A Virtual Roundtable with Catherine Warren, President, GNW Trust

We sat down with Catherine to ask her some questions about life, work and digital media. She is unstoppable. We like what she has to say (and even what she doesn't have to say, but tells us anyway).

What drew you to this role at the Centre for Digital Media?

This is North America's best position in digital media. Vancouver is a wonderland. Our four institutions draw some of the best graduate students from around the globe and we are their Centre of Digital Media. Interactive entertainment is thriving here in Vancouver with companies from Microsoft and EA, to homegrown international sensations like Hootsuite and BBTV. We attract diversity, we are progressive and we represent innovation. It's all happening here.

What are your current digital media interests and what trends are you tracking?

My digital media focus is on media and entertainment, specifically how all-things digital are transforming the business of entertainment, creative production and audience participation. Historically, the relationship between media and fans has been top-down and arms-length. Digital media has brought moguls, creators and fans together, resulting in new entertainment products and raising the bar for media makers. Right now, some of the trends that I’m tracking include podcasting, in particular the emerging market for business-to-business podcasts where I also have some experience creating and hosting; professional video gaming, or what is known as eSports, slated to be a billion-dollar market in 2017, and where I am currently involved in launching North America's first 24-hr eSports broadcast channel; I’m also analyzing digital distribution and revenue models, as well as new currencies and ledgers such as Bitcoin and blockchain, specifically how they are transforming entertainment transactions. But the single, powerful digital media focus that continues to inspire me is fan culture -- and the immense generosity of active audiences in our interactive world.

What are you a fan of?

Podcasts of all stripes. I listen to about 20 hours of audio a week. Right now I am listening to The Daily (a New York Times newscast), Slate's Double X (pop culture and feminism), BBC's weekly comedy News Quiz, Crime Writer's On (true crime authors who recap popular podcasts--lively, fun and very meta), and Off Shore (Native culture and stories from Hawaii). I am a massive fan of BBC’s The Archers, the world’s longest-running radio drama, a daily show I’ve listened to for decades. Good thing I have a long commute and lots of dog walking to support my listening habits!

Tell me about your pets.

First, let me thank you on behalf of my kids for asking about our pets rather than about them. Our animals are not as easily embarrassed. We have outdoor goldfish (including the orange one with an orange tuft named for a US politician) and a high maintenance but beloved Weimaraner dog called Legend.

You have a degree in physics, what gives?

Yes, I studied theoretical physics as an undergrad and did my thesis on climate change, which at the time was radical. I also met my future husband in physics class, and in math class and in dance class... in fact we had every class together. And while physics may have brought us close, it was the chemistry that made us stick…. By the way if I ever say something is not rocket science, you will know I am speaking my truth.

Who has influenced your career?

My Mom, who is also a digital pioneer and innovator. She is the founder and CEO of Inside Information, which specializes in business intelligence and digital sleuthing. She had a modem in our house in the 70's!

Have you encountered obstacles as a woman working in digital media, which is quite male dominated? What advice would you give to females in their early 20’s?

I love this question, because it is so important to look bias of any kind in the face. Working women continue to face obstacles and need support to triumph -- and everybody will benefit when we succeed. Support for women at all levels of work must range from policy to collegiality. Advocating for gender equity in business needs to start at the top, for example from shareholders, who can choose to invest in companies with more women on boards; to parents, who can give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons.

Women hold only about 3 percent of the clout positions in mainstream media, so media overall has a long way to go. That said, digital media is not the most male dominated sector that I’ve encountered, so I’ve had good practice on tougher playing fields. For students in the current Masters of Digital Media Program, we have a 45-55 female-to-male ratio, so we are part of seeding change. And we are fortunate to be based in Canada, where education, government and the private sector are paying more attention to equality of all stripes.

When economics and human rights come together, change should be easy. But we know this isn’t always the case. Still, it’s good to be armed with some handy facts. For instance, companies with women on boards deliver better returns: on equity, on sales and on invested capital.

If you are a woman in your early 20’s, bring together an informal advisory group from all areas of your life and of all ages. Take advantage of their wisdom, use them as a sounding board and draw them out on issues of parity and excellence. Add to this group as you face new challenges, change jobs or return to school. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone.

Do you have a hobby?

Yes, I am a maker. I have upcycled or refashioned almost everything in my wardrobe twice over. No one else in my family will let me near their stuff. In fact, if you don't watch out I will happily sew a patch on something you are wearing or combine two of your garments, not that you need it.

Which sports do you play?

I am a swimmer. I’ve been going to the pool three days a week since I was a kid. I love the water. In university, I used my time in the pool to solve math problems that I couldn’t solve at my desk. Swimming laps is both a recreation and a meditation. In the summer, here in Vancouver, I swim in the ocean before work.

What is your vision for the Centre for Digital Media?

Together we have the chance to make the Centre for Digital Media a global destination for digital collaboration, education and exhibition. I see our district becoming more visible to the public, a place where Canadians and visitors, scholars and innovators can come to see digital media in action and experiment with new digital ideas. We can be the place where art and science meet and where people from all different backgrounds bring their skills and creativity to solve big problems through digital action and advocacy. We can stand out by telling Vancouver’s stories through a digital lens, and tackling Vancouver’s challenges through digital experiments. And when we combine the world’s most beautiful city with the world’s most exciting field, we will conjure up great things. The Centre for Digital Media gets a double benefit from “right place right time” – both Vancouver and digital media have come of age, and now have a spot on the global stage. All of this has happened as we prepare to celebrate our 10th Anniversary and look ahead to the next 10 years.

How do you plan to engage alumni in the future, and especially during this 10th Anniversary year?

Alumni will be centre stage for our 10th Anniversary celebrations in September 2017. The theme of our 10th birthday is “Homecoming”: a big welcome back for all our students from years past, and the families, friends and industry partners who supported them throughout their graduate studies. In the future, I’d like to see reunions with “Alumni U” where our grads can come back for a long weekend and immerse themselves in new media trends and tactics, combining professional development with partying and reconnecting with each other. Reed College, where I did my undergraduate degree, hosts a fantastic annual alumni college where students from years past, together with their parents, can take an immersive 3-day course taught by Reed professors. Over the years, I’ve participated in alumni college on fascinating topics, from “Moral Luck” to “Modern Chinese History”. (By the way, the philosophy of moral luck will make you question everything you ever believed about personal responsibility and good fortune – check it out.)

What advice would you give to the next generation of Digital Media students coming into this sector?

As a grad student, you have a rare opportunity to explore media from all angles, including art, design, business, technology, communications and more. Even if you choose to specialize, this interdisciplinary understanding will be invaluable in the workplace. Your future colleagues will benefit from your 360-perspective. Stay open to new ideas, we still call it “new media” for a reason!

Thanks, Catherine. 

Wait! Can I please ask you something, after all I am a journalist and naturally prefer to be on your side of the microphone....

Sure, go ahead. 

How would you describe the organizational culture here, what makes this amazing place tick?

That's two questions, but we will indulge you. Many of us have worked together for almost a decade. We are part of an extended digital family, including faculty and staff, some of whom are graduates of the program. We have a culture that combines this deep loyalty with innovation. We have a board that's miles deep with wisdom and commitment to guide us. You have come to the right place.

Great to be here with all of you. And thank you for this campus-wide security card.