For its Most Powerful Women in Cable edition, CableFAX: The Magazine’s Billy Miltenberg asked a trio of young, rising digital stars about new-media trends and whether or not the field has provided enough opportunities for women.
The magazine presented excerpts from that session. Below is a full transcript. Our panelists are: Rebecca Glashow, SVP Digital Media Distribution, Discovery Communications; Jennifer Kavanagh, VP, Digital and New Media, Oxygen Media; and Lisa Choi Owens, GM, Scripps Networks Digital.
CableFAX The Magazine: What will be the biggest changes in Digital and New Media in the next few years?
Rebecca Glashow: The biggest industry-wide changes will be in the way we’re consuming video. Obviously, there are many more ways to access video on many platforms—mobility, over the top, Google TV. The biggest changes will be in the competitive ways to deliver video content. How do we find a way to engage the consumers on these platforms that’s complimentary to our television subscription business and not competitive with it? How do you work in mobility, how do you work on iPads and other devices with different screen sizes without creating a competitive way to access your network but creating a complimentary way to deeper engage fans, to give them stuff they can’t get on a TV set because it’s more interactive, and give them an enhanced experience on these multiple platforms versus giving them a competitive way to access our content.
Jennifer Kavanagh: The two biggest changes are going to be ones that have already started to happen. The continued shift from the wired web to the mobile web, and folded into that, how social media plays into everything. The platform shift is really about the fact that we’re connected all day long, and not primarily because we’re sitting at our computers. It’s a shift that content companies and the marketplace are going to be forced to think more and more strategically about, and I would venture to guess that it’s probably sooner than they thought they’d have to. Speaking specifically as an entertainment company with entertainment content, as people choose the web for all things, the onus is on us to understand what this ultimately means for our business, where the next opportunities are going to come from, and how measurement and monetization change. It’s challenging, but the sooner we understand these changes and can strategically plan for them, the sooner we’ll be able to extract value from them.
Lisa Choi Owens: One that I believe, and certainly hope for, will be a catch-up period of the business models to match the adoption rates of the consumer. To expound on that, the rate of change in the adoption of new technologies, platforms, solutions and media options for the user has exponentially grown, and there have rightfully been a lot of complaints that business models haven’t caught up as those behavioral changes have, but I believe that will be forthcoming. Secondly, there will continue to be a proliferation of new technology, and therefore over the next few years, I don’t see any kind of standard being created across all of the platforms. If you were to give me a 2-3 year horizon, I’m not sure that standards will be established. So I think things will continue to proliferate, but I think within 3-5 years, we’ll start to se some standardization on platforms.
New digital strategies will seek engagement with viewers away from their TV’s. What are you doing to prepare in an environment that can change on a daily basis with emerging platforms?
RG: As an industry, we are supportive of the concept of “TV everywhere”, where consumers clearly want more flexibility in viewing and more mobility and access to content on multiple platforms. The industry as a whole is incented to preserve the service bundle because it allows us to create the kind of content that we want to get out there, and so TV everywhere allows us to deliver to subscribers the kind of content and flexibility that they pay for and want access to. At the same time, given that when there is measurement, we’re preserving the advertising model and potentially growing that model, assuming measurement comes into play at some point next year. On the one hand, it’s about how do you deliver video in flexible ways while not cannibalizing your video service, and secondly, we look at these new devices as ways to connect deeper with our fans, and ways to engage potentially new fans, and the level of interactivity you have on portable devices allows us to find ways to give people a “two-screen” experience, where we know they’re sitting on the couch and watching TV and they also might have their laptop, iPad or mobile device. So we’re creating apps, whether it be for the iPad, iPhone, or Android… were giving people ways to play along and engage more with the characters in our shows, while not distracting them to the point where they’re going to shut off the television set—it’s aimed to be complimentary. There are multiple ways to experiment and grow relationships with your consumer even further than you can with regular television.
JK: I think you have to ask yourself what is it that you’re trying to achieve. This is where the social media piece begins to fold in, because for a long time—well not a long time, considering “a long time” in digital is a minute—the focus was on content everywhere, making sure that we had our shows everywhere, and in the case of Oxygen, everywhere she was. It was really interesting for us to plot social media at the center of that thinking—knowing that our ultimate objective was to create an experience that encouraged viewing on the linear channel, but now we’ve become intent on “super-serving” her. We’ve discovered that there’s an appetite for co-viewing behaviors, and I would say it’s platform agnostic—the show itself is one aspect of it, and the connectivity to talent, friends and other fans talking in real time about what they see is the other part of it. We realize that it’s a responsibility of ours to create this experience everywhere she is when she decides to consume it. We’re set on improving the experience for the viewer—understanding what they want is something we’ve invested a considerable amount of time and money researching and understanding, and that’s ultimately helped us construct what was originally Oxygen Live in a ‘.com’ platform. But then this social entertainment experience expanded to TV with Oxygen Live TV, and then ultimately to the app, which is a co-viewing app currently available on the iPhone. So that’s what we detected early, and that was our response to it.
LCO: I don’t think that new digital strategies are trying to take people away from their television, and the television set is not going away. In fact, if you look at the data, there are now more television sets per household, and that number continues to grow. TV sets are getting better—cooler, bigger, flatter, with more features and functions. I do believe that some of the business models around TV will change, but I don’t think that TV and new media are an either/or proposition. Viewers want to continue to be engaged, they want relevant content, and since the beginning of time and in the future will want to be entertained. I think the biggest factor here is that people actually just want more control over when and how they get to see their content, but I still think that largely, a lot of times people want to be programmed too. They still want to have information and entertainment curated, and with the advent of new mobile devices we have the opportunity for hyper-engagement. So what we need to do on the programming side—because I don’t have a crystal ball—is to just make sure that we continue to make excellent high-quality content in different formats. It’s not always going to be simply the 30 minute or one hour programming format, but we need to continue to create excellent content, and we have to continue to have strong relationships and consumer engagement. If we do that, I think we’ll be able to not only survive but triumph, even amidst all the change.
Are there issues you’d like to see the Digital and New Media field address?
RG: On one hand, as an industry we have been doing a good job by championing TV Everywhere, which may have been born from one programmer or operator but a lot of people have gotten behind it. So I think in that sense there has been a lot of working together on both sides of the fences to move forward [with] what’s best for the industry. As far as the digital media field, at this point, I don’t even think it is “new media,” its just getting away from the concept that this is a small silo on the side. People are consuming video and media on a multitude of devices right now. I don’t even think “new” applies anymore, which is why we just call it digital, because ultimately its just recognizing that—and I think we’re getting there—that this isn’t just a side project, it’s recognizing how we interact with the consumer in every touching point we have available. I think that as an industry, we’re recognizing that it’s not just a television set anymore. It’s all about—how do we enhance our relationships and embrace the technology instead of avoiding or running from it? I think the cable industry, for the most part, has done a great job of taking advantage of new technology and not running from it.
JK: I think the way that we typically define TV is starting to change. We live in a very device-driven world now, and when we talk about TV, especially in the context of cable, we think about content consumed via broadcast or cable channels. But that’s beginning to change with the advent of web enabled TV, like Google TV, that is beginning to break now. So even this early view of “total audience measurement”… there’s serious thinking around redefining the value of content as this shift takes place on all platforms, and I think the definition of TV is being redefined. It’s going to be about platform preference in the moment—I can sit down in front of my TV, but I may not be consuming content in a linear way, so I think it’s all starting to be shaken up and turned on its head. I think that the people that will come out successfully on the other side are going to be the people that have made it a very serious and focused part of the planning process now.
LCO: To strip away the notion that it’s only about technology. When you do that, you naturally are not going to attract quite as many women, or as diverse a talent pool as you might if you were to describe it as it really ought to be—media. I look at a mobile phone as a media device. Practically every device that you carry around with you that has any connectivity can be called a media device, and there are so many different ways that you can engage with that device, all of which are potential jobs and career opportunities for people, whether it’s creating content, understanding technology, thinking about the user experience, etc. So I think we need to broaden the definition of digital to include broader generic concepts of general media consumption and entertainment because that’s really what it is. If we can do that, we can really capture anyone’s attention from a career perspective because it’s an incredibly fast-paced, ever-changing industry that I think will have the most change versus a lot of other industries, and all that change creates opportunity.
Has cable come far enough in the last few years in terms of senior executive opportunities for women?
RG: I obviously am going to reflect on my own experience here, but I work for an organization that annually has multiple women in this edition of CableFAX. Yes, we have female GMs running the majorities of our networks, but I work along side a tremendous amount of women at Discovery Communications, and I’ve seen and been very impressed with people at all levels of the company and how well it is being represented by woman. My experience so far has been very supportive.
JK: When I started in cable, Oxygen was being run by Gerry Laybourne and Lisa Gersh. And after the NBCU acquisition, Lauren Zalaznick, who oversees women and lifestyle—Bravo included—was at the helm, and Bravo was being run by a very talented GM. Outside of the NBCU landscape, I can point to so many women who are in executive leadership positions, and I feel that that’s the sign of—and I’m reticent to even say progress, because I feel like it’s been that way for a while—but I think were beginning to look at opportunities as less gender driven, and more as it just is what it is. Women are smart, present, running successful companies and setting lots of precedents. That to me signals a tremendous amount of opportunity for women at the highest levels of cable.
LCO: Goodness, I don’t have my hands on all of the different reports, but from my own personal observations, the cable industry has provided a lot of opportunities for women. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here, and that is certainly reflected among senior management here at Scripps. I know that it doesn’t happen overnight, but if we do a better job of marketing ourselves away from strictly cable and towards entertainment, media, and consumer engagement, we will have an easier time attracting more diverse talent.
What kinds of cable opportunities in the cable industry are not as open to women as they should be, if any?
RG: I’ve worked on all kinds of new technology, the “next new thing,” 3D, all aspects of the organization. There’s not one branch here at Discovery that I work with that doesn’t have women represented. I can only speak for my own experience, but I think that cable is very open to bringing women in, ultimately to find the best person for the job. I’ve been here for four years, and I can judge that there’s nothing but encouragement for whatever your background is, or whatever your sex is. They aren’t hindrances for getting ahead in this organization.
JK: I thought about this question, and I tried to find an answer to it. I went through many different cross-functions within cable not limited to just programming, development or digital, but legal, finance, and even looked around our own microcosm. Well, our CFO is female, our head of branch strategy is female, our head of press is female, our head of digital is female, our head of development is female. So I honestly can’t tell you that there’s a glaring place where there needs to be attention and focus. What I do see is women doing an amazing job cross-functionally in space not limited to just NBC Universal, and I think that’s the message. I think it’s less about there being a need for improvement, and more “hey take a look around, if you’re a woman whose looking to map a successful career in any industry, it’s happening in cable.” There’s precedent in cable, and there’s unlimited opportunity in cable. I don’t think there’s a juicy answer to that one, and if there is a juicy one, it’s probably going to be based on a micro-experience, which hasn’t been the case for me.
LCO: I’m not sure that I’d agree with how that question is posed. It’s not that certain opportunities are not open to women. Rather there’s a self selection process of certain functions that groups of people are interested in. My guess, without looking at the stats, is that there are fewer women that have an IT background or are educated in that, so therefore they probably just self-select out of jobs that are more technically oriented. So it’s not so much that the industry is not allowing women to have those opportunities, but I would say that in technology, and probably even things like finance, there’s a bit of a self selection process to be perfectly honest with you. But I haven’t personally seen that the cable industry is making an effort to not recruit women into those fields.