- WarnerMedia SVP Duan Peng and her team utilize data insights to attract and engage HBO Max subscribers.
- HBO Max users view two hours of content a day and Gen Z users view more licensed content than originals.
- Duan revealed what she looks for on her team: fine technical skills and a sense of curiosity.
has become a platform for buzzy original content since launching in the throes of the pandemic in May 2020, signing up 14 million subscribers by the third quarter of 2021, the company told Insider, who consume shows like the Emmy-winning “Hacks” and the “Gossip Girl” reboot.
And while credit should go to content makers, the streamer’s continued growth is also the handiwork of HBO Max’s data and AI group, led by WarnerMedia senior vice president Duan Peng, who analyzes troves of data and utilizes the insights therein to drive subscriber engagement and retention.
The Taiwan-born Duan, who joined HBO last year after serving as vice president of data science at Disney, runs the group that studies customer data and develops analytics and machine-learning algorithms. These tools help HBO Max drive marketing efforts, suggest personalized content recommendations to subscribers, and offer an overall better customer experience, Duan told Insider.
HBO Max’s data and AI efforts remain in the early stages of development but already, the group has identified more than 250 behavioral “signals” related to customer behavior, including which devices they watch on, when they watch, and whether they watch a show or a film.
Subscribers, for instance, watch an average of two hours of content a day, Duan told Insider, with Gen Z viewers watching more licensed content than original shows. (HBO and HBO Max subscribers combined numbered 69.4 million at the end of Q3, the company said in its earnings report Thursday.)
Data also helped inform the app’s development of a recent dedicated spotlight page for Latin Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), which highlighted films, TV shows, and documentaries centered on Latino culture.
“The data really helps us understand our users — how users are interacting with our platform, how they consume the content — and we use those valuable insights to really help drive those decisions and to improve our planning and our operations,” explained Duan.
To shore up its efforts, the data and AI team has more than tripled over the last year and plans to hire significantly more data scientists over the next 12 months, although HBO declined to provide numbers.
Duan, who plays an instrumental role in hiring, looks for candidates with strong technical skills and a strong understanding of technologies like cloud platforms, deep learning, and AI. But equally as important, she said, is building teams of curious, quick learners.
“This area is booming,” said Duan. “Our path is changing. … I think we’re looking for the combination of those skills, the hardcore technical skills and an open mind in terms of people showing strong curiosity, and that continuous learning capability.”
Already, there’s a huge demand for data scientists in Hollywood, with rivals including
, Disney+, and
all actively seeking to fill data science roles, according to listings on the companies’ job boards. Netflix, which disrupted Hollywood structures when it began
shows in 2007, is known for its heavy reliance on data to inform both business and creative decisions.
Duan predicts data science only become more integral to the growth and success of entertainment companies during the next three to five years.
Two roles, in particular, will be in demand, Duan added: generalists acting as “citizen data scientists” who can perform sophisticated analysis and run statistical models, as well as more specialized roles focused on such areas as computer vision, language processing, and causal modeling.
“I believe data and AI will play a huge role in the whole space, whether you’re a Hollywood company and becoming more tech-savvy, or a tech company becoming more media-savvy and content-savvy — they’re all coming together,” she predicted. Data and AI, she said, are “in this middle ground, connecting the technology and connecting our audience and content.”