SANTA MONICA, Calif. — “We’re not a tech company.” It’s a comment coming from content owners that Andrew Clay Shafer, senior director of technology for software services firm Pivotal, has heard far too often, and far too recently.
“The way people think about it, in terms of verticals, is that technology is a secondary thing,” Shafer said, in an interview with the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA). “But how many hundreds, even thousands, of developers and engineers are you employing?”
Shafer — speaking following Pivotal’s recent “Culture Club” event (produced by MESA), which brought media and entertainment companies to Pivotal’s L.A. base for an intimate look at the company’s internal strategies — simply pointed to the likes of Netflix and Amazon, in a bid to dissuade traditional content companies from falling behind.
“[These are] tech companies that have become studios,” he said, posing a challenge: Can traditional media companies become tech-enabled, faster than tech companies can become studios? “You have to change, because the game has changed.”
That overriding idea — that your technology is just as important as your content — was echoed constantly during the Pivotal “Culture Club” event, with Michael Vos, head of strategic partnerships for Pivotal in Los Angeles, offering up some of the starker examples. Cloud-based content delivery is the norm today, consumer-engagement data is now a basic necessity, and enterprises expect software products to be just as well-designed, easy to use, and reliable as any consumer app, Vos said.
“The trend is toward personalization, media fragmentation, more consumer choice and more specific content,” Vos said. “We feel there’s an opportunity to level up the engineering capabilities, to meet this call to deliver personalized content, at scale.”
Leaders today in media distribution simply offer up better user experiences, using data-driven personalization, and they do so at-scale, and are able to do it quickly, he added. “You need to be able to think of something in the morning … and deliver it by the end of the day,” Vos said. “Engineering is your superpower.”
During an interview with MESA, Vos added that an emphasis on software today can help traditional media companies survive, especially in an increasingly mobile world. He shared stats showing that the percentage of time spent with media vs. advertising spending has reached parity in both TV and online, but not in the mobile space. “Eventually we’ll see parity between ad spend and time spent in the mobile space,” and there’s an opportunity there on the software side for content companies, Vos added.
Additionally, if you’re going to properly marry tech with content, it helps to have the right talent to make it happen. During the “Culture Club” event, Ross Hale, managing director of Pivotal Labs, shared two slides that spoke to just that issue: the first quoted a Fortune 100 CTO, following a Netflix presentation, with the quote: “We can’t copy Netflix because it has all those superstar engineers. We don’t have the right people.” The response, from then-Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockroft: “We hired them from you, and got out of their way … .”
Hale’s point: “You probably have a lot of the talent right now that you need,” he said. “It’s about retaining and growing them.” That means — from Pivotal’s standpoint — decisions often must be made seeking input from everyone involved; investment in individual skills and growth is paramount; and the workplace culture must be upfront, and can’t be something you can force on people.
And here’s Hale’s hint for M&E companies in the hiring process: “If it’s the right person, they’re probably being courted by other companies.”
In an interview with MESA, Hale added that one of the more important avenues Pivotal takes when interviewing candidates is not only evaluating the people the company wants to attract, but also marketing the company itself, by making the interview process a positive experience, regardless of whether the candidate is hired at the end. And that means highlighting the culture of your business.
“Culture isn’t just about nice things or perks in the workplace, it’s about allowing people to collaborate, empowering them to make decisions,” Hale said. “It’s your ability to have them select you, especially with engineers, who are attuned to authenticity. Interview them by doing with them what they would do on the job: pair them up, and let them code.”
Guy Finley, executive director of MESA, said Pivotal’s Culture Club event marked a unique opportunity for M&E companies: “Culture Club is partly about offering insight into corporate culture from a vendor’s perspective,” he said. “And, ultimately, it’s about learning.”