From Amazon to Time Inc: 10 questions for Colin Bodell

Colin will be at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin from 20-22 March, where he will talk about the ever-closer correlation between media and technology, and how Time Inc. uses technology to ignite current and new business.

If you haven’t booked for DIS 2016, our standard rate is available until 15 March – you can do so here. Take a look at the updated programme (subject to minor changes):

·       Pre-summit, Sunday 20 March (pre-booked tours and drinks)

·       Day 1, Monday 21 March

·       Day 2, Tuesday 22 March

Here he answers ten questions from Cobus Heyl (via email) on tech and media, digital growth opportunities (and who will win), top priorities at Time Inc. and more.

Tell us a little about yourself.

As CTO of Time Inc., I’m responsible for shaping the company’s overall strategic technology direction, with the key objective of delivering to our customers the compelling Time Inc. brand content via all channels where they want it, when they want it and in the format that they most deeply enjoy and appreciate.

Before joining Time Inc. two years ago, I was an eight-year veteran at Amazon. There I led the technology team for the Kindle store, which supported Amazon digital content across web, Kindle and third-party devices. I joined Amazon in 2006 to run the Website Application Platform. This group provides the platforms, services and tools that power Amazon’s websites around the world and makes the company’s massive scale possible.

I’m a native of Liverpool, England, and hold a computer science degree from Coventry University, England. I emigrated to the US in 1985.

What were your first thoughts when you were first approached by Time Inc.?

I jumped at the opportunity to play a role in the transformation of this iconic company. I love and respect the brands and journalistic excellence they represent. I also saw a huge chance to help Time Inc. enlarge its digital footprint and further extend the reach of its high-quality content and storytelling.

Today, our audiences are larger than ever before. Within the past two years, we’ve increased our North American unique visitors to 120 million from 70 million and our global monthly unique visitors to more than 150 million from 120 million. This growth has come at a time when it’s been harder for everyone to organically attract and increase traffic.

What does this growth mean to you from a digital POV?

By breaking through 100 million US unique views, we’re able to layer in new digital businesses. Native and sponsored posts are a big growth opportunity. So is native/sponsored video and programmatic growth.

Video streams have increased over 100 per cent year over year. Streams have surpassed 1.6 billion. With our new 3,000-square-foot video studio in Lower Manhattan, we are producing even more video and are positioned to be a meaningful player in this space.

You have now been with Time Inc. for two years. Talk about the culture. How has it changed?

Enormous change has continued to take place throughout the entire company since my arrival. Culture is a big part of it. I see it firsthand because I am collaborating closely with the digital product teams and other groups and individuals across the portfolio.

Time Inc. has become a talent magnet. We’re hiring the best and brightest in technology, social media, targeting, video, programmatic and performance marketing.

With our new office locations in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn (technologists reside at both locations), we are attracting new talent—people who are excited to bring skills sets to our company with its powerful media brands. It’s an exciting time!

We see an ever-closer symbiosis between media and technology. What is your perspective on this?

Each new wave of technology creates new and exciting opportunities for media companies like Time Inc. New technology capabilities enable us to more effectively target consumers. It expands when, where and how we engage audiences with our powerful storytelling. At the end of the day, trusted brands, high-quality content and deeply engaged audiences will win.

What are some of your accomplishments at Time Inc.?

Time Inc.’s technological makeover so far has focused on a number of specific areas: We’re substantially complete with the move of our applications and services from our own data centers to the Amazon Web Services cloud environment; we’ve reduced the number of content management systems to focus on a couple on which we can focus our attention and add new capabilities; we’ve built platforms for native mobile applications and new websites and can now launch new sites within 24 hours; and we’ve introduced a raft of productivity tools for staff across the breadth of the company.

What are your current priorities?

Speeding the creation of new advertising and products at Time Inc. is very high on the list. Supporting the explosive growth in video production and distribution is also a high priority.

What are your thoughts on the following statement? “Legacy media companies struggle to create, build and grow digital media products organically. It’s much better to invest or acquire.”

I am a fan of both investment and acquisition. In some cases it’s better to invest by building new and better tools and overall infrastructure. In other cases, it’s better to acquire. I’ll give you an example of a tool we built that has accelerated our mechanism for deploying native applications.

Although all of our websites are mobile friendly, we faced challenges in the past in translating each of our sites into a native application. The time and costs were great, and no off-the-shelf solution met our needs. So, we built our own.

Toro, a content-feed-based reading app for iOS and Android, enables rapid, iterative prototyping of new features. It was critical that we not put an onus on Time Inc.’s editorial teams in this process, forcing them to adjust their layouts or publishing process to be more mobile friendly. Instead, Toro enables us to simply aggregate the content they create and deliver it to a native mobile app. Today, it takes just one week—sometimes even less time—to put together a mobile site.

Toro isn’t something we’re keeping proprietary to Time Inc. either. We’re working with a couple of publishing companies to provide mobile solutions. Like our smaller brands, some companies do not have the funds to create their own native applications to support their brands and industry. By extending this technology to other content creators, we help overcome a challenge we once shared, and we’re able to find high-quality editorial partners. Since their content runs through Toro, it’s easy to reverse syndicate and put it on our sites when applicable.

We work in a business that moves fast. In the past at Time Inc., our legacy tools and technologies slowed us down, but changing our data center strategy and creating a tool like Toro that enhances our mobile offerings has solved some significant challenges and allowed us to assist other companies that have information to share with a community, whether in house or to external audiences.

Time Inc. has invested in a number of digital products in the past year or so. Which ones excite you most? What do you look for when making these investments?

We just announced that we entered into a series of agreements to acquire the assets of Viant Technology. Viant’s people-based performance platform will allow us to target individuals and customize marketing messages for advertisers. This will be a game-changer for us. Advertisers are selecting media partners that have either data-driven capabilities or premium content; we will be able to deliver both in a single platform, and will stand apart from those that offer just one or the other.

Another acquisition I’m particularly excited about is Sports Illustrated Play. We acquired three companies (LeagueAthletics, SportsSignup and iScore) and formed this new business. The goal is to enhance the experience of passionate participants in youth and amateur sports—players, parents, coaches and volunteers. Technology will help drive this more rewarding experience by transforming what has been a predominately analog business into a technology-driven business.

This investment is a natural extension for the trusted Sports Illustrated brand. We can bring greater value to this growing segment of passionate youth sports participants. We are investing or making acquisitions in areas that build on the strengths and power of our brands

So … is it fun to work in media?

Is it fun? It’s the most exciting time to be in this business! Whether it’s online, in print or on video, people love the stories that are told by our brands.

More than 50 speakers and 600+ media executives will be at DIS 2016 – if you haven’t booked for DIS, our standard rate is available until 15 March – find out more here.

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