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Q&A: Colin Decker, Group Operating Officer Discovery Digital Networks, on Putting Data to Work

April 8, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

This Q&A interview is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights… If you want to learn more, keep an eye out on our site for more interviews. Today’s Three on Three is with Colin Decker, Group Operating Officer of Discovery Digital Networks, on Putting Data to Work.

Colin Decker HeadshotQ: Please describe the value of data to your editorial or sales efforts:

A: Having a solid foundation of data-driven decision-making is really mandatory at this point. You simply must have a well-defined methodology for the “why” of using data as well as talent and staffing to handle the “how”. And it’s not just a matter of generating reports. To really use data means that every member of your team must feel confident asking questions and be enabled to proactively seek the answers without depending on a separate research group. At Discovery Digital Networks, we use a combination of publicly available data sources as well as a series of proprietary purpose-built systems to inform what we do day-in and day-out. On both the Editorial and Sales sides of our businesses, the ability to react in real-time to audience demand is a critical capability as we define the digital video marketplace.

Q: Please describe a recent content or advertising initiative that leveraged data, how it did so, and how that generated a better end result:

A: We spend a lot of time mining data for signals and trends. At Discovery Digital Networks, we have many shows that publish multiple times per day so a typical exercise is to look at topic and category performance throughout the week. DNews is our twice-daily science and curiosity show that covers all types of weird, geeky cool facts. As we mined audience, engagement and sharing data over the course of several months, we noticed a small signal that seemed to indicate that space-themed programming performed better on Fridays. To test the signal, we created “Space Fridays” and saw a near 4x increase in all our audience metrics. The next natural question is “why space and why Friday?” but for now, we’re content to have better served the DNews audience with what they are wanting to see from us.

Q: The notion of “data” raises concerns with some. Please describe your take on the issues around publishers’ use of data and how you address some of the common concerns/issues:

A: It’s a reasonable concern when you think of user retargeting or leveraging transactional data to inform programming selection. While it’s great when Netflix makes a relevant movie suggestion based on your prior consumption, I don’t think I want my Kindle to suggest “Mr. Mom” because I just ordered diapers online! On a more serious level, the Edward Snowden NSA affair has opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that you don’t need to break the law to invade privacy. Data “triangulation” threatens to open too much information up to bad guys and marketers alike. I think we’ll see an inflection point in the coming 2 years where the average consumer grows to understand this and we’ll see more meaningful push-back to the harvesting and misuse of personal data.


Colin Decker is a media leader who has played a guiding role in the confluence of Television, web, video and social media. He has held programming, strategy and executive management roles at Current TV, Yahoo! and Virgin Investments. Colin is a frequent speaker on emerging media and has held teaching appointments at Boston University and Harvard University.


Note: This Q&A is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights.

Also in this series:

Q&A: Vikram Somaya, GM Weather FX, The Weather Company on Putting Data to Work

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