100 years and counting: how centennial media brands stay relevant

Kantar Media's Bas De Vos offers a perspective into the success of media titans Disney, Warner Bros., and the BBC. Discover how these centennial brands have harnessed adaptability and audience insight to remain at the forefront of an ever-changing industry.
22 November 2023

100 years and counting: how centennial media brands stay relevant

Kantar Media's Bas De Vos offers a perspective into the success of media titans Disney, Warner Bros., and the BBC. Discover how these centennial brands have harnessed adaptability and audience insight to remain at the forefront of an ever-changing industry.

In the world of media and entertainment, few can claim experience as rich and enduring as the BBC, Disney, and Warner Bros. Last year marked the BBC's centenary. In April, Warner Bros joined the 100-year club, and this September, Disney celebrates this illustrious milestone. 

But what drives the success of these giants in a fiercely competitive industry? At the heart of their resilience and enduring appeal, I believe surely lies their capacity to evolve, innovate, and continually meet the ever-changing demands of their audiences. To celebrate the achievements of the 100-club members, we look at the key role audience insights played in their continued success.

Embracing technology

“Technology is lifting the limits of creativity and transforming the possibilities for entertainment and leisure,” said Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman and CEO, in 2019. “The challenge for us is to stay ahead of the curve and continue to innovate in ways that surprise and delight our consumers.”

Indeed, the more recent characters Disney has breathed life into, from Elsa to Moana, aren’t just figments of human creativity; they're underpinned by an understanding of evolving cultural sensibilities and audience tastes.

Similarly, Warner Bros. Discovery, with platforms like HBO Max, has used data and audience insight to redefine what personalisation means. For example, through a partnership with Amazon Personalize, the business enhances the user experience by customising show and movie recommendations based on user preferences. It’s a process that allows the business to quickly analyse user preferences from their other web properties and build the most relevant real-time recommendations. However, the business still relies on human curation - blending the best of both worlds to keep audiences locked in and business thriving.

Lead from the front

Meanwhile, the BBC has been a constant trailblazer of technology - first with radio broadcasts in 1922, then with the world’s first television broadcast less than a decade later. More recently, however, the BBC paved the way for streaming with iPlayer, which launched in 2007. Not only did iPlayer popularise the concept of catch-up television, liberating viewers from rigid schedules, but it also empowered them with the flexibility to watch programmes on their terms. As the pioneer in the space, iPlayer made television an active experience. Its multi-device accessibility meant that BBC content was available anywhere, from mobiles to smart TVs. This advancement, alongside the enriched TV player data from Barb also provided the BBC with invaluable viewing data, which in turn influenced programming strategies. 
More than anything, however, iPlayer didn't just present a new way to watch; it reshaped the UK's viewing habits, while setting the standard for the on-demand platforms that followed.

It proves that media owners must continuously innovate and take calculated risks. 

This has been crucial to their enduring success, because if it’s not measured, it’s impossible to manage. Any successful early adopter - or risk taker - therefore ensures their organisation has the right systems in place to capture and leverage insights to inform strategy and power-informed decisions

This has been essential for all three media owners, and I am sure audience measurement particularly enabled them to act on market changes, challenges and opportunities rather than simply react.

Indeed, audience measurement is essential for any media brand that wants to achieve long-term success. By understanding their audience's needs, preferences, and behaviours, media brands can create content and experiences that resonate and keep them coming back for more.

Pioneering the future while honouring the past

Meanwhile, a sense of legacy permeates their ethos. Their histories are rich, filled with pioneering moments that have shaped entertainment. Yet, they're not anchored to the past. With visionary leadership, commitment to audience insight, and an openness to strategic collaborations, they have consistently laid and fortified the right foundations. Their journey offers valuable lessons for those aspiring to carve out similar legacies.

As we transition into yet another new age, dominated by technological advancements like AI, the narratives of Disney, Warner Bros., and the BBC remain shining examples for the industry to follow.

Key pillars of enduring success

As we celebrate their centenaries, the successes of Disney, Warner Bros., and the BBC offer invaluable insights. Here’s what others can learn from their audience-focused strategies.

  1. Strong brand identity: Over the decades, these entities have carved out brand identities that are not only instantly recognisable but also deeply respected across the globe. This profound connection fosters unwavering trust and loyalty.
  2. Audience insight: A deep understanding of what their audience wants, driven by rigorous data analysis, shapes their content strategy and is essential for long-term success.
  3. Quality content: Time and again, they've produced content that resonates - it’s entertaining, informative, and endlessly engaging.
  4. Diversified content portfolios: From animations to thrillers, their vast array of genres ensures there's something for everyone.
  5. Embracing technological evolution: Be it streaming platforms or social media, the proactive adoption of new technologies has kept them ahead in the game.
  6. Constant innovation: Both in content and business strategies, innovation is a constant, ensuring they remain at the industry's forefront.
  7. Global reach: Their content isn't just limited to local audiences; they've captivated viewers worldwide and understood what makes a hit in different markets.
  8. Legacy and nostalgia: A century-old journey brings with it powerful narratives of nostalgia, which not only entice new audiences but also strengthen bonds with the existing ones.
  9. Astute leadership and management: Navigating the intricate landscape of entertainment for a century requires vision, agility, and an exceptional leadership acumen.
  10. Strategic partnerships and acquisitions: Growth often necessitates collaborations and strategic acquisitions, which they've seamlessly integrated to expand their horizons.