by George Nott

Sharing the stories of the CIO50: #4 Clive Dickens, Seven West Media

Mar 02, 2018
Digital Transformation

Clive Dickens’ colleagues have an expression to describe the effect the chief digital officer’s relentless passion and insatiable ambition has on those around him: “to be Clived”.

Seven West Media’s departing group chief, corporate and regulatory affairs Bridget Fair calls him a “natural and infectiously energetic collaborator” who is “passionate, inspirational, strategic and highly respected”.

Dickens, who leads the rapidly growing Seven West Media digital function and digital investments, considers it a blessing to be able to motivate others.

“I consider that I am fortunate to have a unique opportunity to try and inspire my colleagues,” Dickens, who has been CDO of the media giant since the start of 2015, says.

The Dickens effect has been crucial over the past 12 months, keeping his staff and those across the business inspired during what has turned out, as Dickens describes: “unsurprisingly to be another very disruptive year for media”.

“And given Seven West Media is Australia’s largest locally owned media company when ranked by advertising revenue this unprecedented disruption undeniably had a huge impact on our business,” he adds.

Fastest growing in Australia

Over the last year the company has invested in the platforms across its Seven Network, Pacific Magazines and West Australian Newspapers.

For the last 11 years those divisions had very successfully and almost solely focused on broadcast and publishing, mainly relying on Seven West Media’s Yahoo7 joint venture with OATH, for digital innovation.

Now each business unit has, under Dickens’ lead, created their own direct to consumer strategies and business cases, and deployed 100 per cent owned and operated digital products and platforms which are are generating millions of dollars in digital revenues and shareholder value.

At Pacific Magazines, a program called ‘Project Atlantic’ used Agile development methods to build and deploy thirteen branded digital products for household consumer brands likeMarie Claire,New IdeaandBetter Homes and Gardens.

A brand-new Product and Technology team was hired which leaned on cloud technologies to deploy into production a full featured minimum viable product within months.

The result has been huge increases in digital audience and digital revenue, making Pacific thefastest growingdigital publisher in Australia.

At West Australian Newspapers a project named WAN 2.0 resulted in the creation of unique, internally built content curation tool called ‘Gazette’.

“That empowered hundreds journalists and content creators in WA to ‘create once’ and ‘publish everywhere’ via the already mature and deployed CCI Newsgate software rather installing an expensive monolithic CMS middle layer,” Dickens, who reports to CEO Tim Worner, explains.

The tech team, among other milestones, also launched of the company’s first native news app for iOS and Android and refreshed the popular footy mobile product The Game, and last year won the Walkley News Hackathon with crime story tool Beat.

At Seven Network the focus has been on scaling for live streaming premium sports from the Australian Open to the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The transformation of the divisions has been significant, requiring a change to the habits of more than a decade.

“Reversing this has had countless challenges to successfully overcome every day,” says Dickens.

Having successfully imagined, scoped and built the new products and platforms, Dickens has held numerous workshops and training sessions across the country.

This effort has included the use of collaboration tools from Atlassian and Slack, as well as Seven West Media being one of the first in Australia to roll-out Workplace by Facebook as a B2B comms and staff empowerment tool.

Disruption an enabler

“During FY17 my senior colleagues and I drove through a new strategy and vision for the business and empowered our staff to consider ‘disruption as an enabler’,” Dickens explains. “One of the ways that this is possible is by a relentless focus on innovative technology to help: save time, save money, make money and make people happier. The key innovations in the year that stand out very much hit one or more these pillars.”

Among the slew of innovations over the past year have been a handy fix to help fans figure out when Rio Olympics events took place.

“The reality was that many Australians had no idea what time zone Rio was in and that many thousands of hours of premium content may be missed if we didn’t identify a simple solution,” Dickens says.

Working with Australian start-upCalReplywho have developed iCAL reminders software, the solution triggered tens of thousands of event reminders for registered viewers, helping them better navigate Games coverage.

In December in collaboration with Industry body and JV Freeview came the introduction of the world’s first FTA industry owned Aggregated Live Streaming app called Freeview FV. More than 250,000 Australians use the native app and single user interface every month, to view simulcast streams and catch-up content provided by all free to air networks.

He’s also been a major contributor to industry initiatives at Think TV, FreeTV and OzTAM, at the latter helping bring the industry together to co-develop and launch the OzTAM Video Player Measurement system, a critical insights and analytics tool in enabling broadcasters to better monetise all their connected device services in video.

And when faced with the opportunity of how to better monetise the 3,000 Live hours of Australian Open Tennis in January, the team developed a server side ad replacement (SSAI) solution for Live and VOD, helping deliver more than 13m video impressions in little over eight days, making 7Tennis one of the biggest suppliers of digital video inventory during January in Australia.

UnLearn, ReLearn

Staff at Seven West Media are not the only ones “to be Clived”. Dickens sits on the board of a number of startups which have received investment from Seven, Health Engine an appointment booking and health tech product which now has more then 1.3m active users in Australia. He also acts as alternate director to outsourcing task marketplaceAirTaskerwhich now has over 1m active AU users.

He is also co-founder of registered charityCode Club Australia.

“Over two short years we’ve helped set up over 1,500 after school clubs across the country for over 10,000 nine to 11 year olds. As part of Code Club I helped createMoonHackwhich broke the world record of the largest number of people writing code at one time with over 28,575 participating from over 58 countries,” Dickens says.

He also acts as a mentor at MuruD in Sydney and recommended Seven West Media invest in associated start-up incubators and accelerators like the Plus8 incubator in Perth and the River City Labs incubator in Brisbane.

In his 30 year career, Dickens says the biggest lesson he has learnt is the importance of being able to ‘UnLearn’ and ‘ReLearn’.

“We live in a period of unprecedented disruptive change and historically it was always considered the most important to collect and retain knowledge during your working career. This collection of experience has always carried the most value, but today when I am hiring team members or starting new projects one of the most important questions you can now ask is: What has changed? Which assumptions do people make that are no longer true?” he says.