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Mobile, Product Managers, and the changing ‘landscape’ for journalism and broadcasting are all ‘so hot right now’, and topics we discuss a fair bit at Econ towers.

Chris Ramsbottom is a Mobile Product Manager at BSkyB, so I thought I’d ask him some questions, and get some views straight from the horse’s mouth.

'Product Manager is a job title becoming vogue. At Econsultancy we hear lots of people talking about T-shaped people, or even Pi-shaped people. Could you give us an idea of what skills are needed to be a Product Manager in digital, and at Sky?' 

For me, the key to becoming a successful Product Manager is being able to wear many different hats, and be able to switch between them pretty quickly.

On an average day, I can go from a planning session with developers where we’ll talk about APIs and required infrastructure changes, to a meeting with our Finance Teams to discuss budgets for next fiscal year, through to a presentation I need to give to senior managers in our Sales and Marketing teams.

You need to be comfortable talking in detail about the technical aspects, the commercials and – most importantly - the customer benefits, not just today, but in line with the longer term business strategy. The real key is being able to adjust the information you provide to best suit the audience, and being able to judge the level at which the people you’re speaking to need to hear things. 

For instance, the senior stakeholders I deal with don’t necessarily need to hear the exact technicalities of how we will produce something, in the same way that my development team don’t need to know the explicit details of our marketing spend.  

How do you see the world of mobile and digital in general from a careers point of view? Did your education (MSc eBusiness and Innovation) adequately prepare you for industry, and do you think defined career paths or even ‘desire lines’ have opened up in digital?

I think that the digital industry, and mobile in particular, is only just getting started – it’s an incredibly exciting area to be working in at the moment. Even those people and organisations that may tend to be more resistant to change are quickly realising the benefits that the internet and connected devices have to offer.

As a result, universities are beginning to offer courses which teach many of the key skills needed to succeed in such a fast-paced industry, and businesses are now offering much more visible structures and career paths for those that wish to progress. This is something that we perhaps didn’t have, say, five years ago.

From a careers point of view, I must get 2-3 LinkedIn messages a day pertaining to recruitment and jobs in the industry. Considering the wider economic situation at present, I doubt that is quite the same across other industries in the UK.  

Sky Go (watch TV, live on the move and On Demand) was released last year. Have you noticed any interesting trends in consumer behaviour, who is watching what on their mobile handsets, and when?

Sky Go is now used by such a huge number of our customers, and we are seeing people use smart phones and tablets to act as a second screen when in the same room as the TV.

We know that watching TV is predominantly a social experience, enjoyed with other members of the household, and one noticeable tendency we are seeing is that if people don’t want to watch what’s on the main screen, but want to stay in the same room, they’ll grab their tablet or smartphone and watch something else.

Sky Go offers you that flexibility, and you can watch Sky’s great content when you’re on the move through a wifi or 3G connection.

We’re doing away with the old adage of ‘(s)he who has the remote, has the power!’

Obviously sports fans flock to Sky Go because of our fantastic offering in this area, so we see more people logging in at weekend and during mid-week football matches.

The highest level of traffic we have seen to date was during the weekend of this year’s Ryder Cup, when 700,000 excited fans followed live action of Europe’s fantastic win! We’re now seeing 2.8m unique users accessing Sky Go every quarter.   

Mobile seems to be the channel that ties together many of Sky’s offerings. Do you see mobile as sort of ‘grouting’ in the broadcasting mix, or is it a stand-alone, self-justifying medium?

It’s now quite dynamic. We’re beginning to see mobile devices ‘accompany’ other products and services. That could mean controlling your set top box from your iPad as you sit on your sofa – as we have done with a recent upgrade to the popular Sky+ app or utilising our Cloud Wifi app – free of charge to Sky Broadband Unlimited customers, to choose from a total of 15,000 Wifi hotspots on high streets across the country.

The excitement and positive feedback we had around our first ‘Companion’ experience for this season’s Formula 1 coverage has been fantastic and great to be a part of.  

Of course, mobile can stand alone, too – if you look at our Sky News and Sky Sports apps, they are fantastic for getting breaking news or football scores whilst you’re out and about.

But if you look at the bigger picture of how consumers are engaging with mobile, it is an incredibly effective way of helping provide our customers with even more value – whether it’s accompanying their viewing through their Sky+HD set top box, or watching on the move via Sky Go. 

Social media and mobile are almost inextricably linked. The success/infamy of Twitter and the English Premier League makes this seem like a valuable platform for Sky. To what extent does Sky engage on Twitter? Is it seen as a broadcasting platform or a place to interact with consumers?

Social media is very much seen as a means and a way of interacting with customers. I think of it as using social media to be proactive as well as reactive. Our Sky News and Sky Sports News businesses have been built on providing the latest breaking news as soon as it happens, and social media (specifically Twitter) is a fantastic tool to help achieve this.

We can use social media to engage with existing users but also attract new people to our content. For example, our Sky Bet organisation actively encourages people to tweet in their requests for betting odds – the more obscure request, the better! 

We now also have a substantial social media team based within one of our contact centres that not only engage with customers through our own support forums, but also monitor the likes of Twitter and Facebook for ways in which we can help respond to any queries, for example, answering a question about a customer’s Sky+ service.  

You’ve worked on app development. Can you tell us a little about the structure of teams at Sky?

We work within an agile (scrum) framework, with a Mobile Product Manager responsible for one particular part of the business, such as News, Sports, or Movies for example.

We then typically have a number of development teams working on different products on different platforms, but all the teams are co-located in London so there’s a lot of knowledge sharing that goes on between them.

The Product Managers will research, define and then drive the product strategy, working with user experience experts and designers within our Sky Creative department to help create wireframes, story cards and acceptance criteria.

Everything we propose is based on anticipated customer need, so we do a lot of user testing, usability studies and market research before and during development. 

The development teams then have a solid basis to begin work from, - we research, design, develop, device test and then launch to market – but scrum allows us to be flexible in the functionality we decide to prioritise, meaning we can respond much quicker to change in the external environment, which, working in mobile, is the only thing that can be guaranteed. 

Lastly, anything new, or any teasers about what’s coming up at Sky in mobile?

As a company that invests well over £2bn in content every year, we’re continually looking for new and exciting ways to help customers discover things to watch. Mobile has a key part to play in that, and this is what we’re already doing with the Sky+ app, which now allows customers to review the content they have stored on their planner. 

Achieving landmarks such as the world’s first in-app, split-screen video experience on the Sky Sports for iPad app also shows that innovation is an ‘always-on’ for us. Fundamentally, at the heart of everything we do is ensuring we provide products and services that our customers love to use, so that they continue to see Sky as a valued part of their day to day lives.

Ben Davis

Published 13 December, 2012 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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