The Accelerated Leap to Streaming Services

The Prime View got the pleasure to interview Siddhant Singh, VP of Digital Growth at Discovery Inc., a global leader in real-life entertainment and a new player in the VOD market.

Check out the extract from our conversation to learn about the challenges of expanding to streaming services, the unique Discovery Plus offering to win the market share, and the impact 5G will have on sports broadcasting.

Listen & Watch to the Full Interview Episode

Siddhant, as a VP of Digital Growth, what are the main obstacles you had to overcome to deliver consistent growth of user base in new geographies?

Discovery’s plan to expand to Scandinavian countries was to create organic growth in digital usage. We leveraged the fact that Scandinavia was the most digitally advanced consumer base in the world with the highest willingness to pay and the highest penetration of online payments outside of a few markets. Our skunkworks proves that if we can generate organic growth here in digital streaming, it makes sense to fight and expand that blueprint elsewhere.

This project took a lot of work. Like any other company undergoing digital transformation, you have to make significant strategic decisions regarding your leading KPI, regarding the way you manage your legacy business that’s still powering most of your earnings with the need for digital growth. You have to decide how you will navigate conflicts of how you should window the content that you have – do you put it first in your digital platforms, or do you retain TV pre-preview windows.

So, when talking about challenges, number one was clear strategic decisions, getting to the point where you could say this is worth a digital dollar or how important a paid digital subscriber is for our company, as opposed to a television view. That trickles down to number two – KPIs clarity for everyone who’s operating the business. Jean-Briac Perrette, President of Discovery International, made a lot of strategic discussions defining what paying subscribers are worth, and what the TV viewers are worth. He ensured we know what our KPI means for me and for the company.

And then number three, which is the hardest and the most long-running piece, is education – making everyone understand how a digital business works and how they would have to change the way they work, what’s the difference in terms of the frequency of decision-making.

Can you tell our listeners about the toolset you use for your work?

Every piece of MarTech adds to the richness of the view of our customers, and as soon as you run a streaming service, lifetime value (LTV) becomes your overarching KPI. Every business decision you make is about expanding LTV and how you can increase tenure. You’re fighting for an additional month or additional two months that you can retain this customer. The quality of your prediction algorithms and the discoverability of your content allows you to do that. So that’s where Blueshift and mParticle come up for us.

You cannot be a CMO unless you are a robust analytics and insights leader as well. 

We have an Adobe Analytics implementation, which we’ve put quite a lot of love into. Another piece that I end up recommending to fellow marketing and tech leaders is a CDP (Ed. Customer Data Platform). The platform forms the backbone of our analytics infrastructure and allies what we do with mParticle and Adobe Analytics. That’s our source of truth that plugs into the rest of our stack. 

At Discovery, we use Blueshift® for retention activities and it is our secret sauce. I’ve seen what our stack used to be before we set this up, and there’s a world of difference now. Importantly, we have by far the best in class CRM and analytics stacks compared to any of our competitors, with the only exception would be Netflix with the massive data science operation. 

What are the main challenges for a large organization like Discovery in pursuing and establishing the right innovation culture during COVID-19?

The COVID pandemic has been very difficult for almost any business. Personally, I have teams in Stockholm, London, and Singapore, which have a quite large footprint in the organization. Though it’s been difficult, we actually expanded during the pandemic, there are eight new people who are working in our performance marketing teams that are crucial to our growth but I haven’t physically met a single one of them.

At Discovery, the biggest expectation is to be individually driven, relish independence, structure your own work. I think self-starters are a significant cultural trope that we look for in team leaders. Within teams, team leaders are empowered to recruit as they see fit with a minimum of three rounds of interview – with the team lead, with our human resources, and with me where I only get a veto while a team leader makes the decision.

When you’re moving at such a speed, the role of a manager is to give you the space in which you can do your work, be creative, and therefore help scale the business. And we’ve been lucky to have thoughtful leadership in the company that makes innovations possible through bottom-up empowered teams.

Streaming wars among the tech giants is getting tougher. I’m wondering, what’s appealing in Discovery Plus offering which can help your company to win the market share?

That’s a great question. The reason I have a job is that multiple media companies realized that direct-to-consumer is not a bonus. It’s hygiene, and we have to do it. 

Our strength, at Discovery, is an exciting and broad portfolio of content assets. We’re the dominant player in real life programming with a giant share of paid TV consumption in the US. And since the Scripps Networks acquisition (Ed. The acquisition was completed in 2017 for $14.6B), dominance became even more powerful. 

Another powerful thing about Discovery is owning our IP. There’s a significant distinction for businesses having years and years of building formats with a strong local footprint. Also, we’re able to create local IP faster and make it stickier. That’s the strength that we have to double down.

5G is getting to be adopted around the globe. What impact will it have on your industry? Can you envision any new use cases that haven’t been available due to limitations of network technologies?

I think 5G is going to shake up some commonly held beliefs in the video streaming industry. Now many tech providers talk about augmented solutions to the sports viewing experience. The idea of being able to chat with your friends while you’re watching the game, the concept of answering polls, quizzes, being able to potentially down the line, place bets, provides space for disruption with the higher network connection. As soon as you make that experience mobile because you can deliver bandwidth, because you can deliver HD viewing while on a mobile device or tablet or laptop remotely, that will start to cause some cracks in that experience. 

With 5G, an immersive experience of live sports view is going to be very interesting. The implications for gaming, which is the most significant piece that will be unlocked with 5G connections, will be massive. I’m very interested in seeing how we expand media definitions beyond just video and into gaming or an interactive experience because that’s the Shangri-La that media companies are waiting for.

Can you think of any advice for a company that wants to succeed in the video streaming business?

The traditional VOD/streaming service requires a lot of time and a lot of capital to license content. Still, luckily, VOD service requires less and less money for tech setup. Because, as you mentioned, there are so many cloud offerings out there that make this setup much more accessible to the point where you almost don’t have to have an in-house product back end that you would typically have. That hurdle has been taken away. 

Nevertheless, the content hurdle is still massive. If I can oversimplify, any media service is looking to do two things in terms of content – they are looking for the piece of content that will bring viewers in and maintain high retention. As an example, in the UK, Love Island (Ed. a British dating reality series), getting people to wherever streaming service even if they have to watch them in Premiere. It’s such a great IP that they will find it, download the app or go to the website, and view it. That’s the acquirer IP. And then the capital intensive question is retention. You cannot possibly invest in flagship to acquire IPs, again and again for every consumer cohort. You can’t launch a Love Island every month. But every month, your viewer is making a purchase decision. 

The retention game is all about your library of content. Viewers are asking themselves two questions, and you should be able to answer those satisfactorily. Question A, “Do I use it often enough?” and question B, “Do I believe that I will want to watch the next big thing on the service three months down the road?”. If it’s longer than three months, your consumers will unsubscribe and re-subscribe. 

We saw a lot of hop-on-hop-off behavior in the industry, where people will come in, have a free trial, and then bounce, come back for a free trial and bounce or subscribe for a month, bounce and come back. That’s very harmful to a streaming service because you’re spending marketing money bringing these people each time. 

So, the economics of the business makes it difficult for a startup in the traditional media space, while video-on-demand space is a bit more interesting. I believe that media companies, not even the tech giants, are being as innovative when it comes to the viewing experience. They have strong recommendations, a front page that you can marginally reorient to your tastes, and some standard rails. But I do think that the experience side is still open to disruption. Though the startup operating in this space would be best placed to be a pure tech player, rather than digging into the content side – the moat is still too deep for new players to enter.

Siddhant, thank you for the thoughtful conversation and for pursuing new strategies to build consumer awareness of Discovery’s rich content offerings.

Stay tuned for more great interviews coming your way!