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Where are they now: Broadcast Executive of the Year 2019

Amanda Turnbull, general manager Middle East, Africa and Turkey at Discovery shares her views on winning the Broadcast Executive of the Year 2019

Where are they now: Broadcast Executive of the Year 2019
Amanda Turnbull.

What did winning the Digital Studio Broadcast Exec of the Year mean to you in 2019?
It was a privilege to be recognised as the Broadcast Executive of the Year. For me, the award recognised the success of the entire team and the impressive changes we’d made, and continue to make, to the business.

While the journey to this award started in 2014 when I took on what was at that point just the MENA business, the acknowledgment from my peers 13 months ago has further spurred our development across multiple platforms, driving profitability and showcasing our strength as a business.

I wish the 2020 Broadcast Executive of the Year all the best; it is an accolade to be truly proud of within the MENA Broadcast industry.

What have you been up to over the last 13 months from a career point of view?
Over the last year, I’ve focussed on nurturing talent, and expanding our geographical remit. Internally, we have seen great development and progression amongst our staff, with internal hires and promotions reflecting the depth of talent we have particularly in the D2C and production space.

Geographically, we have been given responsibility for managing Discovery’s FTA and PayTV business in Turkey, adding to our existing remit which spans the Middle East and Africa. I believe this recognises the successful way we run our business, making the best of complex markets and working with multiple partners to maximize returns.

Shed some light on a few highlights for Discovery MENA over the last 13 months.
So much has changed in the last 13 months. As a business, we are on a journey to transform our organisation from what was predominantly a linear business, to an ecosystem of products which each serve our passionate audience of superfans.

We are doing a lot more in the digital and direct-to-consumer space, including our recent partnership with StarzPlay. This will see Discovery’s Dplay service hosted across StarzPlay’s platforms from Q3. In the midst of lockdown and in time for Ramadan we launched Genius Kitchen – a brand-new, first-of-its-kind Arabic cooking course app – which houses more than 9,000 halal recipes, as well as multiple shows and courses to help people of all cooking abilities gain confidence in the kitchen. Combined with our ongoing production of content across linear and social channels, we’re working hard to ensure that our fans get the content they want, in whichever medium they choose.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the last year developing Discovery’s presence off screen, working to create original concepts in Location Based Entertainment and Consumer Products. The breadth of Discovery’s content offer means we can bring authentic and engaging ideas to life in areas as diverse as food, adventure and science. These deals take time and patience to put together, but we hope to be able to make some major announcements soon.  

In Africa, we’ve seen an increase in ad sales across our portfolio of 8 PayTV channels, following the diversification of our advertising business. We now work with two ad sales reps who each bring unique strengths to the sales process for the respective channels we’ve tasked them with developing.  We’ve bolstered this with brand-new shows created for the South African market in our Dubai studio, giving our channels a great local flavour to complement our global content pipeline. The last year also saw the strengthening of ad sales systems and processes to a world-class standard and the result has been overall growth of 7 percent year-on-year.

Of course, there have also been challenges during this time, including some tough payment negotiations with a key partner. We were forced into a very difficult situation and our fans unfortunately went without their favourite channels for a short period at the end of 2019.  While the situation was successfully resolved, it clearly demonstrated the passion of our fans and has reinforced our determination to accelerate the D2C pivot.

Any words of advice / guidance for women looking to get into broadcast and production?
I remember looking around the room at the 2019 Awards and being struck that the Discovery table was the only one with predominantly women sitting at it. That made me proud – to know that we were there, winning awards and being recognised amongst our peers, as a team led by strong and successful women. I hope that our success can serve as inspiration to all women and young professionals in the industry.

I always advise women looking to succeed in our sector to jump in wholeheartedly. Work twice as hard and be twice as good. Ask for forgiveness if you make a mistake, rather than asking for permission to act in the first place – a good boss will understand your motivations and always encourage the principle of ‘failing forward’.

As a big believer in the power of women supporting one-another in business, I think it’s also crucial you build a network of mentors and supporters to turn to for advice.

The DS Awards are set to be hosted virtually for the first time in its 16-year history – what are your thoughts?
No one expected that businesses and life in general would go from operating in a physical capacity to a virtual one, but it’s real and it’s working. Discovery now holds weekly town hall sessions over Zoom with 10,000+ people. In many ways we’ve noticed our productivity increasing and the innovation and creativity being unleashed is impressive. For example, our talent has self-shot 350 hours of content in the last month. So, the prospect of the Digital Studio Awards being held virtually this year seems part of the new normal. It balances the unwavering requirement for safety and social distancing, whilst allowing us to celebrate the best in our industry, and rightly recognise the people who are making a difference.

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