For the third week of ETC’s Executive Spotlight series, in which we interview leaders from our member companies about how they are adapting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had an opportunity to speak with Tony Driscoll, SVP of emerging technology strategy & data services at Warner Bros. Technology. Previously with AT&T, Driscoll is currently responsible for his studio’s strategies involving emerging trends and tech-driven innovation opportunities. He also works in close coordination with the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab. Warner Bros. has been using various technologies for remote collaboration since the offices began closing due to the pandemic in early 2020. We caught up with Tony at his home office.
Erik Weaver: What are you finding the most challenging so far while adjusting to the new work environment?
Tony Driscoll: As you’d expect, nearly everyone is working remotely right now. For most corporate functions, the transition has been relatively smooth, and our technology organization gets a ton of credit for that. We were very well prepared with technologies already in place for remote collaboration, much of it through the latest Microsoft suite of tools that are fully integrated with each other. From a cultural perspective, we’ve been emphasizing the use of videoconferencing to keep people more connected with one another.
In terms of production activity, there’s a spectrum. Our games and animation teams were very well positioned to quickly pivot to a remote working model. Both of those businesses were up and running in days with very little efficiency loss, which is pretty impressive. As you’d expect, however, live action production is more challenging, particularly on the scripted side. We have a lot of resources inside the company right now focused on getting production ramped back up.
Some of our unscripted shows have done well in pivoting to home environments with limited crew, and where the audience can sort of be in on the whole situation and it’s workable. For scripted shows and films, it’s more challenging. That’s where we’re spending a lot of time right now systematically going through the entire production lifecycle — from development to preproduction to physical production to post, and ultimately distribution — trying to figure out where the big blockers are and working our way through those.
As you’d expect, physical production is the biggest challenge right now given the heavy reliance on large groups of people working in close proximity. The solution is not one-size-fits-all though. Each geography and production has its own set of challenges, but where we can find common solutions, we’re doing so.
EW: So, have you guys had to learn any new tools? Has there been anything else that’s just been completely fresh or surprising or just interesting?
TD: WarnerMedia and AT&T overall have been really good about actively facilitating employee engagement and soliciting regular feedback. Our leadership has also done a nice job with things like videos from home to describe how they’ve been coping and what they’re finding successful. On our team, we’re also encouraging employees to send in videos and pictures of silly things like kids and pets making cameos on video meetings. It’s helpful for all of those things to get shared broadly so folks can see that others are dealing with similar sorts of issues, and so that we can all have a good laugh at the absurdity of it all from time to time.
EW: Do you think anything really positive has come out of this long-term?
TD: Absolutely. Without a doubt the industry is suffering at the moment, but the constraints we’re operating under are driving an incredible amount of innovation and a willingness to accelerate strategies across the industry that we previously thought might be years away. That will ultimately be a very good thing for the entertainment ecosystem. I think you’ll find that a year from now the industry will be both more disciplined and efficient than it has been while also using the current constraints to produce some very exciting innovations and new forms of storytelling.