Stephano Kim has not owned a television for 10 years.
Though that shocked Turner Broadcasting president David Levy and Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports, who hired Kim, they eventually decided it made him perfect for the job of transforming the way Turner does business in his role as executive VP of digital strategy and operations and chief data strategist.
Out of college, Kim and some Cornell buddies started a company creating websites for professors that sold for $1.6 billion. He also worked in venture capital and on solving problems for companies—some small, some as large as AOL Time Warner.
“My wife likes to say, ‘If there’s a burning building somewhere, you’ll probably find my husband in the middle of it, trying to pull the cat and the dog out of the building,’” Kim says.
Kim now helps Turner become data-driven, not only in ad sales but in content creation. An edited transcript of his conversation with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette follows.
After having success in the digital world, why would you want to work in the dying TV industry?
In my career, I had touched on every form of mass media except television. You could see the world of television was about to make some significant changes, and ultimately the changes that are made by companies like ours in the near term are going to form what the television landscape looks like five, 10, 15 years from now. So that’s pretty exciting.
Can data solve everything?
I don’t think data can solve everything. I think the value of data is what you do with it, how you interpret the information that’s being sent to you, the context in a situation or the problem or even where the data was collected. We try to empower our executives and the bright people who work here.
What’s the oddest request for data you’ve gotten?
I don’t know that there’s been any odd requests. I think that what’s fascinating is that you’re starting to see some of our creators data-informed or data-guided about what types of content might be greenlit and how they might develop story arcs of certain content, certain angles on how they might report a certain story. The data might reveal the underlying sentiment of how people feel about a certain subject matter or a trending interest.
Do Turner people get periodic reports with data?
What we do is we give them real-time dashboards. We’re pulling in Twitter feeds, Facebook feeds.. We have teams around the globe that interact with Kakao Talk, Line and WeChat. All of these platforms have data outputs that are published in pretty near real time and so we’re pulling in that information and we’re trying to synthesize it on the fly and put it in front of a content creator or a news editor so they’ve got that information at their fingertips because they’re in creative mode all the time.
Do you use data in real life?
I think there still are a lot of things where you might have a gut instinct about something, and the data’s just there to either validate or dis-validate how you feel. I don’t think you take away the human nature of things. And I think the second thing is the most natural use of data is how it surfaces in applications and in a user experience day-to-day. So when I pull up my Open Table and look for a reservation, yeah, data’s involved because it knows the last 10 restaurants I’ve chosen. Or when I do a search, data’s involved. Data is involved in a lot of my family’s decision-making, especially when my 8-year-old asks Alexa to play Kidz Bop.