John Penney is expanding his horizons.
Penney, who’ll be presenting the keynote speech at CEDIA Expo 2018, plans to speak on subjects beyond his day gig: He’s Executive Vice President of Consumer Business Development and Strategic Partnerships for 20th Century Fox.
What’s that title really mean?
“It’s actually pretty simple,” says Penney. “I focus on moving the studio towards a consumer-driven strategic approach rather than a wholesale model. Right now, the studio is selling to theaters around the world on a one-way basis, and the rest of the world has gone to digital distribution in homes, in cars , in every facet of our lives. Digital is embedded in the core of all we do — a two-way data stream. My job is try to bring the studio closer to the consumer by creating strategic partnerships with companies that have either direct consumer relationships or stand closer to the consumer than the studio does.”
Penney’s been on the job at 20th Century Fox for less than a year, so those partnerships he speaks of are currently in development. His resume prior to this position is indicative of the chops he brings to the job, however. “I was a Wall Street equity research analyst in media technology,” he notes. “For 3 years, I worked at Viacom; I worked at HBO for six years around digital distribution and content and technology. I worked at STARZ for seven years helping to launc direct-to-consumer businesses, one that's domestic and one that's essentially the Netflix of the Middle East. It’s called ‘STARZ PLAY Arabia.’”
“In the traditional model, there's the way that the director wanted you to see it or the way the artist wanted you to hear it — but now there's all this other stuff in between where there's lots of opportunity for your members to create value in the home.”
From Content to Gear to Experience
Penney’s summation of the presentation you’ll see at Expo makes it clear he’ll be stepping outside the confines of his office at Fox:
The connected home is constantly evolving into a richer and more varied technological ecosystem where hardware, software, and entertainment content come together to deliver truly powerful experiences. As this evolution continues, those who distill simplicity from complexity will win. This keynote will reveal how the powerful hand of human and machine-based personalization will further change the content and distribution landscape and bring about opportunities for your business.
Penney explains, “I am hopeful the keynote will deliver a holistic view of how the home as a dynamic and evolving environment where hardware, software, and services requiring integration come together to provide consumer experiences that are even richer and more compelling.”
Penney understands — after watching algorithms sort content for end-users — the impact that AI and machine learning will have on the home of the (very near) future. After all, it’s not a big leap from a machine learning “This user likes rom-coms” to “This user likes the lights to be raised slowly around 6 a.m. – except on the weekends.”
The Spaces Between
As something of a content specialist, though, Penney’s fascinated by what’s happening in the entertainment universe: “That experience — watching a movie, what have you — is rapidly being modified and changed by software companies, new types of hardware companies coming into the space, new types of distribution technologies.”
Penney paints the picture of where that content is headed: Imagine an AR production that allows you to choose the characters and drive the narrative as you point your phone at a point in space. Suddenly, a story complete with Hollywood acting talent is unfolding in your living room — or perhaps a virtual “you” is starring in a sci-fi setting. (Imagine if the “Pokemon Go” game that was all the rage a short time back included characters that carried on conversations — or even became your “enemy or “ally”?) What gear will that need to bring it to convincing life? What kind of service will be needed when that experience is inevitably upgraded?
“In the traditional model, there's the way that the director wanted you to see it or the way the artist wanted you to hear it,” notes Penney, “but now there's all this other stuff in between where there's lots of opportunity for your members to create value in the home — create a service opportunity in a way that they didn't in the past because complexity is increasing at home at such a rapid pace. That's the world that I work in: The interface between the technology, the content, and the economics of it.”
And that range of study can translate into specifics when it comes to client interaction. Every integrator has heard the request: “Make it simple enough so Grandma can use it.” Penney understands what that really means: “When people use the grandma example, it's often because of their own fear — because they're unwilling to say to themselves 'I don't understand how this works.' It's like a guy who doesn't like to ask directions.” And Penney’s advice when this discussion pops up: “Think like you're a psychologist. Think like you're a social scientist. What does ‘Grandma’ really need to understand? And how do you handle the rest — both at that first sale and then as you enter into a longer relationship?”
For a lot of people, what’s happened in the tech universe runs parallel to the experience they’ve had with medicine, says Penney. “You went from being able to call the doctor whenever you want to hardly being able to get in touch with them, and now to this other idea that’s developing: ‘concierge medicine’ where you pay a retainer, a subscription.” That “middle stage” is where the average consumer is living: A lot of folks are buying DIY stuff and are becoming frustrated by the lack of tech support for those products (and are likely blithely unaware of the security risks they might be facing, too).
The metaphor continues: “What I see is that you're going to have a world in which a more aware consumer will be more discriminating, and just like people who are purchasing health plans understand, it’s very complicated, they’ll want a trusted party to help them make the multiplying decisions about proliferating tech in their home.”
CEDIA EXPO 2018 Keynote
EVP, Consumer Business Development & Strategic Partnerships
20th Century Fox