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EPISODE 15

Wall Street to Hollywood and the Role of Data

In this episode, Duan joins us to discuss how data transcends industries. She shares how her experiences shape her approach to using data for AI in order to rethink consumer experiences for entertainment platforms like HBO Max.

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Duan Peng
SVP of Data and AI, WarnerMedia
Duan Peng is the Senior Vice President of Data and AI at WarnerMedia. She currently leads a global data and AI group — including data science, data engineering, ML engineering, BI and analytics, data product and data governance — to support the launch and growth of HBO Max across the United States and international markets and to drive business strategy and decision-making across product, marketing, content, revenue management and operations. Before joining WarnerMedia, Duan was a senior data analytics leader in various industries and companies, including Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal, Hyundai Capital America, HSBC and Ameriprise Financial, where she delivered innovative and high-impact data and AI solutions that drive business transformation and growth. Duan received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Miami. In her spare time, she likes reading, music and traveling across the world with her family.

Read Interview

Alex Mysak:
Duan it’s lovely to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Duan Peng:
Thanks for having me here.

Alex Mysak:
Having such an extraordinary company like Warner Media, you’re representing here today with the strong media archives, I thought what might be really exciting for our audience is to ask you a few pop questions as an icebreaker around some of the Warner Media characters, would that be cool?

Duan Peng:
That sounds great.

Alex Mysak:
I’d love to hear from you, which Warner Brothers character had the most impact on your childhood and why?

Duan Peng:
I would say Wonder Woman. I have been a long time fan of DC characters and Wonder Woman is always inspire, even at an early age of my life, she’s so dedicated, energetic, and also has a really great social purpose. I think that’s really what I have been inspired throughout my life, in my career.

Alex Mysak:
I couldn’t agree more with you, I’m actually also a big Wonder Woman fan. And slightly different question, similar, which Warner Brothers character would you go into business with? And why?

Duan Peng:
This time I would probably choose Harry Potter. Harry Potter again is being a very popular character, but I think the way that Harry Potter is playing all the magic, but also working with all his friends and save the world, that really put a great example as great teamwork, and the way that especially our data and the AI team. Sounds like a magic we’re putting a lot of AI predictions, trying to really make changes and drive innovation. That’s some character that my team and myself has always been embracing as a really good icon.

Alex Mysak:
As a grit, I couldn’t… Again, one of my personal favorites, so you and I are very much aligned. I think one of the things in prep Duan, that was so extraordinary about you is your career and the different experiences. And particularly there’s one particular point where you made a very curious jump from finance into Hollywood. I would love for you to share with the audience, a little bit about that transition and particularly what were the similarities and some of the differences.

Duan Peng:
Yeah, definitely. I would say from Wall Street to Hollywood is a very interesting move. I have always been very passionate about looking at the challenges and using machine learning and AI to drive business growth and to really help improve our customer experience, whether it’s Wall Street or Hollywood. My passion is always tied into the data and AI space and Hollywood over the last few years has been into really this technology transformation, especially in the direct-to-consumer area, which has led me into a very far and interesting journey for me.

Alex Mysak:
And perhaps, I mean I couldn’t agree more given some of the technology we’ve now seen over the last challenging couple of years and how that’s transformed people’s homes, what is the most rewarding AI project that you’ve worked on?

Duan Peng:
Yeah, I would say the one that we have been working to build our personalization system to really help drive our customer engagement, their experience, across all their different devices. And that has been something that we feel that since launch of HBO Max, that has been really contribute to our growth and then to our product innovations, to continue driving this as a global scale as we launch more countries.

Alex Mysak:
I would love to also hear from you, you’ve had this incredible transformational journey with brands like Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal and Warner Media, now HBO Max. Outside of just you being on the team, what would you say have been some of the consistent elements around the team success?

Duan Peng:
Yeah, a team in the current, I would say fast-paced, changing space in the data in the AI area. We’re always really kind of target building a team of top talents. And then I have a very diversified team with very different experience, backgrounds, skills, but really work well together. And then to get to, our AI technology into the next level. We are building the culture of, we call the inclusion equity culture that really inspire our top talents and help us retain our talents. We obviously had very rapid growth over the last year since launch. We are braced by this continuous high growth over, probably also in the next couple of years. That presents an incredible opportunity for our data scientists to really get in, to help build this amazing product that’s going to be a major player in the market.

Alex Mysak:
Yeah, yeah. And when you’re talking about that kind of pace of growth and change, what have been some of the key challenges for data and AI that you’ve come across?

Duan Peng:
Yeah. We’ve just launched HBO Max in Latin America in 39 countries and we’re continue to launch in Europe and in Asian Pacific. We’re currently really… I caught facing how we can continue scaling up our capabilities from the U.S market to the global market.

Alex Mysak:
Yeah.

Duan Peng:
We are thinking to really upgrade our data and machine learning infrastructure because the data now processing, the warning will be doubled and tripled when we go global. And then we’re also processing the real time data and driving a lot of AI capabilities like personalization and data science applications. At the end of day, we’re dealing also very different local markets with different portal offerings, different language and we need to figure out how we are going to incorporate those different factors into our data capabilities. And it’s very interesting to see the differences between those global spaces. That’s what we are actively working on now.

Alex Mysak:
Duan, you mentioned scale and for scaling that fast, as you just described, then architecture in this case, data architecture becomes critical. Could you talk a little bit about the role that your data architecture plays within that?

Duan Peng:
Sure. We are really thinking about the data architecture that can enable our real time analytics and machine learning capabilities at a global scale. We’re exploring currently with Lakehouse architecture, with Databricks as our next generation of data platform. At the end of day, we want to really have the open source environment and also really unify our BI and AI capability into one platform to enable the collaboration across our data and AI teams. We’re also looking to really become, probably eventually multi-cloud environment which I think Databricks is really a pioneer in the space.

Alex Mysak:
No, very much so. And as customers and other organizations are considering this transition, what do you think have been some of the challenges that having this data lake first approach has solved? Challenges you had before that you felt have materially improved?

Duan Peng:
I think the speed of AI technology innovation is something we just really kind of start seeing, but we’ll actually probably really see more in the coming years. We want to continue really driving our data architecture to enable that innovation in the AI space, and really also connect with our upstream technology and the data pipeline into our Data Lakehouse overall platform capability. And then with analytics like BI, AI, all coming together. It’s a continuous effort to drive this, I would say the unified approach. And then currently, we’re doing a lot of experimentation, a lot of the work across the teams, across our technology team, data team also with our stakeholders. I think they’re going to be some continuous innovation in this space. Really excited to be working with Databricks and then to drive this journey.

Alex Mysak:
Yeah. I thought that you had done intentionally described us stack front to back. Thank you for that. That was a very kind, and we appreciate the partnership. I think one of the other things to ask you about is on one of our previous conversations, you mentioned something like we are just getting started with the potential of AI. Could you share with the viewers what you meant by that and what you think is the potential of AI in the movie and entertainment business?

Duan Peng:
Yes, absolutely. As I mentioned we have been using AI to really help driving a lot of the spaces is for HBO Max growth in product, marketing and content. Right now, for example, we’re building the content recommendation and search engines to really help personalization, to personalize our customer experience across all the devices in the global space. I think there’s some continuous opportunities to pioneer in this field and we can do more in the future. It’s all very exciting at this point.

Alex Mysak:
I guess what you’re in the alluding to Duan, is the use of technology to improve customer experience through some of the recommendations that you’re able to better predictively make for them. As I also mentioned earlier in this discussion today, you’ve really come into people’s front rooms in the last two years with the acceleration of this technology. What are your thoughts around customer trust? And the extension of that is customers trust in the way that their data is handled.

Duan Peng:
Yes, absolutely. This is a great question. I will say we really respect the privacy of our consumers. We’re customer first in our data privacy practice. And all the data we collect is really to enhance our customer experience. We are intentional in the data we collect and we only collect the data as we need. We do not sell any user data for any financial reasons. And we hold ourselves to the high standards of the privacy compliance and data security.

Alex Mysak:
No, that’s excellent to hear. And obviously, I mean, data governance is probably one of the biggest topics that we discuss across our customers today. Thank you for your thoughts on that. Maybe just to, as we’re getting to the end of this conversation, as you look back over the last two years of your career, what is one thing you are the most proud of? And also perhaps I spoke Dan Jawitz at shell about some of his learning lessons. What is another example of something that you would’ve liked to have gone differently?

Duan Peng:
Yeah. We are looking to continue using our AI technology to drive a better future of our customers experience. We now know who are our customers. And then in order to really reach out to them and tailor their kind of watching and viewing experience. And then we do this through a combination of the first party and certain party or in platform tools that really provide us with the data to understand what our customer watch and when they watch and then the platforms they’re watching.

Duan Peng:
And from there our engineers teams they’re going to build all the algorithm to really utilize all the data that we capture and translate into the intelligence so that we can create more accurate insights and predictions. We leverage the data to really help our leaders to make better decisions across our business functions. For example, we help our content planning strategy team to better understand what type of content is performing well and where we see the audience overlap so that the team can really use those insights, along with your deep expertise of the storytelling to make better decisions in terms of how they map the content calendar over the coming years.

Alex Mysak:
Absolutely. And perhaps the thing that you would have liked to have gone differently? The learning lesson?

Duan Peng:
I think what we have gone through is absolutely amazing. And I think if I look back this journey, and I think if there’s anything we can do more, I feel like we can basically continue building the culture of transformation that really get all the top talents together and continue driving the environment. They’re going to inspire more talents coming into the space and then really help getting to the next generation of innovations and be very competitive in the market. There’s definitely more work to do, but I’m very excited, where we are. And I think we learned a lot and that can definitely help us be more effective in the future.

Alex Mysak:
Duan, bringing back the conversation a little bit more to, about you. If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice so perhaps give advice to someone, either in the data and AI space today, or building a career in a data and AI space, what would that piece of advice be?

Duan Peng:
I would tell all the ladies, especially the younger woman, really getting into the data and AI space in this field, go with your passion, pursue your dreams, and you will really get there using my childhood’s icon Wonder Woman, just be brave. Be confident, get into the space and you will be really successful.

Speaker 1:
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