creatives have towards research. We realized that the only way we could make our findings actionable was if we could transfer the ownership of the findings to the creatives. In other words, our output has to cease being research findings and instead become their discoveries! We travelled the breadth of the country withthe UTV creative team. Our presentation was in the form of a workshop where creatives worked with the trends, instead of just listening to them. Trendspotting for Movie Content with Disney UTV Motion Pictures was selected amongst the best of India in ESOMAR for the year 2013.

As the work grew, we brought in our third partner- Debarati. Debarati, again a MICAN, was then working for the Star insights team and brought in an insider’s view of how media firms consume data. It helped that Monalisa and Sumit were close friends with Debarati in MICA and hence the entire senior team was very comfortable working with each other. That, and the fact that she knew what “existential angst” meant at MICA and Sumit still doesn’t. It pays to have a senior team with complementary skill sets, you see!

Scaling up brought the next set of challenges- how do you find experienced human resource who are willing to quit their cushy, stable jobs and join a fledgling startup? We found a unique solution that actually ended upadding to our value proposition. We realized that many senior women researchers had to quit their jobs due to life-stage issues like marriage, pregnancy, kids. These were senior level assets who could not commit to a 9 to 5 job and hence were not working. This was the pool we tapped into. We shortlisted senior researchers who were avid consumers of media content and offered them flexible work options. We now have a network of researchers across India working for us. When we make a pitch for a project today, one of the things that stands out is that our teams bring more years of experience on the table than our competitors. And it reflects in the output.

Today, we offer packages across the spectrum of visual media — TV, cinema, digital, games, live action shows, books, advertising, promos! Instead of limiting ourselves to traditional research, we advocate a content generation, maintenance and management module where we work on a show or a film through its life cycle in order to provide inputs that are valuable. This can involve customised research across content generation for new shows, existing shows, movies, books etc all. We also conduct promotion evaluation, pilot evaluation and health researches for shows and movies as well test new games. Macro level research such as an Annual Trendspotting that is used for content cues in movies and TV, youth understanding, GEC viewer understanding etc. are all a part of the offering

Q. It would be great if you could give us an example of a problem faced by one of your clients and what was the methodology used in finding the solution to the same?

We spoke about the apathy creatives feel towards research earlier. One of the reasons this happens is because traditionally research has sat in judgment of creatives’ work. Research has not been able to become an ally to them nor has it help them do their jobs better. Metaphorically, research has been like a wooden scale. A wooden scale can serve only two purposes- one to measure and two as a weapon of choice for school teachers. Research did precisely this- it would “measure” how good a creative output was and would, in case it wasn’t, be used as a weapon to trash their work.

Our intention was to go beyond this and actually help creatives in their jobs, which was to create great characters and produce strong storylines. We developed a methodology we call “Local Tadka” with this objective. This tool is useful for creatives working on new or existing scripts and want a deeper understanding of the characters and their settings. The methodology involves identifying character prototypes in real life and then applying anthropological tools to understand the character. We have used this tool for several TV shows and movie scripts now. We can confidently say that not many researchers would have gone on field looking for male virgins as character prototypes!

Q. Tell us a little more about the founding team, as well as others involved at ‘Pixights Consulting’?

The core management team of Pixights comprises of Monalisa (MICA’02), Sumit (MICA’01) and Debarati (MICA’01).

Post MICA, Monalisa worked with IMRB International for eight years specialising in media-related research. Monalisa is the primary forcebehind setting up and operations at Pixights. A budding writer, experimental chef and an avid consumer of all things soapy and filmy, she brings in an almost instinctive sense about the consumer into the team. And yes, she will also beat you in shady song antakshari.

Having being regularly accused of inciting most dinner and non-dinner table arguments, Sumit claims the key role in founding of Pixights. But that is arguable. Sumit brings a unique combination of research expertise and strategic prowess to Pixights. As a market researcher and strategy consultant for over ten years, Sumit has worked across diverse sectors including Media, Telecom, Education, etc. He loves cricket, chess and (yikes) data! Apart from a post graduate degree from MICA, Sumit also holds an MBA from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

Debarati has over fourteen years of experience across consumer insights and management consulting and a life-long devotion to so-bad-that-it’s-so-good movies. She has worked across sectors like Media, Financial Services, Pharma, Luxury Goods, Retail etc. and enjoys being a jack (jill?)-of-all-trades.

Q. Who do you consider as your primary competitors and how do you differentiate ‘Pixights Consulting’?

Some of our products like Local Tadka have been developed for media industry for the first time. As far as we know there are no other provider of these services.

For some other studies like show or pilot evaluation, brand equity research etc we compete with traditional market research firms that also operate in media sphere. Our primary competitors here include The Nielsen Company, IMRB, Millward Brown, Third Eye, Dragonfly,Ormax etc.

As we are a specialist media research firm, our key differentiator has been the industry understanding we bring. Unlike a shampoo, where a researcher can perhaps use the product a few times and get an understanding of the product, TV soaps are dynamic and change with every episode. Basically, soaps are no shampoos! A shallow understanding of content gets picked up by respondents quickly and affects data quality. Because we are a specialist firm, consumption of TV content is a key factor in people selection for us.

The other key differentiator is our insistence on delivering actionable insights. We don’t hedge our bets while giving recommendations. This not only gives our clients a clear answer from the research, but also gives them confidence on the research findings. Imagine if the research firm does not believe in their own data and resorts to hedging their options, what confidence would that give the client?! But this happens more often than you would believe.

Q. As a media consultant, what are your observations about the recent trends and the best practices in the industry and what are the opportunities in store for your prospective clients?

Media space is in the midst of a positive flux right now. Both content and market is driving this.

With increased smart phone and mobile data penetration, there is a shift towards solo consumption. As the bandwidth increases, the on-demand content (as opposed to passively beamed content) would start to gain space. This is why you see TV networks pushing over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Hotstar, Sony Liv, Ditto TV etc. Solo viewing helps media planners allocate their funds more efficiently and hence improves the TV networks’ value proposition. But, solo viewing has brought in challenges too. The content strategies have to be (and are being) reworked to suit the needs of this consumer. You see the emergence of new age content providers like TVF, AIB etc who have a head start over traditional production houses as they have worked in digital space before.

The other key development in the space has been coverage of rural and small towns in TV ratings. Once again, this has made channels relook at content and if it caters to a broader audience.

Indian audiences are also looking at newer entertainment sources and are willing to pay for them. The point in case is Disney’s the Beauty and the Beast, a Broadway show that was staged in Mumbai recently. The ticket price ranged between Rs. 1000 to Rs. 5000. The production ran 10 house full shows over two weeks. Clearly, the Indian audiences are willing to pay for good entertainment.

Q. What are the future plans for ‘Pixights’ and where do you see yourself in the coming few years?

We continue to work with our clients to create methodologies that suit the needs of media industry. We are also working on a technology product that would help advertisers and broadcasters engage their consumer more. The prototype of the product is ready and in testing. The early results are very encouraging and exciting. We have started talking to VCs to help us scale up the prototype to a finished product.

Q. Any message for the budding entrepreneurs at MICA?

Our first advice to the budding entrepreneurs would be to do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it because its glamourous or because your friends are doing it. Starting up requires dedication and resilience- apart from sweat, tears, blood!

Once you are into it, you have to believe in yourself and your idea. Startups are like a roller coaster- one day everything will look rosy, the next day it will all come down crashing. The only way you would survive is if you believe.

But how do you get that belief in yourself and your idea? Before jumping in, think through your idea critically, make sure you are the right set of people to do it, validate your idea with your friends, colleagues, industry experts, professors. One thing common between poets and entrepreneurs is that both go on and on about their product to anyone willing to lend an ear. Take feedback and criticism constructively. Be flexible and go back to the drawing board if you identify a real issue with you plan. Even a company like Snapdeal pivoted when they realized they did not like the space they were in.

Finally and most importantly, JUST DO IT! Don’t keep sitting on the fence hoping that there would arrive a day when all your problems and responsibilities will magically vanish. We can assure you, that day would never come. Anytime you decide to startup, it would be in spite of all the challenges and opportunities in your life.