Emily Tan
Jan 29, 2015

Why Greg Armshaw left McCann for a visual-analytics startup

SINGAPORE - Greg Armshaw explains his decision to leave his role as chief technology catalyst at McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific for a post at startup visual-analytics firm Graymatics.

Greg Armshaw
Greg Armshaw

In his newly created role as head of application strategy, Armshaw is tasked with "taking the tech they've built and working with clients to craft specific and bespoke applications that help solve problems from objectionable content to e-commerce," he said. "To make this tech usable for both businesses and consumers."

Launched in 2011 in both Singapore and Silicon Valley, Graymatics has built what Armshaw describes as the world's leading engine for multimedia visual analytics. The startup has received funding from Citrix and the Prime Minister's Office of Singapore. 

Armshaw will continue to be based in Singapore and will report to Abhijit Shanbhag, CEO and president. 

A spokesperson for McCann explained that Armshaw's role at the agency would be absorbed by newly appointed chief digital officer Patrick Rona. 

Q&A: Campaign Asia-Pacific asked Armshaw to explain the reasons behind his career move.

You've been at McCann since 2006, what enticed you to leave?

It's two things, and the first is the timing of this particular tech. I've been working a lot around mobile and the evolution of social and you know, despite the fact that annually we are now sharing over 1 trillion photos across social networks and watch 72 billion hours of video on YouTube alone, the only information we could analyse from those images was the metadata. There is such a dearth of knowledge in an area, visual, that is so important to us as people. 

The second factor that interested me is brand safety. At a recent conference, the CMO of Kraft [Julie Fleishcer] said the brand rejected about 85 per cent of real-time online inventory due to fraud and brand safety—something that can only be determined by video and image analytics. 

At conferences on programmatic buying there's an implication by speakers that the buying placement is independent of the environment, that it follows the cookie and the customer. Often a brand representative will stand up and say, 'Actually, we are still kind of concerned about the environment', but it's all glossed over. 

And how did this lead you to Graymatics?

So Graymatics's R&D team has been working for the past four years to build an engine that enables automated real-time analysis and classification of videos and images. These tools allow content owners, brands, publishers, telcos, to organise and search image and video content. 

What are the potential applications of this capability?

There are quite a few. Currently there are tools that look out for objectionable content, and that's just been launched in China. So there's definitely the security element. There's uses in retail, e-commerce is a big area of growth. So far sites that let a user post a picture and search for a similar image are either searching with metadata or via an online community's recommendations. This would allow you to search for images that look like the one you've posted. There's also the possibility of analysing website use to be able to study what images appeal to which customer and why.

Why is the last part important? 

There is a paper by Theodore J Marchese, an educational professional in the US, and in it he explains that human cognition draws 80 per cent of its information from memory and only 20 per cent of it comes from external senses, what we perceive. So while we might both agree a painting is beautiful, what you perceive and understand of that beauty and what I perceive and understand may be very different. The ability to figure that part out would provide very powerful data. 

Could you tell us more about the launch in China? 

Graymatics has just launched two tools in China, ImageAssurance and VideoAssurance, that are designed to analyse hundreds of millions of images in real-time for objectionable content—such as pornography or violence.

It's already been put to use by U+, a Chinese mobile social network with a popular photo- and video-sharing function. It had about 30 million users sharing 50 million photos every month. Because some of that content was objectionable, the network was suspended by the Chinese government. So U+ integrated Graymatics' products and is now up and running and touts itself as the cleanest social network of its genre in China. 

So what's next for Graymatics?

It's ready to scale up. So far we have quite a few global clients based in Europe, US, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and India. They include telcos, publishers and retailers. My role is to help them keep growing. 


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