Why media businesses need a creative edge

Netflix’s Jean-Paul Bonjour talks about why media businesses need to focus on creating compelling content to succeed in a highly competitive industry

Alex Smith
Alex Smith
By Alex Smith on 28 November 2022
Why media businesses need a creative edge

The proliferation of new platforms and mediums for distributing content in today’s media landscape has driven an explosion in demand for more content. Everyone from traditional broadcasters to streaming platforms and individual creators is competing for viewers’ time and money, and content that draws them in is at a premium.

“From the smallest production studios all the way up to the largest in the world, what they’re looking to do is stretch their dollars to allow a greater creative space,” says Jean-Paul Bonjour, manager of studio user interface engineering at Netflix. “The fight to gain people’s attention is becoming increasingly competitive, and it’s going to be those with the most compelling content that are going to win. In order to find that, studios and platforms have to focus on the creative aspect, not just the technology aspect.”

However, Bonjour emphasises that there is a balance to be struck between producing as much content as possible and taking the time to make sure that it will resonate with viewers.

“Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, talks about the conflict between feeding the beast and the ugly baby – in other words, the struggle between trying to create more productions to meet demand and setting aside time to refine a rough idea in the preproduction phase,” says Bonjour. “We can’t devote our entire time towards feeding the hungry beast and forgo the ugly baby. I feel like the content slate for some of the bigger streaming services has become a little diluted. There’s a good opportunity now for creative companies to scale back focus and drive home the greatest stories they can.”

Media companies are also facing pressures from outside the industry in a time of an uncertain economic climate. Bonjour suggests that leaders should resist the temptation to withdraw into caution, even when faced with the current challenges.

“Everyone in entertainment, technology and beyond is being impacted by the macroeconomic climate that we’re currently in,” he says. “That can create a mindset of fear that causes you to hunker down and miss the greater picture. We have to resist that and lean into risk in order to try new things and continue to find success.”

Bonjour highlights the story of his friend Yeshayah Goldfarb, now vice president of baseball resources and development at the San Francisco Giants, as an example of how technology and creativity can work together to generate success.

“When Yeshayah got an internship with the team at 17, he spent day after day collecting information on players,” explains Bonjour. “He then started to put this information down on spreadsheets and pivot tables and started to recognise patterns. Despite being dismissed by scouts, he’d print out a new sheet each week and put it on the desk of the general manager, highlighting players he felt the team should go after. The general manager started taking notice, and three world championships later, Yeshayah reports directly to him. He has leveraged technology to help creatives make better decisions and achieve success.”

As he looks towards the future, Bonjour hopes to see a wider representation of people and ideas within the media industry, driven by easier and more affordable access to the technology needed to create content, as well as a shift in mindset from large media companies.

“I believe the ideal situation is the democratisation of storytelling,” says Bonjour. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited for short form content on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, because it gives everybody on the planet with a phone the opportunity to create something. What I’d like to see is more democratisation in the long-form space. Anybody who has a great idea should be able to surface that idea and see it come to life if data shows that it would resonate with the public. Traditional media players are continuing to acquire content in a traditional way at the moment, and technology can help change that.”

However, despite the rapid pace of change, Bonjour is adamant that the most important part of media production will remain the stories it tells.

“Media production is essentially storytelling,” says Bonjour. “The ways in which we use tools to tell these stories will continue to evolve and give us a more immersive experience, but at the heart of it remains the story, as it has done all the way from Ancient Greek theatre to the 21st century. A great idea, executed well by a great team creates great content.”

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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