NAB 2018

Execs Offer Disruption Survival Tips

Media companies need to manage expectations as they navigate through change. They can’t adopt the mentality that they always need to be on the leading edge of new platforms and trends, and they also need to recognize and admit to failure when it comes.

LAS VEGAS — Disruption is far from finished having its way with the media industry, but some principles will hold its leaders in good stead to get through.

One of them is that the audience will largely drive the way forward, Amy Emmerich, chief content officer at Refinery29, said at the NAB Show on Monday.

“I always say the audience is my boss,” she said. “If we make any misstep, they very loudly tell us.”

But following just what the audience is saying is a nuanced line between the science of data and the art of its interpretation. When Refinery29 launched a video operation three years ago, for instance, it couldn’t simply just look at the text the audience loved and make a video version of it.

Emmerich said that instinct became pivotal to lay on top of the data she and her colleagues were looking at, leading to a creative process not unlike making TV pilots but rolling them out more quickly and daily.

“It’s about finding a story in the data” that makes all the difference in new content and product development, said Marian Pittman, EVP of digital strategy and research for Cox Media Group.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Shepherding media companies through disruption also involves some heavy paradigm-shifting thinking at legacy companies in terms of how they see themselves. Ginny Morris, chair-CEO of Hubbard Radio, says that’s become de rigueur in an industry that has been roiled — first by satellite radio, then podcasts and streaming services.

“We think of ourselves as a business matching an audience with a marketer to try to sell a product and not keeping ourselves locked in a traditional audio paradigm,” Morris said. Hubbard’s thinking is now “holding close to the values of being a broadcaster but not being hostage to a delivery system.”

She said it’s pivotal to be receptive and ready to embrace new delivery systems such as the voice platform exemplified by Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“We see that as a tremendous opportunity to put radio back in the home,” Morris said.

Wending through disruption isn’t just about audiences, though: it’s also crucial to build internal scaffolding to handle it.

At EVS, managing director and CEO Muriel DeLathouwer said that the IP transition has required an enormous amount of change management and convincing all on board that “it’s a great opportunity to rethink everything.”

At Cox, a “Garage Projects” effort gives the company a chance to “hack ourselves,” Pittman said. Each year, it entails marshaling a diverse group of about 13 staffers from across the company to an off-site location where they tackle a pressing challenge and present potential solutions to executives after their five-day retreat.

“It helped us to create a culture of design thinking,” Pittman said.

Standing still, the executives agreed, is simply no longer an option. “The greatest risk to our organization is stagnation,” Morris said.

But media companies also need to manage expectations as they navigate through change. They can’t adopt the mentality that they always need to be on the leading edge of new platforms and trends, and they also need to recognize and admit to failure when it comes.

At Cox, that meant recently shutting down a five-year-old pureplay business in which it had devoted considerable resources.

“Announcing and embracing failure is not so easy,” Pittman said. Especially when you’re in the midst of it, it’s really challenging. But I’m really proud of our parent company embracing that and saying it’s OK.”

Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2018 news here.


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