Vicky Colf is a woman to watch in technology and entertainment. As Chief Technology Officer of Warner Bros. she leads a newly created business unit encompassing all technology strategy, operations, and solutions for the entertainment giant.
Leading at the intersection of technology and entertainment as a woman is exactly why we asked Vicky to speak in our breakout session on diversity – to explore the reality of our culture, recent news, what’s working and what’s not in closing the gender gap and making the organizations of today and tomorrow inclusive and diverse.
We caught up with her recently to learn more about her role, leadership in technology at Warner Bros. and the future of #womenintech.
What was the big picture thinking behind centralizing the tech operations at Warner Bros.?
This is a process that we started a few years ago, and at that point in time it was clear that technology was and is a critical success factor in achieving our overall goals for the business. One of the things that we say today is that to be great at Entertainment is to be great at Technology – not taking away at all from the creative component that of course drives our business. If you think about it, technology is at the center of many of the most compelling entertainment experiences out there today. Technology is making more immersive entertainment possible, it’s driving the delivery of content to every platform and device imaginable, it’s helping us to better understand audiences so that we can customize viewing and engagement.
Our goal was less about centralization and more about identifying the places where we could remove or at least start to eliminate obstacles to getting things done more quickly with higher quality. In some cases that meant bringing together siloed groups to allow them to work more directly together and be more productive. From a big picture perspective, we are focused on evolving into a team that can be more responsive to the needs of the business and make even more substantial contributions to WB’s continued success.
What is the role of innovation at Warner Bros.?
Innovation is part of our history and culture, it is really part of our DNA here at Warner Bros. WB is the studio that invented the “talkie,” we were the leaders in the development of the DVD, we invented the digital supply chain with our DETE [Digital End-to-End] system. We hold hundreds of patents for innovations in visual effects, video game production, physical production and a lot more.
Today’s audiences are savvier and have a lot more entertainment choices than ever before. We must commit to innovative new approaches in our storytelling, the way we deliver our content to consumers, and even in how we run our business to provide the most profound and powerful entertainment experiences to our consumers and clients.
What has been your proudest achievement in your 13 years at Warner Bros.?
I have been incredibly lucky to work on so many projects and programs with the most talented people at WB, so it’s hard to pick just one from the last 13 years.
I think I’m most proud of the recent work our team has initiated to focus on our Culture and creating an environment that is reflective of our core values. It is still very much a work in progress and we learn something new every day. But I’m proud of the fact that we’ve committed to embracing the importance of enhancing our culture and the work required to consistently improve.
As CTO of a major movie studio, how has big data impacted the work your team does?
At the risk of going overboard with alliteration it has made us think really hard about volume, velocity, variety and while not the perfect description, veracity.
In terms of volume, I think everyone knows we are generating more and more data every minute of every day. We’ve all heard some version of the statistic that 80-90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. As we continue to create more and more connected devices and “smart things,” the velocity with which we create data continues to accelerate as well. And the types and variety of data, structured and unstructured, continued to proliferate.
Lastly, as we aggregate and synthesize all of this data, from different sources, we have to think really hard about what is the “truth” for any given use case? It is not just about quantity of data, it has to also be about quality. We have created a platform that gives us the ability to capture and understand data at a scale that was hard to even imagine five years ago. This capability to aggregate large data sets in a way that make them available and accessible to the studio to facilitate decision making is an asset for our entire business. As just a single example, we’ve already seen that using data-enabled targeting in digital advertising drives more impact with fewer wasted impressions; generating a 25% increase in engagement rates and 2-5x conversion lift.
What is the biggest future challenge you are preparing for?
I’m not willing to call this the biggest challenge, however I’m energized and excited about the potential opportunities and challenges that machine learning and artificial intelligence present for our industry. There are so many aspects of what we do, both in order to run our business and to create amazing entertainment experiences, that will be impacted by these capabilities. In the near term, even experimenting with these capabilities is dependent upon getting our data strategy right as well so our team is focused on prototyping data with the future in mind.
Your team has been focused on getting underrepresented communities interested in technology. Why is diversity and inclusion a priority for Warner Bros.?
Study after study shows that diversity and inclusion is just smart business. Diversity of thought, backgrounds and approaches can drive greater creativity, innovation, and better decision making. For an entertainment leader like Warner Bros., I think diversity and inclusion is especially crucial.
Our audiences are more diverse than ever before, and we need to understand, serve and reflect the wide variety of communities that we are trying to reach. We also need to make sure that we have a strong pipeline of diverse talent who want to build their careers in technology and entertainment. Unfortunately, recent studies from Accenture and one of our partners, Girls Who Code, show that interest in technology is in decline among girls, likely because they have been subtly or not-so-subtly discouraged from pursuing computer science or technical education and interests. We have to level the playing field and expose women and underrepresented minority communities to all the ways that they can participate in tech and entertainment, or we’re all going to miss out on huge opportunities for growth.
At the same time, we need to make sure that our talented group of existing WB employees have opportunities to continue their contributions to our creative and innovative community, and to hone their technical and professional skills.
You are passionate about helping girls who show a particular interest in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) careers, what can we do to get more girls interested in these areas?
I wish I knew the answer to that question! I can tell you what we are focused on and what we hope and believe will help.
First of all, we need to change the culture that tells girls that things like technology, engineering and math are better suited to boys. Unfortunately, we continue to hear, firsthand and in the media, about the challenges girls and women face. We hope to give them the wherewithal to not let this deter them from STEAM.
I was lucky – my parents and teachers never put these roadblocks in front of me. I was always encouraged to experiment with technology, and pursue my interests in design and engineering. I was never told that I couldn’t do it because of my gender or background. This provided me a level of confidence and interest in STEAM that many young women never experience.
We have to encourage girls to be brave, and to pursue what interests them, whether that’s computer science, engineering, or something else. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, says that we have to encourage girls to be courageous, not perfect, and I agree with that. I think it’s essential to embrace and work through the fear of doing new or hard things, and to be resilient when things don’t go as planned. It builds confidence and more often than not opens new doors.
We also need to show girls examples of women thriving in STEAM disciplines. Our team at Warner Bros. Technology has hosted demo days for girls with a local non-profit called STEAM:CODERS, and we just hosted a seven-week Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program for high schoolers the first time. We shared our stories with the girls, and showed them the wide variety of fields that leverage tech skills, including everything from video game design to web development to sound design and technical operations. By the end of it, all the girls told us they felt more confident, more prepared to pursue STEAM in college, and excited about the possibilities ahead of them. It was an amazing and rewarding experience for our whole team and we’re looking forward to expanding our outreach in the community.
Join Vicky at Harvest Summit this October, request an invitation here.