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Interviews on the Future of Media

If you want to understand how leaders in media, marketing and advertising think about their changing world, then you don’t want to miss the interviews coming from the ARIA convention center during CES 2018. For the second year, the C Space Influencer Studio will highlight notable voices from C Space, the section of CES that’s built around content and creativity.

In videos that CES will distribute during and after the show, executives and experts will explore what today’s technology trends mean for their businesses and industries. The Influencer Studio will be at the center of C Space on a can’t-miss stage in the main hallway. The conversations will illuminate the insights and ideas shaping 2018 and beyond.

In fact, the conversation has already started. As a preview of the Influencer Studio, i3 chatted with three executives you might see at C Space. Read on to see how each leader is facing the future. Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Steve Swartz, President and CEO of Hearst

At Hearst, a storied past is the future's foundation.

Steve Swartz is the president and CEO of Hearst, a company that’s been in the content business since William Randolph Hearst took over the San Francisco Examiner in 1887. The company’s portfolio now includes more than 360 businesses, from newspapers and magazines to television stations and business data providers.

How do you absorb new companies into the longstanding organization that is Hearst?

We have a history of moving into adjacent fields and finding new pockets of growth. William Randolph Hearst started with a single newspaper but quickly raced across the country to jump into the New York City newspaper market. He then covered some 20 percent of the country with newspapers, and decided that magazines looked like a great adjacent growth business. Before he died he bought one of the first television stations.

It’s part of our culture to look for new entrepreneurs and new talent — never to give up on a business we’ve been in for a long time, but to help that business build while looking for new opportunities. That reputation helps us with faster-growing entrepreneurial companies that want a good home. Our 130 years gives us an impressive calling card.

What technologies are you looking at for future business expansions?

Our Chief Technology Officer Phil Wiser and his team are looking at how we can harness artificial intelligence to gather and understand data to help us create new products, and how we can take advantage of innovations in augmented reality and virtual reality. Of course, we haven’t had the mobile phone for all that long. We’re probably spending most of our time today trying to optimize for that, with the understanding that something better may come along. Then we’ll try to pivot as we have for 130 years.

You mentioned artificial intelligence. How is it impacting your business today?

Today it is mostly on our free-to-the-consumer mobile and websites. It’s helping us decide where to focus our content. It helps us with headline selection, picture selection and layout. That does not replace the creativity of our writers, editors and videographers, but it’s a tool that helps them understand what’s happening in the world on a real-time basis.

Do you see artificial intelligence taking more of a creative role in, say, producing a headline by itself?

There are already machine learning programs that are trying to write headlines or write stories. I happen to be chairman of the Associated Press, which has done some interesting work in areas like machine automated earnings reports on companies. Clearly, machines will play a greater role, but at least for the foreseeable future, I think the maximum amount of creativity will still be provided by individuals. We’re trying to get smarter about using machines and data analysis to help us make better decisions, but the individuals are still making the decisions.

One of the limiting growth factors for content business is that people have a finite amount of time. Is the content business a zero-sum game?

In 2018, I would say at least 30 percent of the company’s overall profits will come from business content, business data and business software. We think this is the way for part of our company to cut through all of this clutter. The businesses we have on the B2B side are proving that if you have data or software that is used in your clients’ day-to-day activities, that’s a very powerful place to be.

Peter Naylor, Senior Vice President of Advertising Sales at Hulu

Hulu clears future ad buyers a fresh path.

Peter Naylor is the senior vice president of Advertising Sales at Hulu. Prior to Hulu, he was executive vice president of Digital Media Sales for NBCUniversal. Launched in 2008, Hulu describes itself as “the only TV service that brings together live, on-demand originals, and library content all in one place, across living room and mobile devices,” including news, sports and entertainment.

Hulu has been evolving, especially in advertising. How would you describe where that evolution is now?

When we started 10 years ago, we were 100 percent consumed on a computer. Today, it’s only nine percent. We’ve put the TV back on the TV in that 78 percent of Hulu viewing happens in a television environment. Ten years ago, we were 100 percent free and today we’re the only subscription service with both an ad-supported on-demand offering and a commercial-free plan. That’s an evolution of our business model. Ten years ago, we were 100 percent acquired and licensed content. Today, originals are a big part of our growth strategy, in addition to our robust library.

Today, we sell audiences horizontally because we know marketers want to buy customers, viewers, and consumers — their target audiences. We’ve also embraced the two-way conversation in advertising with interactive ads, and we’ve developed more creative opportunities for brands with custom content and ad solutions.

You offer viewers a platform choice — ad-supported or commercial free. What surprises you about how people choose?

For the commercial-free choice, many people would think, “Oh, it’s young rich people.” But no. It’s not about income or age or gender. It’s about their attitude towards ads.

There are ad acceptors and ad avoiders. Most people are ad acceptors. For them, relevance is key. At Hulu, we leverage first- and third-party data to increase relevance in our ad-supported offering. When we talk data, buyers might think programmatic and the promise of efficient pricing. To me, the promise of programmatic, what we call AdvancedTV, comes from its core tenets of data and automation. The promise is that you serve the right ad to the right person at the right time. I maintain that most people don’t hate ads, they hate irrelevance. Do a better job of steering the right ad to the right viewer, especially in a limited ad environment, and you’ll find acceptance.

What about data’s effect on Hulu’s future content offerings?

It’s undeniable, data will inform a lot of creative decisions. But once everyone has mastered data, then guess what comes back to the forefront? Creativity and judgment when it comes to content.

What words of advice does Hulu have for conventional broadcast marketers in the new economy?

Challenge the long-established assumptions you have. Re-examine the playbook — 15- and 30-second ads work, but you have such a creative opportunity, I would call it a creative imperative, to move beyond them. The creative outlets and the palette available on Hulu is vast. Considering that two of our major video-on-demand competitors are commercial free, I feel like it is a real opportunity for us to lead the way and help marketers understand exactly where this is all going.

What are some big unknowns you’re excited to find out?

What happens when the new living room is a vehicle, as with automated cars? What happens when VR and AR hit critical mass — does storytelling leave a rectangular-shaped screen for an immersive setting? Those are questions that I’m sure many people at CES say they know the answers to, but I think the real answers are going to rock everyone’s worlds.

David Levy, President of Turner, a Time Warner Company

At Turner, traditional TV embraces the digital future.

David Levy is president of Turner, a Time Warner company. Founded in 1970, the media giant owns and operates a highly diversified brand portfolio that includes recognizable names like CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang, ELEAGUE, truTV and Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

How does Turner navigate a shapeshifting media marketplace?

There’s tons of disruption going on, but disruption means opportunity. We’re focused on creating the best experiences across our portfolio. Everything we do centers around engagement, forming an emotional connection between our brands, content and fans.

TV is still popular, but it’s not all being consumed live. You should have strong brands, strong properties and figure out a viewer experience that moves forward, whether it’s limited commercials, or it’s branded entertainment or branded content, or it’s exposing content across different platforms — mobile, digital, over-the-top or through the distributor. I call them omni-experiences.

Past advertisers might have used the same 30-second creative across all platforms. Today, through technology and data, they produce advertising for specific platforms like 30-second TV commercials or 10-second mobile spots.

Where is the significant overlap between TV and the digital sphere? Who ultimately prevails?

Big media companies want technology and the big technology platforms want creative capabilities. What makes digital appealing to advertisers is the data, audience-based targeting and analytics. What makes television attractive is the quality premium content and its scale. Each wants what the other has, so you see this race towards the middle. The winner is going to be the large media companies, like Turner, with the reach and the quality, premium programming. We’re leading the charge to modernize advertising by combining the best of television with the best of digital.

With multi-channel millennials as large sections of your audience, what says you’re headed in the right direction with them?

With platform expansion, shifting viewer patterns and tons of available content in various forms and lengths, success is no longer going to be measured solely by an outdated ratings system. Millennials are mobile-dominant, so we need to think about content that fits that device. Research shows that a third of video viewing is mobile for plurals and millennials.

They’re multiplatform natives. They’re the most diverse generation I’ve ever seen. They have no fear of technology. In fact, they embrace it and immerse themselves in content. They create their own content when they can. They like to discover and share.

It’s not just taking what worked on television and slapping it on a phone. It’s about developing specific content for that environment and experience. It’s about the length of content. It’s about the quality. Data will give us a better understanding as we create deeper and more integrated experiences for our fans across platforms.

As we develop new intellectual properties, we should make sure that we’re on digital, that we have a gaming strategy, a mobile strategy and a consumption strategy. Maybe open access to use our IP in non-traditional ways. They love choice and they love control. We leverage this through tailored content on Cartoon Network, Super Deluxe, Adult Swim and Bleacher Report.

What role will future technology play in how Turner tells original stories?

We’re tinkering now with content on Super Deluxe where we can change the story as it moves along, allowing viewers to participate in or take control of the program. We do this through proprietary technology that allows us to synthesize audience metrics and sentiment in real time. It’s a truly immersive and community-driven experience.

Real-time information can help shape the way storytelling goes in the future.

James Kotecki