Andrew Jordan is a communicator. He describes everything succinctly and his use of metaphor makes difficult subjects easy to grasp. It’s important that Jordan, senior vice president of international technology and operations at NBC Universal, has strong communications skills, as this international broadcaster is undergoing a massive switch in usage patterns. Jordan’s job title more than hints at his employer’s American heritage, but this Englishman is responsible for all the company’s technology operations outside of the US.
Radio and printed media apart, NBC Universal is a major mass media player, and is heavily engaged in television, news, movies, online and even theme parks.
“The business breaks into three groups: film, television and news,” Jordan explains. “Roughly three-quarters of the business is the US and the other quarter international.
“We are the US version of the BBC and have a history that goes back to the RKO Studios of the initial days of movie-making, which means we have a big archive, in fact the biggest news archive in the world. Today CNBC News is in almost every hotel room in the world.
“In TV and film we are in a rare group of media companies that do the full span of media production and we own a lot of well known production companies like Working Title and Focus Features. One of our most successful recent films was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” he says of the adaptation of the John le Carré classic.
“We also have four theme parks around the world, which are one of the most profitable parts of the business as have a one-time capex and are very cash?generative.”
Based in one of London’s newest and most colourful headquarter buildings at Central St Giles, NBC Universal can count Google and YouTube among its fellow tenants – good neighbours to have as the broadcaster’s own business becomes increasingly digital.
“It’s a digital revolution for the product – the workflow for producing a feature or TV show, distribution and consumption. The shift towards electronic sell-through platforms like iTunes has a huge destabilising effect on traditional business models. We still make billions from DVDs, but that is beginning to decline rapidly in certain regions. If you look at what happened in music with MP3 that is happening to media, it is just a bit more fragmented.
Moving with the times
“You have to reinvent your model though. If a blacksmith was making horseshoes and looks up to see a car, he would have thought it was a funny looking device, but if he noticed more and more cars passing his smithy, but carries on making horseshoes and then suddenly notices trade slow, it’s too late. He could have been making car parts and adapting his business model.
“If consumers want to watch their media on an iPad, get your media on the iPad. If you look at HMV, which was a big outlet for us, how did they not understand the move that was occurring?
“In the US they call it ‘TV everywhere’, accessing your content anywhere on any device. People will drive demand in that direction,” he says.
Of course, Netflix, Sky and the BBC are already offering the TV everywhere experience in the UK, and although Jordan believes the UK is tracking 12-18 months behind the US, he admits that it’s the fragmented nature of our media landscape that makes it more complex.
The challenge for big media organisations is to make that move to multi-platform delivery before they become the metaphorical blacksmith in.
“Digital was seen as an ancillary business but now we are trying to map out the lifespan of an asset from green light to release in all formats. That has the potential to drive big change on how we drive the business,” he explains.
But as consumer behaviour changes, the technology architecture is coming under as much pressure as the business models these behaviours are challenging.
“We are coming up against the boundaries of technology and networks,” Jordan says, referencing an example from his career in finance. “There are parallels with the trading floor in the stock exchange – if there is nothing on the screen it is the same as a trading outage.
“There is more awareness of the data ripples when you create a data set,” Jordan adds of the opportunities the digitisation of broadcasting is creating.
“People are moving beyond traditional consumption models. Take the EPG, it is like Yahoo with the internet and then along came Google with search. People now just want to get to the asset.”
To allow consumers to find their quarry as quickly as possible, broadcasters must ensure that when people search for broadcast material, their terms of reference are not defined by the creator of that content but by the needs and language of the users. Jordan is fascinated with working out how to reveal content when people search for a location or an emotion such as happiness.
“Understanding how you do very sophisticated searching of sentiment and natural language processes are the challenges,” Jordan admits.
“YouTube is the second biggest search engine on the web so, just as with Google, there is a perception that ‘if it’s not on YouTube it doesn’t exist’, yet the majority of the content on YouTube is non?commercial and non-broadcast.”
The technology challenges are not just about meeting consumer demand, and if broadcasting is to fully embrace this wave of change, it will need to change the technology it uses to operate.
“Cloud is interesting. We have increasing demands for flexible models in post-production or distribution, so there is a gap in the market to play out from a Dropbox-type of technology, but with compression that is currently not suitable,” says Jordan.
“Could the elastic computing idea be key to transcoding of HD files to SD? There is a lot of talk about creating a secure elastic transcoding model.
“In the workflow, the question is how we get material back from a field reporter in Syria in a more secure and central cloud environment? So cloud will permeate into a lot of different places.”
Jordan arrived at NBC Universal just prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games, of which NBC was a broadcaster.
“The Olympics was fascinating. A lot of the work was done prior to my arrival,” he says. It wasn’t only the 16 days of sport that fascinated Jordan, but also the commercial pressures such big events place on broadcasting and its technology.
“An advertising slot in the Superbowl sells for upwards of $20 million. The accuracy required in delivering and playing out that slot is getting harder, and if there are any crackles in the sound, for example, the advertiser won’t pay. We have redundant play-out facilities that we invite the advertiser to come and check and play the ad out and we guarantee that facility will be used for their advertisement.”
It was these very challenges that attracted Jordan to the role.
“The media is undergoing an extraordinary amount of change in consumption, in devices and in the commercial models. To be part of that journey and to assess where the opportunities might be and put together active strategies for revenue streams and growth into new places, it is really rare you get that opportunity,”he says.
“The media as a sector is incredibly interesting as it’s what people do when they are not working. For me it’s the first role I’ve taken where the end product is not pure B2B.
“I’m launching NBC Labs,” he says of his first major innovation since joining. “The labs will look at technology innovations that may have a big impact for us. This will create a platform to introduce new ideas, to do trialling of how our products look, but also to look at other technologies and industries.
“When I arrived I was surprised by the lack of knowledge of the consumer view and of the journey users go through to find our content. There was a lack of awareness of how it looks on a mobile or on Freeview, particularly in operational areas,” Jordan explains.
“From a back office standpoint we are in a three-year virtualisation programme, so all our offices are virtualised. NBC Universal has three data centres: some broadcasters have more than 40.
Jordan reports to both the president of the international business and to the president of operations & technological services. He sits on the international management board and the global operations board. His team consists of 200 permanent staff, an Indian operation and a regular flow of contractors.
Key suppliers are Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, Avid and Cisco, and NBC Universal is working with Autonomy on the search challenges detailed above.
All of this has to serve 60 offices in 34 countries and also NBC News bureaus in every country bar two in the entire world. (North Korea and Iran are not too welcoming of US news agencies).
In a short space of time Jordan has overseen the international broadcasting of the Olympics for NBC Universal and set out some impressive transformation agendas that address the business challenges facing NBC. It will be very interesting to see how this story unfolds over the next year or two.
NBC Universal is a backer of Downton Abbey, seen on ITV in the UK; the series is compelling because it’s about an organisation facing major changes in class, family values, sexual equality and the business model of the farms it owns. There’s no lord and master about Jordan, but the keen cyclist is clearly in the role of the moderniser depicted in the drama.
Andrew Jordan CV
May 2012-present: SVP International Technology & Operations, NBC Universal
2010-2012: Chief Technology Officer, GRC, Thomson Reuters
2008-2010: Chief Information Officer, Complinet
2008-2009: Founder and Director, Auros Management
2007-2008: Co-Founder and Director, Beyond Analysis and reputica.com
2006-2007: Chief Information Officer, dunnhumby
2001-2006: COO, Investment Banking Equities and Corporate Services EMEA, and CTO Warrants Trading, Citigroup
1999-2001: Management Consultant, Terence Chapman Group
1995-1997: Senior Consultant, BSG
1994-1996: Editor, LexisNexis Butterworths