According to market research firm eMarketer, US consumers will spend over 500 minutes a day consuming digital media in 2023. That’s over eight hours, and it is increasing. This extraordinary level of engagement is clearly a massive opportunity, and challenge, for media and communications firms.
We talk with Francesco Venturini about his role as corporate vice president of communications and media at Microsoft, the changes in the industry and what the future holds.
Tell us about your professional background and why you chose to join Microsoft.
I began my career in the automotive industry and private equity before discovering my passion for media at Accenture, where I gained 20 years of media and communications strategy consulting experience. Spearheading and scaling innovation has always been a key focus of my career. I built a TV station in Kuwait in the early 2000s, launched one of the first over-the-top platforms in the early 2010s, and consider myself lucky to have been involved in some of the most disruptive and transformative programs across the world.
To practice what I preach, I embraced change and looked for a new chapter in my professional life. I was captivated by the amazing power, trust and equity that the Microsoft brand carries, in addition to the culture Satya Nadella has built, emphasising “learn it all" over “know it all.” I am inspired by Microsoft’s mission “to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more” as well as the immense engineering and research and development talent that leads the whole industry and continues to push boundaries. Consider for a moment the amazing things we are doing with OpenAI.
I am curious and have a true passion for constructively challenging the status quo to position for long-term sustainability and success. My approach to business is to build an environment where people feel empowered to experiment and innovate, where learning is encouraged, failures are respected, and successes celebrated, and there is a sense that one-man shows are always suboptimal to effective team playing.
The future is bright for media companies and Microsoft has a fantastic opportunity to help them as we support their ability to leverage the new technologies, operating models, and ecosystems essential to serving demanding customers in an all-digital sector, converging telecoms, media and entertainment.
You took up the role at a pivotal time, when the industry has been particularly dynamic. What are the most significant changes and how is Microsoft positioned to deal with them?
There have been several factors that have impacted the media industry in recent years, including the rise of digital platforms, changes in consumer behaviour, and the Covid-19 pandemic. These have created both challenges and opportunities for the industry.
The rise of digital platforms, such as social media and streaming services, has disrupted traditional media outlets such as newspapers and TV networks. Consumers are increasingly turning to these platforms for news, entertainment and other forms of content. This shift has forced traditional media companies to adapt by developing their own digital strategies or partnering with existing digital platforms.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards digital platforms as people spent more time at home and relied on the internet for work, school and entertainment. This has led to a surge in demand for digital content and further highlighted the importance of digital platforms for the media industry.
The economic impact has changed mindsets across the industry from one of ‘win at all costs’ to one of responsible growth. There can be no doubt that doing more with less will be key and technologies that enable that will be a critical success factor.
Microsoft is well-positioned to enable ongoing innovation during these challenging times. The company has been investing heavily in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, which can help media companies improve their digital capabilities and better engage with audiences. Microsoft also has a range of products and services that can support media companies, including its cloud computing platform Azure and professional networking site LinkedIn.
Microsoft also enables innovation through its investments in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and innovative technologies such as mixed reality and virtual reality.
The cloud is clearly at the heart of digital media. Where are Azure and associated cloud-connected products driving the greatest competitive advantages right now?
The benefits of the cloud are numerous. Azure’s ability to quickly and easily scale up or down based on demand is a major advantage for media businesses. The advancement in artificial intelligence technology and the Microsoft partnership with OpenAI will influence every pillar of the media industry to help organisations automate content production processes and improve customer experiences. Together, these will enable media and entertainment organisations to respond to market conditions in a far nimbler way.
Azure’s infrastructure and AI services will help organisations across media gain a competitive advantage. There is no such thing in media as a one-size-fits-all model and it is an industry known for fluctuating business and technical demands, where data has become the new currency. While Azure handles identity management and threat protection, the integration with products such as Dynamics 365 enables businesses to easily analyse and gain insights from their data, which is needed for content and experience personalisation.
There are two specific Microsoft solutions that offer true differentiation in media. PlayFab is a first-party service that brings gamification, loyalty and engagement to media. It offers a fully unified customer experience toolkit that also adds real-time first-party data that can instantly be used to monetise a customer’s journey. Xandr is our data-enabled technology platform powering a global marketplace for premium advertising that we are working to embed deeply into both an overall advertising technology modernisation solution and future partner integrations.
Azure's flexibility, scalability, security, and range of services are driving competitive advantages for businesses not only in media and entertainment, but also across a wide range of industries.
Tell us a little about the partner ecosystem that Microsoft has created within this sector and where you see these organisations delivering real value for customers.
Partners are essential to Microsoft for a variety of reasons. We work together with our partners to achieve more. They extend Microsoft’s reach. Microsoft has a vast product portfolio that includes everything from operating systems to productivity software to cloud services. By partnering with other companies, Microsoft can connect with customers in industries or geographies where it may not have a strong presence.
In addition, Microsoft’s partners are often experts in specific industries or technologies, which enables them to deliver specialised solutions and services that meet the unique needs of customers. Highlights from media partners include Harmonic’s ability to deliver a high-capacity streaming service for international sporting events and MediaKind’s live streaming and on-demand application programming interfacess all running on Azure to deliver the highest quality streaming experiences for the NBA’s direct-to-consumer platform.
Through our partners, customers get more value from Microsoft’s products and services. Media and entertainment’s unique workflows and requirements to distribute very large assets on a global scale benefit from this approach. Avid, a long-standing industry partner, works strategically to leverage the Microsoft Azure services to bring its edit-on-demand services to broadcasting customers around the world. Look for news from Avid around integration with Teams very soon.
Partners are often at the forefront of innovation, developing new solutions and services that leverage Microsoft’s products and technologies. These innovations are helping Microsoft stay ahead of the competition and drive new growth, which is even more critical in an industry driven by technology.
How does sustainability apply to the world of media and communications, and where does Microsoft play a part in driving change?
Media production can have a significant environmental impact, particularly in terms of carbon emissions and waste. Companies are taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint by using sustainable production practices, such as reducing plastic use, recycling materials and using electric vehicles.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the content they consume. The media industry is responding by creating sustainable content and leveraging data to understand how they are doing. Organisations in this sector are also investing in sustainable technology, such as energy-efficient data centres and cloud computing solutions. This can help reduce the industry’s overall carbon footprint and support sustainable growth.
An example from a Microsoft perspective is our AI for Earth programme where we are using AI to address environmental challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. The programme provides grants and resources to organisations working on environmental solutions, and is leveraging Microsoft’s AI capabilities to drive innovation in sustainability.
How do you see audience experiences being reimagined, and what elements of your work excite you most right now?
Audience engagement is a critical aspect of the industry, and companies are constantly looking for new ways to engage with their audiences.
Interactive experiences are becoming increasingly popular, as audiences seek more immersive and engaging content. This can include interactive TV shows and movies, virtual reality experiences and interactive games. Social media has become a key platform for audience engagement, as it provides a way for companies to connect with their audiences in real-time and build a community around their content.
Companies are also using data and analytics to personalise content recommendations and are developing new technologies that can create tailored content experiences.
Gamification is another new approach to audience engagement, where companies are adding game-like elements to their content and experiences to make them more interactive. This can include adding points, badges and leaderboards to content, or creating games that are based on popular TV shows or movies. PlayFab is one such technology. Based on existing Xbox technology, it goes beyond engagement activities and provides unique first-party data that also supports monetisation opportunities.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.