Next TV Innovation Awards: Innovators Shaping Video’s Evolution

Next TV Summit 2021 logo
(Image credit: Future)

The Next TV Summit on September 13, part of the 10th annual NYC TV Week, will for the first time include the Next TV Innovation Awards, recognizing CEOs, technologists, strategists, creatives, marketers and other executives leading some of the most innovative companies in the video business. For more information about the summit and the award winners and other NYC TV Week events visit

Todd Achilles of EvocaTV

Todd Achilles
Co-Founder, CEO and President

Evoca TV

Todd Achilles leads a fledgling video company positioned on numerous cutting edges. Boise, Idaho-based Evoca TV is a virtual pay TV operator, infiltrated into 10 markets across five states. The low-priced, skinny-bundled Evoca platform, which is primarily targeted to rural customers, delivers most of its content via ATSC 3.0, not streaming (although there is a lower bandwidth internet protocol component to the service). To provide hardware for the platform, Achilles bootstrapped the manufacturing of Evoca’s proprietary set-tops out of China himself. And as regional sports networks begin to go over the top, Evoca has evolved to package these channels into inexpensive bundles that achieve a largely similar objective for sports fans who don’t want to pay the Full Pay TV Monty. “I think innovation is key to the future of broadcast, and I think the future of broadcast is incredibly bright,” Achilles told Next TV. “The new technology opens up new business models and that’s what we’re experimenting with.” Evoca’s rapid evolution has come despite ATSC 3.0’s slow rollout. “Part of that is regulatory-driven, part of it is broadcasters have lost that innovation muscle, and it’s coming back now,” Achilles said. “I believe the whole broadcast sector is going to transform.” — David Bloom

Meredith Brace of Samba TV

Meredith Brace
Chief Marketing Officer

Samba TV

Samba TV collects viewer data via a global network of 46 million addressable TV devices, primarily smart TVs, powered by the company’s wholly-owned full tech stack, which includes a multi-source television panel 100 times larger than legacy measurement systems. Samba TV and its solutions are involved in numerous advanced advertising initiatives, but we at Next TV are particularly interested in the company’s program performance metrics for streaming, which provide the immediate third-party audience measurement we’ve been unable to find elsewhere. Meredith Brace, a former Fox Corp. executive and OpenAP board member, is the marketing chief in charge of explaining this innovative company’s brand message.  — Daniel Frankel

Matt Duarte of YES Network

Matt Duarte
VP of Strategy and Business Development

YES Network

Matt Duarte might have one of the great jobs in TV. He’s in charge of making the app of the YES Network — the regional sports network owned by the New York Yankees, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Amazon — cooler and more useful to fans of the team and three other pro-sports franchises. “We launched with core functionality delivering the highest-quality video player we could,” Duarte said. “We wanted to make sure when it launched that video quality was top-notch. What we’ve done since is layer on different ways for Yankees fans to engage with the game. We want to keep them in our ecosystem and have that choice of how they want to watch the game.” The continued improvements paid off quickly, viewership jumping 200% after launching in March 2021, and jumping another 35% this year. Among the popular features: a free “pick-and-play” competition awarding up to $25,000 a night for predicting game outcomes, a “Watch Together” function, and increasingly sophisticated live stats. Duarte also customizes the app experience for the very different needs of fans watching YES’s other teams, the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, the WNBA’s New York Liberty and MLS’s New York City FC. — DB

Shalini Govil-Pai of Google

Shalini Govil-Pai
GM and VP of TV Platforms


Two years after launching Google’s second smart-TV interface, Google TV, Shalini Govil-Pai still faces plenty of challenges as a top TVOS operative, leading the company’s troops in the ferocious global battle for market share of connected devices and screens. At the same time, she’s overseeing integrations of those interfaces with Google’s many other ventures and its even more numerous partners. To get there, Govil-Pai has an ambitious vision for the future of “the largest screen in the house” as a central hub for smart homes that integrates with the world’s biggest ad-supported service (YouTube), the AI-powered Google Assistant, third-party hardware and much else. “We expect to see a rise in creative use cases from video providers with shopping on-screen or shared viewing experiences,” Govil-Pai said in a written interview. “The role of the TV will also continue to expand beyond entertainment for other use cases that make sense, like fitness, gaming and video conferencing.” Google TV launched as an upgrade/successor/flashier younger sibling to the widely used Android TV. Since then, Govil-Pai has presided over a string of improvements, including user profiles, an upgraded ambient mode, a virtual remote, new apps and integrations with Apple TV Plus, Sling TV, Philo and Pluto TV. — DB

Geir Skaaden of Xperi

Geir Skaaden
Executive VP and Chief Products and Services Officer

Xperi Corp.

Xperi purchased TiVo for $3 billion three years ago. Geir Skaaden is a key Xperi architect, helping build a global streaming strategy based on that acquisition. Xperi wants its TiVo Stream TVOS to compete on the global stage with the dominant gateway streaming OS companies, Google, Amazon and Roku. Xperi’s TVOS will be “very different from the big tech platforms, which take away the customer and maintain all the economics that go with that relationship,” Skaaden told Next TV in July, shortly after his company announced the purchase of European video software company Vewd, a key ingredient in its product TVOS plan. Xperi sees its market as being tier-two smart-TV makers in regions like Europe — those that don’t have the wherewithal or desire to supply their own OS, as Samsung and LG do. Xperi’s Linux-based, TiVo-branded software will give these smart TV manufacturers a customizable platform alternative to the big third-party OS gateways, allowing them to maintain their branding and their economics. Xperi already has a deal with an unnamed smart-TV manufacturer to use the software. The product will hit shelves in mid-2023, Xperi said. — DF

William J. Rouhana of Chicken Soup for the Soul

William J. Rouhana
Chairman and CEO

Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

The name Chicken Soup for the Soul conjures feel-good self-help books in big-box retailers. But increasingly, the name should evoke the fast-growing streaming-video company that William J. Rouhana also heads. Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment just pulled off another notable deal, buying struggling Redbox Entertainment to fill in most of what Chicken Soup still needed to achieve Rouhana’s vision of an AVOD-centered powerhouse precisely positioned for the future of TV. The deal has one overlap: It’s adding yet another small AVOD channel. The company already has Crackle, Popcornflix and, yes, Chicken Soup for the Soul. The new channel will expand ad inventory. But the deal also brought 36,000 video-rental kiosks, a transactional VOD service and a loyalty program with 40 million entertainment-loving customers. It also swelled the company’s library to 51,000 assets. In a tech-media market full of giant fish devouring smaller ones, Rouhana finds ways to keep on building. “We wouldn’t be the first company to use a legacy business to finance a new-age business,” he said. “This gives us an underlying stability. I like the combination of underlying businesses, in this case, as a way to reduce risk.” — DB

Erick Opeka of Cinedigm

Erick Opeka
Chief Strategy Office

Erick Opeka drives Cinedigm’s corporate strategy and M&A efforts and also oversees a portfolio of 20 SVOD, AVOD and linear networks available online and on mobile devices, gaming consoles and connected TVs. He leads strategy, development, programming and operations for these networks, which include Fandor, Screambox, documentary network Docurama, fandom network CONtv, family-centered Dove Channel, Viewster Anime and more. Under Opeka’s leadership, the company has entered more than a dozen channel partnerships with large media players, including Warner Bros. Discovery- and Liberty Global-owned All3Media and American Public Media. Opeka also developed and launched Cinedigm’s proprietary over-the-top software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform Matchpoint. In addition to his efforts at Cinedigm, Opeka is a part-time adjunct professor at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School and has an influencer presence in the realm of tech-media social discussion. He is a board and executive committee member of OTT.X, the entertainment industry’s largest streaming trade organization. And he’s a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Television Academy. — DF

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!

With contributions from