CIO50 2022 #19 Will Everitt, Seven West Media
It’s been an interesting few years for traditional broadcast companies as they’ve tried to come to grips with the cultural phenomenon that is on-demand streaming.
For Seven West Media, as with other Australian TV brands, it’s been a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’.
The company’s own streaming platform 7plus has already amassed an expansive library of on-demand content, according to its director product solutions, Will Everitt, who along with his team, set out to deliver data-led solutions supporting enhanced levels of automation and personalisation to improve audience engagement and overall experience.
An automated system was created to assemble virtual channels from a subset of catalogue, directing viewers to discover key show brands as linear channels quickly, and to maximise time spent. The iconic Better Homes and Gardens show was one of the first cabs off the rank, in preparation for a more significant rollout during the Tokyo Olympics.
“The trial was successful and we continued to add channels,” Everitt says. “The approach resulted in a huge benefit allowing us to create channels for all the sports and providing the most comprehensive coverage of an Olympics worldwide”.
Seven West can now spin up a virtual channel, see how it performs, and adjust.
“This reduced both the time to market and the cost associated with creating a channel, allowing us to experiment with content that resonates with the audience, and puts additional live channels in front of the user experience, maximising the value of an extended library of content,” Everitt says.
And the proof is in the pudding, with minutes consumed via virtual channels increasing 900% year-on-year.
Another key initiative was ‘Dynamic UX Personalisation’.
“We knew that a personalisation strategy was going to be the key to increasing engagement, especially as we are measured against the likes of Netflix and Disney rather than other Australian FTA streaming services,” Everitt explains.
He and his team engaged with a “trusted partner” in the AI/ML space and agreed on an aggressive timeline to deliver something meaningful before the end of 2021.
“We quickly iterated through discovery, data integration and UX activities and we demonstrated our first use case for the proof-of-concept (POC), a ‘Recommended For You’ shelf, to the wider business after three months.”
The Winter Olympics consumed the team until March 2022 and the POC was put into production. Subsequent testing and learning saw a ‘Recommended for You Shelf’ rolled out progressively across April and May on web, mobile and smart TV devices.
Within six months, Everitt and his team delivered the first part of its personalisation strategy in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Most organisations like to think of themselves as innovative, but the smart ones understand you need a proper framework for achieving it.
“Large companies can often get wrapped up collecting and deciding on ideas in convoluted processes and documentation - which becomes a barrier and often after the launch of the innovation system the uptake is low,” Everitt says.
He and his team wanted an innovation process that was simple, lightweight and easy-to-manage, while being easy for everyone to be part of. It needed to enable collaboration across different business groups, while also being something the tech team could enjoy outside of the BAU.
The result was IGNITE, a set of processes for engagement and sharing ideas now being adopted by the organisation as a framework for innovation.
Recently, Everitt’s team ran an ‘innovation week’, collecting more than 60 ideas from across the business in simple submission forms. The best six were selected for the ‘hack’ day, with teams assembled from all parts of the digital business to help develop the 7plus product roadmaps.
“We’ve run a similar approach multiple times, and it always delivers a pleasurable event for attendees, solid product innovations, a buzz in the organisation and a fun activity that everyone looks forward to,” Everitt says.
One of Everitt’s golden rules throughout his career has been to always address technical debt before it becomes a problem. And it’s a rule no doubt many other CIOs make for themselves.
However, working for a large organisation like Seven West, dealing with big audiences, massive content libraries, scaling and down all the while trying to stay ahead of the curve, has presented myriad distractions.
He relates a situation a few years back when it was apparent that Seven West needed to migrate from a legacy version of Azure, which had limitations in terms of auto-scaling and resilience.
Foremost in his mind, however, was the fact the audience strategy he and his team created had seen audience numbers almost double in two years.
“And the goal was to grow revenue from video content and we needed to build a video product across our platform.”
However, this explosion in audience numbers saw the digital ecosystem start to creak on the bigger sites, leading to a couple of significant outages.
“Regrettably I’d made the compromise, to build the MVP video network product and complete a POC for the cloud migration, when what I should have done was stick to my golden rule and tackled the cloud migration first.”