How to successfully lead a global media company in the modern-day entertainment industry, by Discovery’s Jamie Cooke

By Jamie Cooke, Group SVP and GM Central Eastern Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia, at Discovery Inc.

Since the advent of streaming services – dating back to 1993, when the American rock and roll band Severe Tire Damage played the first live music performance on the internet, the entertainment industry has been in a constant state of change.

In more recent times, the industry was propelled light-years ahead by the Covid-19 pandemic. The year 2020 posed many demanding challenges for the entertainment industry which included a dramatically accelerated and transformed scale of content production and consumption as we knew it. In 2021, the entertainment industry witnessed continued changes because of volatile socio-economic landscapes and evolving consumer behaviours and preferences. And through all the recurring surges in cases, and social restrictions, viewers looked towards entertainment – our industry – for a sense of normalcy and comfort.  Fast forward to today – a quarter into 2022 – the entertainment sector, hinging on the proclivities of its discerning viewers, is constantly at the threshold of change, aided by continual advancements in technology and the frequent need/demand for new content.

Looking back at the collective wringer the world has been put through, what lessons can the entertainment sector learn from the past two years? What type of strategy will be required to sustain success in the modern-day, altered, entertainment industry?

Rethinking partnerships

In addition to taking over the industry, over the course of the pandemic, digital platforms have introduced new formats in which entertainment companies could gain new viewers and retain loyal customers. While broadcast and cable TV is yet to be dethroned from accounting for the largest share of total consumer revenue, the continuous spike in demand for streaming services is an exigent trend.  According to a report by Dataxis, the SVOD market in the MENA region grew by 36% in 2020 and is expected to reach 45.6 million subscribers by 2026 – confirming that consumers want the flexibility and access that digital platforms offer.

This burgeoning shift in preference requires entertainment companies to transform digital business models and leverage the opportunity to build direct-to-consumer (DTC) relationships. The first step is to identify your strengths and weaknesses and develop the digital capabilities and offerings, subsequently assessing the optimal ways to scale these – that may be through acquisitions or partnerships. As an example, Discovery struck a strategic partnership with Saudi-based VOD player Jawwy TV to launch streamer discovery+ in territories across GCC. Through this collaboration, we sought to scale our DTC businesses by leveraging our partner’s competitive advantages and achieving high penetration in target markets. The learning here was to seek out and cease bold alliances that help bolster your business’ appeal and reach. 

Agility is the name of the game

To effectively cater to your audience’s growing curiosity and demand for novel content, it is key to keep your options, and eyes, open. Understanding your audience’s mind-space and acting with agility to capture their attention is critical to success.

For instance, while developing the expansion strategy for discovery+ in the Middle East, we closely studied its audiences. While we saw that there’s a collective fascination towards Western shows – we subsequently found an increasing demand for quality content that represents consumers’ respective cultures. With these insights, we were able to effectively develop a content strategy that resonated with regional preferences. For instance, we’ve brought discovery+’s original ‘Into The Wild with Bear Grylls’ featuring iconic Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn, to the region, to cater to its large number of Indian residents. Such efforts boosted our viewership, especially with the demand for cultural representation on the rise, which is perhaps one of the most poignant trends to have developed over the course of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, viewers seek resonance and connectedness. Cultural representation brings a sense of comfort and inspiration. As a real-life entertainment provider, it is key for discovery+ to reflect the reality of our viewers, and we believe this is something other non-fictional content producers should aim for too.

The takeaway here is to always account time and manpower for ongoing consumer research; the absence of which will cause media companies to fail to connect with their audiences. Remember: your content strategy should always include wiggle-room for adaptability pivoting on what your viewers want, especially at a time of fluctuating trends and demands. The viewer will always be king!

Diversified content leads to diversified business partnerships

Going hand in hand with diversified content offerings, a strong integrated marketing strategy that gives business partners/potential advertisers the opportunity to access an expanded library of relevant, regionalized, content through one central collaboration, could prove to be a gamechanger for entering new markets, acquiring new partners, and sustaining success across global markets.

As a business leader in the entertainment industry, I can truly say that the past two years have been the ones with the greatest number of unforeseen changes. Having said that, media companies that continually sought to deliver what matters and resonates with their audience stood the test of Covid-19.

The way I see it, constant evolution shepherded by in-depth market research is the way forward for our industry.