BBG Tech Panel with Netflix CEO Explores Digital Evolution of Media & Government

Panel 3 Macontalks

After a special BBG board meeting in late December, our own Rob Bole, Director of Innovation at BBG, moderated an impressive panel of media and technology experts included Reed Hastings, CEO and co-founder of Netflix, Tom Cochran, CTO at Atlantic Media, and Macon Phillips, Coordinator of the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP).

This discussion with leaders from all sectors was part of the board’s efforts to help our broadcast-focused agency navigate the evolving media landscape and inspire new strategies to grow audience engagement. (Read BBG’s press release.)

Reed Hastings kicked off the discussion with a telling tale from a recent trip abroad. While vacationing in Costa Rica, he realized his DSL internet connection was surprisingly fast for being in a remote place. So he took a hike down a dirt road to follow the DSL line into the jungle where found a DSLAM converting the DSL line into fiber optic cables (which are much faster across longer distances). It turns out that Costa Rica is prioritizing laying fiber optic above paving roads. It sounds ironic, like a friend who has the latest smart phone but whose shoes have holes. Yet it makes sense in the context of global markets—Costa Rica needs cutting edge digital infrastructure in order to compete.

“When you look at the rate of smart phone adoption, it’s pretty easy to see that Internet connectivity via phone devices is going to be almost ubiquitous,” said Hastings. We at BBG’s Office of Digital & Design Innovation (ODDI) are acutely aware of this, and that’s why we’re so focused on creating digital tools and solutions for our journalists. But the challenge is whether journalists will use them. And that’s where a cultural shift is needed. We can already see that it’s underway at BBG as more journalists use social media and incorporate digital into their newsroom strategy. During the panel, Reed Hastings and Tom Cochran, CTO of Atlantic Media, addressed the difficulties of cultural change in a big organization and offered some words of advice for our leadership.

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, speaks about leading an organization through change.

Tom Cochran, CTO of Atlantic Media and Reed Hastings of Netflix chat about technology, leadership and driving change.


Of course, appealing to Atlantic Media’s customers is on Tom’s mind because he’s at a for-profit business. But do the same ideas apply to government? Like any other organization, government has “customers,” but instead we call them constituents, citizens or voters. ODDI has “customers”–our journalists at the various BBG entities and language services. And we also share another customer with our journalists–the end user who is consuming the news. But there are many distinctions about how government and business operate. The panelists touched on some of the major challenges, specifically for media companies and government digital departments.

Cochran and Phillips talk about challenges in attracting and retaining tech talent.


On the external communications front, government must take a different approach than private companies. The contrast is stark when it comes to social media and employee policy, as the panelists discuss.


The recent trend of hyper-targeted content, or personalization, affects government as much as media organizations–and there are positives and negatives to this trend.

The panelists discuss new technology and content personalization.

Tom Cochran and Macon Phillips speak on future of content dissemination in the private and public sectors.


While government has different constraints within which it operates, Macon points out that this doesn’t mean agencies have an excuse not to measure. And there are similar ways that government can approach measurement.

Reed Hastings and Macon Phillips talk measurement and audience engagement in the private versus public sector.


The most interesting moment of the panel discussion for me was when Macon made the case for government use of digital advertising to better reach more narrow audiences. Because at the end of the day, as any social media “guru” will tell you, it’s not about hitting the highest numbers, it’s about reaching the right audience with the right message (…to activate that audience so they can help you achieve your mission). And to take it one step further, it’s not just whether there was engagement, it’s about how your audience engaged with your brand. And so sentiment is another important metric, but one that’s often trickier to measure.

As an aside, BBG has dabbled in digital advertising to some success. For example, Voice of America (VOA) Chinese has used Google Ads in China to promote their content, but the Chinese government has since blocked such online advertisements.

Macon makes the case for a hyper-targeted messaging approach with digital advertising.

And, defying popular belief that government is trend and technology averse, it turns out that Phish has inspired White House communications strategy. There are certainly lessons to be gleaned from social-savvy bands.

Phish inspires White House strategy!


It was a thought-provoking panel and a timely discussion for the BBG as we prepare to navigate new waters in the coming year.

Rob panel crop,

Rob Bole moderated the panel (this serious photo captures his stern disapproval of the panelists for wearing flower-inspired, spring-colored ties in the dead of winter).

One big change for ODDI is Rob Bole’s new role as Director of Global Strategy for BBG, announced in late December. We’ll miss having Rob as our fearless director at ODDI, but we’re excited to see him lead the charge for innovation on a larger scale at BBG.

Next up: a little less conversation, a little more action. Follow us on Twitter (@BBGinnovate)–I’ll be posting more inspired clips from the panel and updates about ODDI.

Contributors to this post: Brian Williamson (@drawinghands): video editing, Anastasia Kolobrodova: photos

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Erica Malouf

Erica Malouf

Erica Malouf advises on marketing communications strategy at ODDI/BBG. She also contributes as a blog writer, researcher, UX facilitator, and copy editor. Erica is currently earning her master's at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter: @ericamalouf or connect via LinkedIn.

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