Sanjeevan Bala, Group Chief Data and AI Officer at ITV, shares his key achievements to date and strategic goals for 2022
Would you please start by telling us a bit about your greatest achievements at ITV over the past 12-24 months?
There are three big ones. The first is how we went about articulating our strategy. ITV, at its core, is a commissioning producer and distributor. So, in everything we do it’s all about storytelling, it’s all about great content and we’re fundamentally a creative business. Data science within a creative business can feel a bit like chalk and cheese.
To avoid this, we worked with the business to map value cases. If we’re to do something, how might that create value for marketing, commissioning, scheduling, distribution and so on? We went around and proposed our value throughout the business and got a lot of buy-in by mapping out the possibilities we offered.
We then used that to drive a value-based strategy for data. Rather than try to convince people of the importance of investing in data and data literacy, we made it clear how it could be used to drive growth for ITV. This allowed us to write a strategy that was bought in by the board and became deeply integrated into the company’s five-year plan.
Second was securing funding for the program. We secured multi-year funding over the next five years to invest in data not only in terms of its direct capabilities but also in terms of the culture at ITV. If the work we do doesn’t empower our colleagues, it’s never going to stick, so thankfully we’re going to be able to invest in driving that cultural change.
The third was communicating that, instead of being purely data-driven or purely creative-driven, we could achieve a combination. As ITV is fundamentally a storytelling business, we used the medium of video to showcase our strategy and it landed really well. By adopting the existing culture, we were able to meet in the middle rather than impose ourselves.
Commissioners are wary of data being used to enforce a “paint by numbers” situation where they are forced to make content they don’t want to make because the data tells them such content is trending. It was very important to communicate that our objective is to empower rather than limit them.
We said, look, there are other areas where we can create value: in commercial, marketing, scheduling, all those things. But if we start to mess with the DNA of ITV, we risk alienating the commissioners and without them, there is no content.
How has data and analytics maturity in ITV evolved over the past 12 months?
We are full-on underway in a material transformation program in how we watch content. That’s everything from how you discover it, how you talk about it and how you recommend it to friends. But it’s also how we work, looking organizationally and saying, what needs to change around how we’re going to work in the future so that we’re much more digital and data-enabled?
A lot of programs go wrong because they focus on the technology, on hiring data scientists and specialists when that’s the easy bit. The bit we’re focusing on is winning over hearts and minds. If you are a commissioner, let’s say, how is our data strategy going to change how you operate and how you commission content? We’re spending time going around the business making sure that while we up-skill everybody we also help people become more comfortable with data and make it feel less impenetrable to commissioners.
Otherwise, everyone’s excited for a couple of months then they all go back to their old ways of working. We avoided that by pursuing a bottom-up, grassroots method of change, rather than top-down.
What will your key priorities be in 2022?
2022 for us is about actually realizing the value that we’ve mapped. That means ensuring that culture change sticks in the first use-cases we’ve mapped out. We also need to be able to track the hard numbers and the value to prove what data has done and will be able to do. Then we go back to our governance groups and say to the board, here’s how much value, growth and revenue has been driven by data.
We have a whole workstream looking at benefits realization and tracking. We create a baseline and demonstrate if we did a control group, how much of a contribution data has made. We’re working with the finance teams to develop a methodology that achieves this in a robust and dependable way.
The risk otherwise is that you put a load of this infrastructure in and all you get is faster horses. And we’re mindful that we don’t just want to deliver faster horses in the strategy, we want to drive value and growth.