This episode is in collaboration with MRMW North America 2022.
Today I’m joined by Vera Chien, Executive Director of Global Research, Insights, & Analytics at Warner Media.
Warner Brothers Discovery was founded nearly 100 years ago. Annual revenues are estimated at $36B with 26,000 employees globally. Some of their brands include Adult Swim, AT&T, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO, and Hanna-Barbera to name just a few.
Prior to joining Warner Media, Vera served as a senior insights leader at Mattel, Del Monte, and Microsoft.
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Jamin Brazil: Hey everybody, this is Jamin, you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I am joined today by Vera Chien, executive director of global research insights and analytics at Warner Media. Actually, name change, Warner Bros. Discovery. Warner Bros. Discovery was founded nearly a 100 years ago, annual revenues are estimated at 36 billion dollars with 26,000 employees globally. Some of their brands include Adult Swim, AT&T, Bloomberg, Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO and my favorite, Hanna-Barbera, just to name a few. Prior to joining Warner Bros. Discovery, it’s going to take me a while to get right, Vera served as a senior insights lead at Mattel, Del Monte and Microsoft. This podcast is being done in conjunction with MRMW’s North American event in Atlanta on June 15th and 16th. Now every year, MRMW brings together forward thinking clients, innovative agencies and technology disruptors to discuss the latest trends and innovations that are driving our industry forward, that is consumer insights. The theme for this year is inspiration, innovation and insights. As in past years, I will be chairing the entire event and I really hope to see you there. Vera, welcome to the podcast.
Vera Chien: Thanks so much for having me.
Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats, full-time on campus, full-time online and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three course certifications, insights design or insights analysis. In addition to the certification, all of the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s program at broad. msu. edu/marketing. Again, broad. msu. edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. You are opening the conference as the Keynote speaker and your talk is titled Meet the Metaverse, Is It Hype or Hope? What can attendees expect to learn from your talk?
Vera Chien: Sure, I’ll be starting off with an overview of what it is, and what it is not, which we’ve been finding very useful in helping people understand sort of the concept around the metaverse. We’ll also take a look at what the current landscape looks like, who are some of the key players and really use that as a way to illuminate the on-ramps or partnerships possible for attendees and their lines of businesses. Then our – articulate what it all means and why the metaverse matters, really what we think is one of the most important takeaways of the presentation and we’ll just cap things off with some internal insights around consumer needs around this space and other opportunities to provide some food for thought. At the end of the day, I hope that what we can do with our presentation is lead those themes you just talk about in – not only inform the audience about what the metaverse is, but really to inspire experimentation in this space regardless of your function or the vertical or category you work in.
Jamin Brazil: We’ve seen explosive growth in the metaverse category and I’m not sure if I’m even referencing it exactly correct, but NFTs of course have just blown up over the last 24 months through COVID.
Vera Chien: Yes.
Jamin Brazil: And it’s interesting because it’s something that’s existed in our ecosystem for decades, right? Video games of course being really that – where you see non-fungible tokens, Fortnite being one of the most popular where you buy skins and that’s sort of your asset if you will.
Vera Chien: Yes, absolutely, I think NFTs, open world games like Fortnite, like Roblox that you’ve already mentioned, all of these are viewed as precursors of the future metaverse. They already encompass some of the key elements that are going to be necessary for the metaverse and so to your point, we’ve already had a couple of decades of this under our belts, if you will, and especially with younger generations.
Jamin Brazil: Yes, gen Z and highly likely gen alpha are making stronger connections to brand in a digital framework than in a traditional framework, which is super interesting and it’s funny because, I’m a gen Xer and I went through the whole dot com craze. It feels very much like the – and I was in – lived in Palo Alto through that, through the 90s and then left in 20 – right after the crash, but it feels very much like that, not in a way of – I guess in a way of hype, but also it’s the Wild Wild West, we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go, but it’s going to be really big.
Vera Chien: Yes, absolutely, and I think that’s a really interesting way to think about it, because around that time, we were starting to move into what I think some people refer to as internet 2.0 and we are now crossing a similar point in time where we are potentially embarking on the next version of the web, which is why some people are calling this web 3. The metaverse, NFTs and other kind of decentralized kind of platforms.
Jamin Brazil: So just to be clear, when you say metaverse, does it require a VR headset?
Vera Chien: I think in the short term, it probably will require something to – whether wear on your head or something to – a modality you need to kind of ‘look’ into and kind of immerse one self’s into this virtual idea, in the kinds of ways that thought leaders are thinking about the metaverse. I think in the long term, these kind of clunky looking devices right now will and should eventually get slimmed down, maybe thinner, may feel and seem more like regular glasses due to developments in 5G, and edge computing and other technologies that will hopefully usher in kind of more inconspicuous devices. But yes, I think in the short term, there will be some kind of virtual reality component to it, and – as a way to experience the metaverse.
Jamin Brazil: Not to be too nerdy, but is it –
Vera Chien: No, nerd out, for sure.
Jamin Brazil: Are we thinking augmented reality is part of this here, or is it full immersion?
Vera Chien: Yes, it’s believed that metaverse will be able to encompass all – a whole range of experiences, all the way from completely occluded experiences like the one you’re talking about with VR, to more hybrid experiences that might encompass parts of your everyday real life, including augmented reality. And so it’s viewed that the metaverse will be able to operate across a spectrum, ranging from AR to more mixed reality, somewhere in the middle, to – all the way to the far end of true, complete virtual reality.
Jamin Brazil: What’s interesting about, and I’ll pick on NFTs again, is some of the NFTs are connecting to the physical environments, aren’t they? You can buy a Gucci handbag for example as an NFT, and then that might come with an actual Gucci handbag in real life. And so now you’ve got this crossover experience. Brands, to your point, we don’t exactly know what the right thing is, but what is interesting about the evolution of NFTs is they become more and more community centric. Bored Ape Yacht Club for example is really a good case study I think, where you’ve – just to be able to buy other NFTs, sometimes you have to have – you’ll get preferential treatment or A-listed if you have one of those blue chip NFTs in your portfolio. And so it feels like, to your point, about brands need to be experimenting because the metaverse is definitionally about community, is your talk going to cover some ways that we should be thinking about experimenting?
Vera Chien: Yes, absolutely. I think a lot of the research, because of this hype you’ve been talking about around the metaverse as well as NFTs, one of the things we wanted to do with our kind of workstream that – and research around this space is to be additive to this, and the one way we thought would be most additive is to really start understanding what consumers, not only if they’ve heard of it and what they think about it, but really taking it a step further and understanding, what are some of their needs? What are some of the pain – potential things they’re concerned or the things they’re excited about? So we really dug deep into that area of understanding kind of just what consumers are most interested in and we will definitely be sharing a bit of that in our presentation.
Jamin Brazil: That’s going to be fun. I have a biweekly blog post on gen Z, and there’s a growing body of research that supports the connection between social media time, or time on social media, and mental illness. What lessons learned from social will help inform our individual behaviors as it relates to the metaverse, if any?
Vera Chien: Yes, that is such a great question and such an important one. We do know that especially – we ourselves doing research with younger audiences like gen Z, gen alpha and even it affects other – consumers in other age generations as well, but such an important question where we really do need the best mental health experts, thinkers, policy makers and industry players to really help shape and advocate on behalf of every day consumers like you and I. I think as individuals, we now have had over 15 years of social media under our belts, as a society, and because of this research and this body of research you’re referencing, why not leverage all that we know about the negatives of social media, as well as the positives and carry that forth into this next version of the internet, the metaverse. I think that comes from, as individuals, being aware of UI, kind of designs or mechanics that unfortunately foster potentially addiction, anxiety, depression from users and trying to combat that by self-care, self-reflection, moderate one’s usage and of course, more specific tactical tools around limiting time on these platforms. Thinking – putting another cap on for myself, as sort of representative of our respective industries, whether it’s research or technology or entertainment in my case, I think we do need to play an active part in advocating for healthier user experiences, whether that’s applying more user centered design principles in UI, in user interface, potentially greater moderation of conversations and activities that are happening on platforms and in future platforms, perhaps even thinking about alternative business models, perhaps one that are not as advertising based. Just variety of ways I think we can as individuals and as spokespeople potentially of our respective industries, just learn from what has happened in the past, learn from the 15 years of our experience with social media and helping make the future space better, more inclusive, more safe and with greater levels of privacy.
Jamin Brazil: And I would say that I think social company – and companies in general, entertainment based companies in general are thinking about that, at least in the ones that – the people that I’m talking to, right? And some of the lessons learned that we could even reference is tobacco, which obviously as we know, very negative from a health perspective, but can have a very addictive property to it, even targeting younger generations, but I think because we have that backdrop, we’re a lot smarter today as it relates with how we design our systems and our economic models, which I’m optimistic that we will continue to leverage.
Vera Chien: Yes, one thing I do want to just at least mention or perhaps clarify, the metaverse, while it certainly will be a highly social place, it is not going to be just about social media, and it’s really believed to go quite a bit beyond that in being this sort of ‘next version’ of the internet, which will have some obviously social elements to it, if we sort of project the current internet and then past iterations of the internet forward into this next version, certainly there’s going to be a mixture of positive elements to it, hopefully, as well as negative elements as we’ve just been talking about. But I am cautiously optimistic, like you said, that we can take what we’ve learned in the past and really apply it forward, in making the future kind of version as good as it can be.
Jamin Brazil: I love that, and absolutely right. I think that’s a really important point that you’re making, which is in some ways, it is apples to oranges from a comparative perspective. My last question, what is your personal motto?
Vera Chien: My personal motto is a little bit simple, it is to be agnostic about sources of data or information. And what I mean by that is, as a tried and true researcher, I’ve certainly been in the world of primary research, whether that’s qualitative or quantitative, and certainly data from those sources are fantastic and certainly my bread and butter, but beyond that, looking at syndicated data, syndicated reports and then even beyond that, around social media. There are so many learnings we can get around consumer attitudes and impressions from that kind of source, service, usage data for example, for us, HBO Max, or even device telemetry, so for me, that was looking at people’s usage of the Xbox console. Really it – data and information can come from any place, and perhaps even places where you least expected, and so I encourage everyone to be thinking about information in kind of a more agnostic way.
Jamin Brazil: Super, super insightful and exactly right, I think that’s probably one of the best things that’s happening to us as an industry right now is our access to non-primary research has never been greater, and to that end, it’s important for us to think outside of our normal ways of, maybe just do a survey or some one on ones, and how we can create more context through leveraging alternative data sources.
Vera Chien: Yes, absolutely.
Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Vera Chien, executive director of global research insights and analytics at Warner Bros. Discovery. Vera, thank you for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.
Vera Chien: All righty, thanks so much.
Jamin Brazil: Everybody else, I hope you found some value, I would love it if you would join me at MRMW this year in Atlanta, on June 15th and 16th. Have a great rest of your day.