Friday, December 20, 2013

BBG host technology panel

WASHINGTON, DC - Measuring impact, supporting experimentation, defining a clear vision and motivating staff to drive change were topics highlighted in a technology panel hosted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors and featuring Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

"The story of Netflix has many parallels to our challenges here," said BBG Chair Jeff Shell in introducing Hastings. "It started out as a physical DVD-by-mail company, and now, Netflix is one of, if not the largest, streaming media company in the world. The parallels to the challenges of this agency as we transform, makes Netflix a great company to try to learn from."

The discussion with industry leaders was part of the BBG's fresh approach to help the agency navigate media's evolving landscape and build audience engagement.

Hastings noted, "Having a clear vision of your long-term goal helps move an organization forward."

He also provided examples of rapidly evolving overseas technology, saying, "When you look at the rate of smart phone adoption, it's pretty easy to see that Internet connectivity via phone devices is going to be almost ubiquitous."

After an opening conversation with Shell, Hastings was joined by Macon Philips, Coordinator of the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs, and Tom Cochran, Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Media, for a panel discussion on managing international media organizations in the digital age. The panel, moderated by the BBG's Director of Innovation, Robert Bole, covered a variety of topics from recruiting talent to utilizing engagement data.

When asked about how to attract and keep talent, Cochran, who prior to joining Atlantic Media served as Director of New Media Technologies for the White House, explained that the key is selling the mission. "Engineers want to solve big problems," he said. "We have to sell them [engineers] on the mission of media. We have to sell them on the fact that they can help change the world, the way news and information is consumed, and that's important."

Passion for an organization's mission, and the freedom to take risks, the panel concluded, will also drive internal innovators to collaborate and try to solve complex problems and overcome obstacles.

"One of the advantages of being in business rather than government is that mistakes are encouraged," Hastings added. "In business, we say fail a lot, fail fast, and figure it out... our fundamental mantra for employees is 'Freedom and Responsibility'. Our employees can do almost anything, but we educate them on responsibility."

Macon Phillips, who was instrumental in the development and implementation of the "We the People" online petition platform as the then Director of Digital Strategy at the White House, argued that media and technology are not just tools for informing people. Instead, media should be thought of as means of engaging audiences and giving them a stake in the endeavor. Thanks to digital, audiences are "more powerful. They have access to more information and they can organize themselves. They don't need governments and businesses as much." Rethinking strategy for engagement, therefore, is crucial, he concluded.

Understanding your audience is also a key to adapting successfully, the panelists agreed. "Without quantitative data, you can't tell if you are succeeding," Cochran explained. Using engagement metrics to understand not only who you are reaching, but how they are interacting with your content is especially important.