A WarnerMedia exec describes the challenges of uniting HBO, Turner, and Warner Bros. and launching the company's new innovation lab
- WarnerMedia's new incubator arm, the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab, is helping foster collaboration across the newly restructured media company.
- It's working with HBO, Turner, and Warner Bros. to conquer major data infrastructure challenges tied to WarnerMedia's upcoming streaming service, and build a content recommendation engine.
- The lab is also building a facility in New York, where it will test some of its consumer-facing concepts, such as augmented-reality or other immersive content experiences.
- "We really want to start pushing the boundaries of what a traditional media company can become," Jesse Redniss, general manager of WarnerMedia Innovation Lab, told Business Insider.
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WarnerMedia is laying the foundation for HBO, Turner, and Warner Bros. to work more closely together, with AT&T's resources at its disposal. A new incubator arm, called the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab, is helping out.
The innovation lab, announced in January, is helping to solve problems and identify areas to invest in across the company, including designing ways for people to discover content in WarnerMedia's upcoming streaming service and finding new uses for 5G technology, Jesse Redniss, the lab's general manager, who also leads data strategy and product innovation at Turner, told Business Insider.
"I've spent the last eight months of my life not only doing data-strategy and data-privacy work," Redniss said, "but also collaborating with all the different executive leaders across HBO, Warner Brothers, and the Turner properties to help identify, what does an innovation operation mean for us?"
The emerging WarnerMedia
WarnerMedia was reorganized this year into four main business units, under CEO John Stankey: entertainment, led by Bob Greenblatt; news and sports, led by Jeff Zucker; studio and gaming, part of Warner Bros.; and affiliate and ad sales, led by chief revenue officer, Gerhard Zeiler.
Before, WarnerMedia's three main companies largely operated independently. HBO was the premium-TV brand. Turner ran the cable-TV channels. And Warner Bros. had its TV studio, film, and gaming businesses.
Bringing WarnerMedia's brands closer together, and under the watch of a handful of execs, ruffled some feathers this year. Former HBO boss Richard Plepler left the network he helped define because he wanted more autonomy, CNBC reported. Former Turner president David Levy and former truTV president, Chris Linn, also exited this year.
The new structure of WarnerMedia demands a deeper level of collaboration across WarnerMedia, and its new parent company, AT&T.
AT&T's advertising arm, Xandr, has also been working with WarnerMedia. And WarnerMedia is rolling out a streaming service later this year that will include content from all of its entertainment brands.
The discovery problem
The innovation lab is currently working with the teams behind WarnerMedia's upcoming subscription service on its content-recommendation engine and user interfaces and experiences, among other efforts.
"One of the big things that we want to solve for and be a differentiator with is discovery on our platforms," Redniss said.
One of the goals is to be able to personalize the user experience to different types of subscribers, based on whether they're cinephiles who want to dive deep into the library of Turner Classic Movies or sports fans looking for highlights from Bleacher Report, for example.
The first step is combining the massive catalogs of content and data from HBO, Turner, and Warner Bros. with common tags and taxonomy that makes them easily searchable. It is a common data infrastructure challenge that the lab is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to solve. The lab is also looking at how to use data from AT&T's wireless, broadband, and pay-TV operations personalize the experience further.
"These are things that a lot of companies do, but we are three massive companies that are now coming together and we're adding in AT&T to that all at the same time," Redniss said. "Setting that foundation is where we want to leverage machine learning and AI to help us accelerate that process, and then use it again to help us get to the next level of operations."
This week, the lab announced it was building a 20,000-square-foot space in New York, where it will test some of its consumer-facing concepts, such as augmented-reality experiences or voice technology. The space is set to open early next year.
"We want to fail fast as a lab versus deploy something out in a huge direct-to-consumer offering that may or may not work," Redniss said. "That's part of scaling and building an application and platform business."
The incubator was ushered in by Stankey, the CEO of WarnerMedia. But its ethos - to "fail fast," as Redniss said - seems to stem from neither WarnerMedia's Hollywood heritage or AT&T's Dallas roots. The saying is a mantra of Silicon Valley. It demonstrates how the media company is trying to think like its tech-savvy competitors, such as Netflix, Amazon, and Apple.
"We really want to start pushing the boundaries of what a traditional media company can become when you combine it with the power of a massive telecom company like AT&T," Redniss said. "That's the big opportunity for us right now."