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TVBE Talks to Wazzee Chief on Simplifying Workflow Complexity

James McKeown:Describe your first year at the helm of Wazee Digital (formerly T3Media) in terms of the progress the company has made in that time.

Harris Morris: The progress has been striking. I think everyone here can feel a palpable sense of acceleration, and I am thrilled by the degree to which talented people—old and new—are embracing what we are trying to do. One of the hallmarks of the year has been striking a balance between taking the “old” strengths already resident in Wazee—our deep video and metadata IP, our customers’ loyalty and trust, our history—and augmenting them with the “new”: new thinking; new talent; new technology that is even more robust and capable; a new pace of progress and more aggressive approach to service and responsiveness. We’ve also confirmed the market opportunity and strategy for Wazee.

There’s an enormous opportunity that’s been created by massive growth in content, and in the number of platforms we can use to consume that content. In between, that creates a great deal of complexity that our customers need to manage.

Media companies are realizing that they are either in the content creation business or they’re in the consumer-facing business, or both. What they all need is help in the middle. And that’s where Wazee is incredibly strong.

Finally, we have had amazing progress with our team. Getting our existing experts organized to face our customers’ challenges with well-defined roles, and adding stellar new talent to complement the team already here. I am awed every day by the people we have in this organization and those that are joining.

What have been the key strategic changes and developments you have implemented thus far that are already starting to bear fruit?

The first shift was starting with a clear strategic understanding of where we play. We are a B2B services provider that helps our customers monetize their content and build their brands. We simplify everything in the middle of the content supply chain; between when the content is finished and when it is played out to the end consumer. That focus has sharpened, and is yielding big change. We’ve refocused on our key skills, and we realize many of our capabilities are rooted in our Library Manager platform, called Core. The platform securely and persistently houses high-quality video content with all of its associated versions and metadata, which is massively important for content discovery and use. The platform enables our customers to transform and monetize their content with ease.

Wazee is focused on repeatable SaaS products and services, and on delivering capabilities to meet the needs of many media companies at scale. This allows us to develop those capabilities much more quickly and to offer them with disruptively compelling economics.

I think at times in our history, Wazee has thought of itself as an “either/or” business; for example, either a licensing company or a delivery company. The reality is that we uniquely understand and enable that central set of capabilities that allow our customers to protect, control, manage and monetize their content. Licensing is one tool in that arsenal. Content management, smart metadata and delivery are others. They’re all essential to serving that core.

You’ve been involved in the broadcast market for some time now, notably with Harris. Describe the changes you’ve seen in your time in the market, and which disruptions you feel have made the most significant change to how our sector is operating.

For me, it’s what people don’t talk about. It’s neat from a consumer electronics standpoint to talk about the proliferation of distribution platforms. We can see the devices and the new offerings as consumers. But, far more compelling to me is the explosive growth in content itself. That’s what is growing the media industry. Content growth is clearly enabled by platform expansion, but even more, it is enabled by the shift to digital in production and consumption. That digital shift not only drives a near 20x multiple in number of titles versus a decade ago, but it then forces the shift towards IP-based technologies versus bespoke broadcast technologies. It is starting to force a shift towards cloud-based technologies, which is where much of the media world will go.

Media companies can no longer rest on their laurels and expect a show to be a hit. There is a competition for absolutely every eyeball. Now, the cool part is that the volume of those “eyeball moments” continues to increase, but the competition for them is extraordinarily high.

That creates the complexity that Wazee goes about solving in the middle, and it also creates a number of strategic questions for content owners. Questions about how they win; how they create a brand; how they create loyalty; how they interact with their consumers. I think that’s a huge change. It’s not only been enabled by the shift to digital, IP and the cloud, but it’s forcing that shift to happen faster.

What will be the catalysts for change in the run-up to 2020?

The number one catalyst is competition. The competition for our engagement as consumers is going to be a battlefield for media companies. In a world where quality content is rampant, and platforms varied, your brand may need to be represented in dozens of ways: the network, the series title, a season’s pass, the name of an episode, the S/E number, an iconic image on an EST platform, the look and feel, a great promo, a crawl, a consumer goods tie-in; literally any number of things. So, thinking about brand identity becomes hugely important.

The question then becomes, once you’ve created content and brand identity, how can you ensure it’s discovered by everyone in your possible audience who should be watching? Then, how do you create loyalty around that content experience in a world where content opportunities are proliferating at an astronomical rate? Metadata is the lynchpin holding that new value system together. As stewards of the content, Wazee has the unique ability to aggregate and add massive intelligence to metadata. That data fundamentally allows content targeting discovery, distribution and monetization. It allows people to find the right content again and again. That’s an extraordinary opportunity for Wazee, but it’s a challenge that’s going to drive every relevant media company in the run-up to 2020.

Staying on this theme, what will TV, broadcast and content mean in five years’ time?

TV, at its core, is screen-centric. Over time, TV will come to mean a tier of content that sits between a feature film and short-form content.

Character-driven comedies, serialized dramas and story-arc reality, these types of content will still constitute what people think of as television, but the platform will be less about the screen itself than the things we are watching.

Broadcast is fascinating. At Harris, we found that broadcasters thought their business was stodgy. They wanted to be cooler and hipper, so they wanted to be digital. Digital providers, however, wanted to be broadcasters, because that was where all the money was made. Broadcast means— and will continue to reflect —the ability to make a high-quality program available to large audiences in a nearly perfect way. At the same time, there will be a growing respect for narrowcasting, as we harness the ability to target content to more specific audiences. Ensuring broadcast-caliber reliability, while hitting the most expansive interested audience at the right price point for them, will be hallmarks of broadcast in the future.

Content is a jargon word. Even Wazee uses it reluctantly since we know that it has no real meaning to consumers. Consumers think of movies as movies, TV as screen-based content. Content is a catchword, and it will remain that way. It is a functional word for the high-quality video we handle, prepare and distribute, but it would be nice to invent something better.

I recently wrote that, perhaps, the term broadcast is getting bad press. Should we consider broadcast as an evolving term, rather than a defunct one?

Broadcast is absolutely an evolving term. In the future, the notion of broadcast will be defined more broadly. At its essence, broadcasting means reaching a massive audience, doing so flawlessly, and with extremely high quality. For many content experiences, those things will always need to be true. Now, the demands on the content will vary depending on the channel. You won’t, for example, need 1,000 pixels on your screen if you’re streaming content to your phone on a bus, but the premise remains the same. Massive reach. Near-perfect reliability. The right quality for the moment, content, platform and pipe. That’s how the term needs to evolve.

We speak following the rebrand from T3Media to Wazee Digital. Talk us through the strategic impetus behind this. What the refresh is designed to achieve, and how it will benefit the brand going forward?

When I became CEO, I talked to our customers and partners about what T3Media means to them. We heard a lot of wonderful things: trust, boldness, willingness to solve hard problems in creative and smart ways. At the same time, we heard confusion about how the company had evolved.

Were we a platform business or a licensing business?

In addition, we had a wealth of intellectual property that had not been exposed as products to the market, but was close enough to be game-changing for our customers.

Wazee really is a mix of those three things: our licensing heritage; a broader product and services portfolio that enables our customers to manage and monetize their content; and a cutting-edge SaaS company, which leverages our 11 years of investment and IP. The Wazee brand embraces all of those strengths—past, present and future. It allows us to bring the best of the old T3Media forward, while harnessing new talent, new technologies and a refocused vision on how we eliminate complexity at the core of the digital media supply chain.

What are the greatest challenges you face as a CEO in defining and executing this strategy?

Our greatest challenge by far is deciding what not to do. Wazee has a great deal of capability and our customers have extraordinary need for the products and services we offer.

As a company, we need discipline around not doing too much. For those services and capabilities we do offer, we need to do them exceptionally well. We will continue to move really fast to meet our customers’ evolving needs, but we’ll do so without overreaching and trying to do so much that it distracts us from exceptional execution.

Finally, what does 2016 look like for Wazee Digital?

In 2016, Wazee will continue to expand and grow our suite of new products. We’ll have new customers and we’ll continue to have the best talent solving major industry challenges with Wazee solutions. We’ll continue to invest in our people, both fully leveraging the incredible talent we have, while attracting new talent for growth and fresh ideas.

You’ll see new thinking. In 2016, we’ll augment some of the concepts we’ve discussed here: elevating metadata “smarts” and value; improving content management; enhancing discovery; radically simplifying the intrinsic complexity of the content value chain. And, as always, we’ll have fun.

There are clearly challenges serving the world’s largest (and smaller) media companies. They are intelligent, technically proficient, often demanding, and they have unique needs for a reason. We’re trying to do one of the more exciting things in the world, to let technology drive and direct the best content into the hands of everyone who ought to see it. We accept the challenge of solving it in new and insightful ways.