Meet the Technology Leaders at the Helm of Warner Bros. Discovery’s Latest Evolution
Sowmya Subramanian compares leading her team at Warner Bros. Discovery to steering a ship on the open ocean. The executive vice president explained: Waters can be choppy and storms can erupt unexpectedly, but with proper direction and a well-designed vessel, her team stays the course.
That’s where Lisa Garnett-Willis comes in. As the group vice president of global technical program management and global partner integration, she plays the part of co-captain as well as maritime architect.
Garnett-Willis explained that her team builds the ship, constructing a framework sturdy enough for Subramanian’s team to weather any chaos that comes their way. Together — from opposite sides of the United States — they form a tightly woven, cross-functional unit capable of upholding the global media giant.
AN ENTERTAINMENT POWERHOUSE
In 2022, WarnerMedia merged with Discovery Inc., giving rise to what is now Warner Bros. Discovery. The union brought together numerous entertainment brands, including HBO Max, Discovery+, Warner Bros. Pictures and WBD Games.
This powerful partnership between Subramanian and Garnett-Willis is driving the company’s current phase of transformation; one that will benefit audiences in an unprecedented way. After last year’s merger, the newly minted media conglomerate has a wealth of content and portfolio of services to delight global customers with.
In order to accomplish such a massive feat, the company is investing heavily in AI and data intelligence while building out its internal teams. Subramanian described the ongoing venture as one that will require both leaders to maintain many moving parts.
“As we bring our teams along for this incredible journey, we’re ensuring that information and communication is transparent,” Garnett-Willis said. “Our ‘One Team’ philosophy is central to how we operate.”
This undertaking will require equal parts technological innovation and human expertise. And, according to Subramanian and Garnett-Willis, it will also involve integrity, informed strategy and strong leadership.
WHO IS A GOOD FIT FOR THE TEAM?
Warner Bros. Discovery is currently searching for top talent to work out of various office locations, including its new San Francisco-based tech hub, which opened last year. With a heavy focus on filling engineering and data roles, the company is eager to attract individuals who embrace an “out-of-the-box mindset,” according to Subramanian.
An AI-Informed Alliance
Across the entertainment streaming space, brands are reckoning with the continual rise of machine-generated content creation. Warner Bros. Discovery is no stranger to this 21st Century struggle between humans and machines.
“It’s a very controversial topic, because how much do you want the machine to generate content versus having the human element behind it?” Subramanian said.
With this in mind, the company isn’t taking people out of the equation entirely. Rather, it aims to strike a healthy balance between human intelligence and AI. While leveraging technology for automation and optimization, team members will retain editorial control.
“We want that high-touch editorial voice that Warner Bros. Discovery is known for,” Subramanian said.
How much do you want the machine to generate content? We want that high-touch editorial voice that Warner Bros. Discovery is known for.”
Subramanian said humans are critical to the content creation and curation journey, and technology is employed to drive data-driven intelligence at scale, with velocity and efficiency.
This AI-informed alliance is also important when it comes to the company’s partner ecosystem. While it’s possible to specify certain controls and standards for each integration itself, the partner has total control over its codebase. If these integrations aren’t working effectively, they can result in downtime or high-friction user experiences.
THE PARTNERSHIP ECOSYSTEM
To meet customers where they are and delight them with its broad portfolio of content and services, Warner Bros. Discovery has a connected network of outside partners that bring its content to customers wherever they are. Subramanian said the organization relies on this type of partner ecosystem to engage more deeply with audiences. “Some partners help distribute our content, some help grow our subscriber reach, and some help drive our global footprint,” she explained. “Overall, these partnerships are intended to increase customer engagement and subscriber satisfaction.”
According to Garnett-Willis, having humans involved in the company’s partnerships gives them the chance to proactively monitor, alert and notify the right internal teams of issues before customers encounter them. The human aspect of execution, quality assurance and operations will always be critical to achieving the high bar Warner Bros. Discovery holds for customer delight.
“We’re working hard in so many different ways to make sure that the end-user experience is well informed, both from a human and a machine perspective,” Garnett-Willis said. “That’s what elicits a consistent, usable and trustworthy experience.”
Subramanian said it isn’t enough to simply provide consumers with a diverse breadth of offerings; they should also be able to easily navigate those offerings based on their interests. For instance, if a user signs up for a Harry Potter studio tour, they should be directed toward relevant merchandise and movie releases — like the recently-released Harry Potter Magic Caster Wand, for example — creating a cohesive experience.
Garnett-Willis added that having intuitive products is key to retaining and building trust with audiences.
“If content is personalized to customers, they can feel that we care and are passionate about what we do,” Garnett-Willis said. “The data we get from this allows us to continuously optimize on everything, from performance to personalization.”
If content is personalized to customers, they can feel that we care and are passionate about what we do.”
Shaping the Future of Streaming
Warner Bros. Discovery has many aims for the future, from boosting subscription rates to enhancing customer satisfaction. So how does the team plan on achieving them?
According to Subramanian, it’s all about challenging the status quo, which is an element of the culture that initially drew her to the organization. It’s a facet she considers easy to discuss, yet hard to achieve at many companies.
“Our leadership team wants you to push back and challenge them and have debates,” Subramanian said. “That gives people the space to feel psychological safety and try something creative. It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from it and can iterate again.”
For her, being a Warner Bros. Discovery team member isn’t about venturing into uncharted territory. Streaming services are hardly a new invention, yet in her mind, that’s what makes their work so thrilling. It gives people the chance to solve issues that have plagued the industry for years, leveraging their previous professional experience to pave a new path forward.
'MORE THAN JUST A JOB'
While technological advances are essential for the growth of Warner Bros. Discovery, individuals play a significant role in fueling evolution. “We want people who really believe in our mission and realize that this is more than just a job,” Subramanian said. By bringing passion, energy and a customer-first mindset, team members can contribute to the cohesive culture the company is trying to build.
Garnett-Willis added that this sense of inclusion — when employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas — is crucial to driving progress. “If a single voice feels like they have the power, that’s how we’re going to be the best for our customers,” she said.
In order to facilitate continuous creativity, Garnett-Willis believes she and Subramanian must encourage their teammates to take the initiative. “Sowmya and I are very passionate about allowing these intelligent, strong, capable humans to turn over every stone and solve every problem on their own before stepping in ourselves,” she said. “We hired them for a reason, and we believe in their brains and spirit.”
Sowmya and I are very passionate about allowing these intelligent, strong, capable humans to turn over every stone and solve every problem on their own before stepping in ourselves.”
Individuals are critical to driving Warner Bros. Discovery’s creative engine, and the decisions those individuals make need to be powered by data. Subramanian said her team’s day-to-day work involves reimagining how they handle data internally, including how it’s leveraged and reflected across their decision-making processes and customer experiences.
“I'm really excited, because it’s going to unlock so many things for years to come,” Subramanian said.
Combining two media icons is no simple feat. It’s a task fit for two experienced captains with the gumption and skill sets needed to navigate the journey, no matter how rough the waves get.
For Garnett-Willis, it’s an ambitious undertaking that is entirely within reach. “We’re going to come together in a way that’s holistic, easy-to-consume and efficient, and I couldn’t be more excited,” she said.