Finding Solid Ground in Times of Change

Chris Cali, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, DevSpark
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Chris Cali, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, DevSpark

Chris Cali, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, DevSpark

Long gone are the good old days of print, radio and broadcast. Things were predictable back then. These days it seems the only constant is change. New, disruptive technologies emerge quickly and unpredictably. Also, producing great content wouldn’t guarantee success. Today, Media & Entertainment(M&E) companies need to develop new content delivery systems to engage and retain audiences and create competitive advantage.

As if it weren’t hard enough to keep up with new technologies, M&E companies are also competing in an increasingly crowded field. When it comes to content, consumers have more choice than ever. And, traditional M&E companies aren’t just competing amongst each other; well-funded startups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are vying for a piece of the pie too.

With rapid change as a given, and assuming product leaders at M&E companies don’t have a crystal ball, three realities of digital product development emerge-

• What’s now new will be soon be old
• Failure is inevitable, and
• Trial and error is necessary, not optional

If you hold these to be self-evident and true the question is-How can M&E companies innovate and stay competitive most efficiently? If failure is inevitable, how do we fail cheaply and quickly?

  
M&E companies need to develop new content delivery systems to engage and retain audiences and create competitive advantage


M&E companies can build foundations to support innovation and sustain competitive advantage

Technology and innovationare nothing more than buzzwords if organizations aren’t structured in a way that makes them possible. Likewise, technology and innovation are expensive propositions if structured as traditional businesses.

For traditional M&E companies this means fundamentally altering the DNA of the organization. From our personal experience, and from what we’ve seen in the industry, the creation of innovation centers is the smart solution. The Dow Jones Innovation Group and NBC Universal Media Labs are just two of many examples. What have made these innovation groups so successful is that they are autonomous from the rest of the organization, often working out of different offices and divorced from corporate bureaucracies. They mimic startups by adopting agile methodologies and are focused more on hiring the right people than developing 5-year plans.

Organizing Assets & Embracing the Cloud

To make quick unencumbered innovation possible, M&E companies should invest in organizing media asset management systems, title metadata solutions and centralize rights management functions. Doing this will allow developers to work more quickly by providing ready access to content and tools while minimizing the need for them to work at the pace of other departments.

It’s also important to embrace cloud services such as AWS. When the goal is to get products to market quickly so they can be tested, waiting weeks for the IT department to provision new servers is unacceptable. The cloud offers tremendous scalability and flexibility that translate to cost savings. While the initial effort of moving to the cloud can be painful, it will pay dividends in the long run.

In addition to the cloud, M&E companies should invest in platforms that will allow their innovation teams to work and experiment more quickly. These include everything from analytics platforms to open-source CMS solutions to white label mobile platforms. The alternative of building everything from scratch is both time consuming and expensive.

Adopt a Winning Philosophy to Product Road-Mapping

When there is no such thing as a sure thing. New products should be considered a hypothesis that needs to be tested. Like any other hypothesis, educated people will have some idea of how likely it is for their hypothesis to be confirmed or rejected. For product leaders, this boils down to understanding how big of a ‘bet’ the product represents. Are you considering a wild new idea or something similar to what users have already demonstrated a preference? Determining this should be done early in the process and be used to inform the level investment and resource allocation.

When it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, product leaders should choose a constraint, price or time, to drive the process. If working with price as a constraint, it’s critical to define the feature-set required to actually deliver the value proposition of the product and use that as a driver to rigorously define the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). We advise our clients strongly against defining the price constraint in a silo; software products are complicated and it’s almost impossible to predict cost accurately without all relevant contributors, including your development partner, at the table working together.

In occasions when there are time-to-market considerations, time will clearly become the motivating constraint. There are other good reasons to choose the time constraint. Prime among them is that it allows for a looser definition of the MVP product allowing it to evolve over time. Often we’ve found that MVPs need to be more or less robust than initially thought. For those seeking to unleash the full potential of agile development, time should be the driving constraint. Finally, when it comes time to budgeting and contracting partners, do not invest every available dollar at the beginning, make sure to have extra funds on hand should the complexity of the MVP grow.

Choose the Right Partners. Ask Why

Choosing the right partners is not an easy task. There are so many options available to product leaders. From our experience, premised on the ideas of David Maister in ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm,’product leaders should choose a firm that fits the challenges and constraints of the task at hand:

• Brains Firm- Can solve unique and complicated challenges, expensive

• Experience Firm- Has done similar work successfully, reducing risk and stress
• Efficiency Firm- Works cheaper and faster than others, quality less critical

Once you’ve determined the type of firm you need, we recommend engaging them early in the process. They will help you determine an accurate budget and timeline and help you understand what is and isn’t possible. Further, the more time they have to understand the project and staffing needs the better equipped they’ll be to assemble an all-star team.

Finally, product leaders should relentlessly ask their partners to explain everything they do. This is especially important when it comes to building the team. Product leaders should understand exactly the value that every role and every person brings to the table. As trust grows this will become less necessary, but asking questions will help to build that trust quickly, or more reveal a partner who isn’t transparent. Once you’ve found a trusted partner, keep them close, keep them engaged and make the most of their knowledge often.

The Time is Now.

Connected TVs, Virtual Reality, Near Field Communication and other technologies on the horizon, promise to accelerate the rate of change in the industry. Some organizations have built foundations that would help them navigate an uncertain future. For those that haven’t, it’s not too late, but it might be soon. Either way, product leaders at M&E companies will increasingly be in a position to influence the success or failure of their organization. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s also an incredibly exciting time to be in the industry and contribute to a radical evolution of how people engage with content.

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