Why every media company needs a CDO

every media company needs a CDO

Bambos Eracleous, Partner and Head of the Media & Entertainment Practice at Odgers Interim, explains why every media company needs a CDO and what to know before hiring one

In 2012, 24.5 million people watched the London Olympics closing ceremony. It was – perhaps unsurprisingly – the most watched UK broadcast in recent years. On 23rd March 2020 however, that record was surpassed – 27 million people tuned into Boris Johnson telling them that because of the coronavirus, they had to stay at home. Within the space of weeks, the pandemic caused an unprecedented spike in demand for broadcast TV, news and streaming services. The type of media people consumed, when they consumed it and who they consumed it with all changed. Yet the tidal wave of viewers is expected to recede just as quickly as it came (30% of people in the UK are now actively avoiding news about the pandemic) and what the coronavirus will leave in its wake for the media industry is still unclear. Will people hang on to their subscriptions? Is family TV time set to stay as we emerge into the ‘new normal’ or will it once again become a thing of the past? Will coverage of the NHS continue to take centre stage or will it recede as infection numbers drop? There’s one person who can help answer these questions for a media company, and it’s the Chief Data Officer.

This role is not just about gathering and providing information, it’s about driving revenue from the customer by understanding more about them and putting them at the centre of thinking for the organisation. Traditionally, media companies have been highly departmental, organised around functions with marketing and commercial separate from editorial. A Chief Data Officer (CDO) will naturally break down these silos so that the way of working becomes driven by data and the demands and habits of the consumer.

With an interdisciplinary view of customer data, an online publication for example can calculate how frequently a customer reads news, when they last read it and how many articles they read at any given time. Extrapolated in real-time, this enables news publications to see how engaged current and prospective customers are with their content. This drives the type of stories they choose to cover more often, how they tell the story, what format they tell it in – whether it’s with video, audio or graphics – and helps them decide what they promote to different readers from an advertorial perspective.

When most organisations have inconsistent data sets with different groups gathering and storing different types of information, this single view is incredibly important. With it, media companies can start predicting what types of media customers will want to consume, when they want to consume it and who with. Critically, it can also be used to measure risk and what factors may lead to a company losing a customer.

However, the true worth of a CDO is not just in the mastery of data platforms and providing a holistic view of the customer, but rather in the leadership and persuasion to drive this customer-centric vision and unlock its value. The ability to tell a story is one quality that sets the role of the CDO apart from the likes of the Chief Technology Officer and the Chief Information Officer.

With CRMs and the increasing use of cloud-based systems, the amount of data that can be collected is almost endless but the best CDOs will be able to demonstrate how this information is going to be useful to colleagues in the wider business. In addition to technical knowledge, a good CDO needs commercial acumen and an understanding of the business; the point of their role is to show people the value of data and the art of the possible.

In order to achieve this, some media companies will need to be guided to a new culture where data is understood, appreciated and engaged with enthusiastically. Using data insights then becomes native to the organisation and will underpin the overall business strategy and help to deliver it. Although many organisations across the media landscape have been moving in this direction for some time, recent events (and their medium-to-long-term impact) will highlight the extent to which the use and understanding of the right data has been engrained within the culture of a business.

This is backed-up by my own experience of recruiting for this role for clients, as two of the most sought-after skills to look for in a CDO (whether they be an interim or a permanent hire) are diplomacy and the ability to work with people. There’s a temptation to think data belongs in a bunker and people are using machine learning in a dark room. If a media company is going to truly utilise its data (and it’s imperative that they do) then it needs to be elevated to Board and senior leadership level. This means communicating a story well, influencing others and driving cultural change and transformation.

It’s a difficult position to straddle – on the one hand the CDO will need a breadth of technical understanding to lead their own team of engineers and analysts but also the softer skill of being able to translate this into a language that different departments and the business as a whole understands. It’s a combined skillset that is hard to come by.

The best CDOs understand the business, the importance of data governance and how the firm can put data to use. Working with the executive team, the CDO can introduce innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives that build on existing strategy and explore new disruptive ones, solidly based on data science. For media companies this means increasing demand for their services by producing content that they know consumers will enjoy, as well as when and where they prefer to consume it. They can deliver news based on an understanding of what customers want to consume, rather than just gut instinct from the editorial team, and predicting the impact of external factors on media consumption so that they are ahead of their competitors when they need to be.

Ultimately, the CDO is about putting the consumer at the heart of everything a media firm does in order to drive revenue. As we enter a period of transition where behaviours formed through necessity could become long-term habits and threaten traditional business models, the quality and effective use of data will be a key component of any decision made to pivot, diversify, merge or acquire. The role and importance of the CDO is therefore vital, perhaps more so now than ever before.

For more information please contact Bambos Eracleous


Ian Brotherston at 27/05/2020 11:51 said:

Hi Bambos,

I agree with your thoughts that the future success of Media companies will rely heavily on their ability to better understand, and interpret, their audiences.

It’s indisputable that the way media is being consumed has changed dramatically over the last decade, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. The challenge for most media companies is to obtain real, meaningful, data on how their valuable content is received and consumed.

There is a clue to the nature of the problem for most broadcasters in the title “Broad Cast”; distributing a signal as widely as possible. Due to the nature of how traditional linear TV is consumed DTT and DTH are blunt instruments at a time when the industry needs scapel style precision.

BARB has done a great job of extrapolating statistically relevant viewer numbers to produce consumer viewing numbers. However, DTT is still used in significant numbers, and simply cannot provide the precise feedback of those particular consumers compared to the deployment of IP platforms.

11 Years ago, I was fortunate to be Chairman and CEO of Dailymotion, the French Video sharing platform. Since the platform was all IP we were able to analyse and interpret our audience to a degree that most broadcasters still today can only dream of. Once detailed data can be accurately collected concerning consumer engagement, retention and defection the role of the CDO can come into its own.

In the fast-moving world of the B2C Internet startup the ability to alpha/beta test the impact of every amendment of the platform on consumer engagement is vital to ensure investment and product development time is spent productively. When I was CEO of Qype (a consumer recommendation website that was sold to Yelp) the management team would consider amendments to the product; would test the amendments on a relevant sample of the audience, before making a decision on deployment to the audience as a whole. The decision to deploy or not to deploy significant amendments that would impact an audience in excess of 20 million would never have been made without the considered and detailed advice and guidance of the CDO (even if at that time they did not carry that title).

The growing deployment of IPTV, Hbbtv, and connected TV sets begins to give media companies the opportunity to analyse real time, meaningful data from an ever-increasing segment of viewers. To make business critical decisions on this data will require the knowledge of deeply analytical, and skilled CDO’s.

David Peers at 29/05/2020 12:47 said:

Hi Bambos

I always find it interesting how the titles of this role are, from industry to industry, inter changeable. Do we need a Chief, Senior or Lead person for this job? Is it Information or Data? Are we looking at our data’s Security, its Assurance or is this a Protection matter? Isn’t it all the same thing? Not really, no. Sony got it horribly wrong back in 2014.

Talk to a number or recruitment agencies on this subject and you’ll find that ‘Standardised’ is not a word that immediately springs to mind. As a Hiring Manager, sometimes it’s hard to know who you’re recruiting, why you’re recruiting or what you’re recruiting for, and the success of this hire largely depends on the applicant’s background. Your own recruitment department will only work with what they know so is our new hire a technical person or a marketing one? What the appointment does show, however, is the maturity of the company – it’s a company that’s growing up.

Depending on the applicants career path, as a Data Protection Officer (DPO, CDO, Chief-of-Something…) they can either be a great fit for the company, or the business needs of the company are delivery focused and someone who’s focus is on protection is going to be a bad match.

I have a background in Intelligence, so my emphasis is on the security of data and ultimately, it’s Governance – an area you touch only briefly. If our organisation is delivery focused then we want as much data as possible, with as much relevant processing and analysis as possible, and we want to deliver our product to the consumer with laser-like precision. Yet to me, data is a liability. It’s a security risk and an accountable item. If we own the data we’re the ‘Data Controller’ but as a ‘Data Processor’ we have other responsibilities and GDPR is not all of it. This can be a clash of interests, or maybe it’s the start of a beautiful relationship.

It falls down is when we spend all our time looking in our direction, doing what we’re paid to do, whilst assuming that someone in IT is looking after all the protection things. The problem is that all technology does is move stuff from A to B and the periphery issues quite often get ignored. The control of our data (who gets what) is a responsibility of the DPO, the Data Protection Officer, and not the CDO.

So yes, every organisation needs someone who understands the value of data, and knows when to harvest and deliver it to best and profitably satisfy the consumers needs. But someone has to be in charge and ensure that our data remains exactly that. Our Data.

David is a Cyber Security Consultant and an accredited assessor for IASME and Cyber Essentials.

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