To Sniff Out New Trends In Your Industry, Hit The Road

Shahrzad Rafati, founder of BroadbandTV, spends half her time traveling, which gives her a leg up on new trends in mobile video.

Shahrzad Rafati is breathless with laughter. The CEO of BroadbandTV (BBTV) is recounting her recent airline experience, replete with delays. At one point, she had to make a quick decision about rerouting herself through a different airport, which both the Delta agent and her assistant advised against because she would have only 13 minutes to make the connection. “But the Delta guy told me there was a one percent chance,” she insists. So she hoofed it--in her high heels, she points out--and made the gate with minutes to spare.

Shahrzad Rafati

To hear Rafati tell it, there was no question she had to try and make it. “I promised the CEO of TED in Vancouver that I’d be there,” she says. Not only does Rafati stand by her appointments, she’s a self-professed nerd who devours TED videos on her phone while on the road, which she estimates is half of her time. No small surprise then, that she’s glued to the tiny screen through airports and planes across the globe. But it’s also fitting for the person at the helm of BBTV, which exists because of video content.

Specifically, uploads of films from major studios, or clips of professional sports. These videos were usually uploaded by fans, who in some cases weren’t even aware that what they were doing was considered piracy. "You're not going to stop piracy," Rafati told us back in 2011 when she landed a spot on Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business list. "Fans think of themselves as fans who just want to share a great Kobe dunk."

BBTV’s technology operates like a heat-seeking missile, scouring the web to identify copyrighted content. Then it’s able to sell ads and share that revenue with the licensed owner of the work. For example, between 2009 and 2011, Rafati says BBTV claimed and monetized hundreds of thousands of videos for the NBA alone.

The company is still specializing in protection, optimization, and monetization of video, but it also operates several YouTube channels including TGN, Opposition, WIMSIC that act as agents for content partners, the total of which now numbers 20,000 across the entire network. In the last 30 days, BBTV’s attracted over 2.5 billion views on YouTube, according to independent analysis firm .

Keeping up with BBTV’s content partners and growing that network is what keeps Rafati traveling. It’s also what inspires and informs her creativity, she says. Being in Brazil for the FIFA World Cup was certainly a culmination of one of the Iranian-born Rafati’s lifelong dream. “I grew up in the Middle East; for me, football is the #1 sport,” she explains. Though she can remember watching a match along with a throng of others all on their phones in--you guessed it--an airport, Rafati describes the excitement of being in the stadium for Brazil’s final match against the Netherlands. “It was a highlight,” she exclaims. But either watching on the phone or in person, Rafati notes each is a way to get a glimpse of the culture, especially in both these countries as BBTV expands into each. “We look at how [viewers] consume content,” she says.

Though Rafati says Rio and its beaches are very beautiful, she was particularly drawn to observing the locals and meeting new talent in the form of independent content creators. “It’s very inspiring for me to experience new behavior when it comes to consumption of video,” she says. In Brazil, where Rafati discovered the female demographic is “definitely higher,” this has translated to BBTV starting Kandesa, a lifestyle channel filled with videos on health, beauty, and fashion for women. After a soft launch, BBTV continues to gathers subscribers and feedback for the new effort, which is slated to make its official debut by the end of summer. “We want to continue to connect to the right audience as we see a shift in consumption.”

When she’s not watching other people watch videos, Rafati loves to immerse herself in films. Her favorite: Minority Report, though she’s recently watched and enjoyed Twelve Years a Slave, The Great Gatsby, and Elysium. And when she was on her way to Venice, she watched the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday. On her phone, of course.

[Image: Flickr user Atilla Kefeli]

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