"The single largest technology transformation since our inception"
May 4, 2017
Turner owns and operates some of the most successful and recognizable brands on the planet. But as disruption continues in the industry, and the “race to the center” becomes the ultimate goal, a lot has to happen. That is why the next year and a half will bring tremendous change within Turner. In fact, Turner Chief Technology Officer, Jeremy Legg, calls it, “the single largest technology transformation since our inception.” Broadcast technologies have traditionally required a mix of software and hardware—a massive amount of hardware. Turner is converting much of its infrastructure to a more modern, flexible, software-based solution, as well as centralizing its entire technological operations – from app development, to streaming, to IT infrastructure.
Recently, we sat with Jeremy to learn more about the transition, his team and what it takes to make this transition a reality. But first, here's what Jeremy said on the future of TV:
Q. Tell us about the technology transition that is underway.
Jeremy Legg: John Martin, our CEO, has challenged the entire company to reimagine TV. Our Global Technology & Operations (GTO) team is doing its part by changing our underlying broadcast technology to an IP infrastructure, migrating our physical data centers, applications and content libraries to the cloud and infusing data (either consumer, performance or log data) into both our technologies and decision making.
The result will be the ability to adapt to new business models—whether it’s direct-to-consumer, ad-supported, or transactional—we’ll have the infrastructure to support each. Most importantly, we’ll strengthen our ability to enable new consumer capabilities. Personalized networks, video-on-demand playlists (similar to what Spotify does for music) and content discovery/playback with social media are a few of the capabilities we have or are building.
With this new technology, we may choose to create multiple versions of our television channels, or personalized channels, for our fans. For example, if a viewer interested in drama tunes in to TNT and a professional sports game is being aired, we could have another iteration of the channel available to air the regularly programmed drama content, satisfying both the sports and drama fans.
We’ll be able to target ads in a similar way, combining data captured from online and television resources. We can provide more relevant ads in this way and ultimately generate better ad revenue for Turner.
Q. How does the team you lead, the Global Technology & Operations (GTO), drive transformative value for Turner?
Jeremy: One of our key roles is to marry technology with business strategy. If we want to create great products, new business models and ultimately “fans,” one cannot exist without the other. In fact, technology has become the primary enabler of our business strategy. Our recent endeavors into direct-to-consumer, content personalization, and data management platforms are all spearheaded by our technology group (GTO).
Television, as we think of it today, must incorporate “broadband/software” capabilities that consumers have come to expect through mobile devices and set top boxes provided by vendors who are not traditional cable and satellite operators. The way in which we are reimagining our entire technology infrastructure is driving value to consumers, advertisers and our company.
Q. What results do you expect this technology transformation to deliver?
Jeremy: Our revenue-generating businesses have been our near-term focus. We’ve increased our digital programmatic revenues and enabled our linear advertising businesses to sell audience targets, not just Nielsen demographics, supporting an entirely new sales method. We’ve implemented audience-based targeting (across linear and digital) for targeted marketing as well, which has resulted in viewership increases across our properties. In addition, we have acquired a majority stake in (iStreamPlanet) and made equity investments in multiple companies (You.i TV, SDVI, Samba TV) and have incorporated these technologies into our overall technology plan.
As I said earlier, this will enable us to implement entirely new and consumer friendly personalization capabilities across our consumer applications. Once our technology transformation is complete, we believe we’ll be at the top of the market in terms of media and broadcast technical capabilities.
Q. How does your team foster a culture that consistently generates new value from technology and communicate that value to customers?
Jeremy: Media companies have often had a “translation gap” between their brands and technology groups. The primary way to bridge the gap is an easily explained shared vision. This vision establishes functional use cases (like personalization, new advertising formats, distribution methods, consumer data collection methods) that create a payoff for brands and consumers, but also are grounded in underlying technologies and architectures like IP routing, cloud services, data and algorithms) that are fluent to technologists. Our developers and brands both must think like fans and translate those wishes into great products.
Turner strives to create a culture that fosters collaboration, innovation, transparency and rewards for creative thinking and new ideas. We’re integrating this into the fabric of the company, from the multi-year redesign of our campus to supporting grassroots organizations like Ladies in Tech at Turner. We have training events, employee self-development initiatives, and hackathons.
Within GTO, we formed a Change Champions team to help us drive change and understand technology team needs to deliver our aggressive Technology Roadmap. One item they identified was the need for training and education, and as a direct result, we created GTO University, with “colleges” that address various technical disciplines such as cloud, information security, and software development. Turner technologists also can take advantage of tuition reimbursement and professional growth and leadership courses.
Q. Tell us about some of your lessons learned throughout your career.
Jeremy: I truly believe we learn more from our failures than successes. Two important non-technical lessons learned come to mind. The incentive structures, communication patterns, personal interactions, and business KPI’s create divergent priorities amongst teams. Communication is the invisible glue that binds strategy and execution together. I’ve watched major initiatives fail and succeed, both with equally smart people, over this very issue. We must communicate clearly and most importantly, regularly, to ensure that diverse teams row in the same direction.
Also, technology enables multiple methods to complete a goal. Technologists can use multiple programming languages, cloud versus on-premises hardware, out-of-the-box or custom software, contractors or employees all to accomplish the same objective. I believe technologists should be dispassionate and unbiased and let the data lead them to the right answer. If we make decisions based on emotion, we may pay the price for that.
Q. What is the greatest challenge you and your organization still need to address in driving strategic value from technology?
Jeremy: Media companies, particularly those with multiple brands, have a unique challenge–we experience every media use case. Turner has live production (CNN, NBA, NCAA), animation (Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, classic movies (TCM), our direct-to-consumer product (FilmStruck), big budget general entertainment TV production (TNT, TBS), and reality (truTV) television. These media use cases exist across linear and digital as well as paytv, direct-to-consumer, ad-supported, non-ad-supported, download-to-own and rental business models.
Our greatest challenge is balancing a diverse portfolio with the desire to be best-in-class in each category. Netflix, Hulu, Snapchat, Facebook are all highly successful companies, but each largely has a singular focus. We are judged by our weakest link against best-in-class competition. Responding to this challenge requires three things: (1) platform-based decision making, (2) a hyper-competitive spirit and (3) a direct connection between the technology we develop and how our business can best serve our fans. We must increase our throughput in ways never before needed to meet the challenges in our industry. I’m confident we are on the right track.