Bridge Builder

Rebecca Scilingo started putting her fingerprints on Comcast Corp.’s video-on-demand efforts in 2000 — back they were still being described to her as “a skunkworks project.”

Six years later, VOD is a key part of the present and future for the nation’s largest operator, for a variety of reasons. As a feature, it’s one not easily emulated by satellite competitors. Second, digital-video customers love it. And Comcast has only begun to scratch the surface: It’s storage banks are girding for as many as 10,000 hours of content, from 1,000 hours, when Scilingo first got involved.

She admits that she was a little skeptical at first: “But once I started digging into the details of how it worked, it became clear to me that the VOD infrastructure would be pivotal to a lot of applications.”

One of them, high up on her launch wish list, is being able to program your Comcast digital video recorder — without being anywhere near it. “I’d love to take my [Black]Berry and say, record this,” Scilingo says. “Or, grab those pictures off my PC and show them to my family — without us all having to gather around a small 18-inch screen.”

But that move to intertwine the way devices deal with each other — and all new service launches — must ease into day-to-day system life without looking like an operations sledgehammer, or disaffecting customers, Scilingo notes.

She would know: Seven months ago, Scilingo, who had been serving as director of network engineering, was promoted to vice president of integration and deployment, which puts operations issues front and center in her field of view.

Comcast Western division president Brad Dusto describes Scilingo’s success as a mixture of inquisitiveness, and good business sense. “Instead of simply tracking milestones, [Scilingo’s] inquisitive nature always leads her to ask, 'How does that work?’ or 'What does that mean?’”

“The knowledge she gained by both managing projects and learning the underlying business and technology has helped her develop into a highly valuable and effective manager, who is now helping shape new products and services for Comcast customers,” Dusto says.

Scilingo says that in her new role she must help close the gap between product development, and day-to-day operations. It’s one thing, for instance, to put a group of developers to work on a new version of a digital set-top box. It’s quite another to unleash that box in the field.

“They want to know things like, How many code revs is this going to take? What diagnostic tools come with it? That sort of thing,” Scilingo says.

Step one of her operations plan was to haul Comcast’s various new business and development teams into three of its five divisions last year. That was done partly to explain roadmaps across the operator’s video, voice and data product lines, and also to show developers what it really takes, at the system level, to launch something.

This year, Scilingo is widening the feedback loop connecting Comcast’s development activities with the field. “In most cases, it’s not just a matter of throwing a switch, and everything works great,” she says.

As for developing cross-platform features, like remote programming of DVRs: “I think you’ll see a lot of that kind of convergence happening this year, at the developmental level.”

So far, Scilingo’s work to blend operations and product development is manifesting in the electronic program guide. She’s handling all trials of Comcast’s advanced program guide. That’s good, because for Scilingo, the way in which consumers navigate VOD content remains a passion.

“It’s the passion of figuring out how one navigates thousands and thousands of hours of content,” she says. “The goal is to get that customer what they want, when they want it.”

That means working with guide-focused companies, like Comcast’s internal GuideWorks effort, as well as external hardware companies. “You can’t decouple them,” she says.

Suppliers of on-demand hardware know Scilingo as a shrewd negotiator, who doesn’t suffer fools. “Beckie is well known for being blunt and tough, but her biggest asset is the business savvy to take the engineering work and produce services that make good business sense,” Broadbus Inc. vice president of strategic accounts Dena Bradshaw says. “She’s one of the strongest women I know.”

Scilingo attributes part of that strength to her mother, who regularly played Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” for her and her two sisters when they were in their formative years. “She’d say, 'Do whatever you want, because whatever it is, you can be the best at it.’”

It’s an attribute Scilingo is keen to pass on to her own daughter, Devin, age 7, and her 4-year-old son, Tyler. “We’re entering the molding years,” she says of the family she’s raising with husband Bill in Collegeville, Penn.

When she was little, Scilingo wanted to be a lawyer.

“I thought you had to use your head a lot, to put all these pieces together and come up with a conclusion that would be validated by a court of law,” she explains. “That’s what I thought a lawyer did.”

Instead, she studied for a B.S. in communications systems management at Ohio University. The program was divided into equal parts engineering, finance, business, and interpersonal skills. “We had to make diodes light up, and still understand how the business ran,” Scilingo recalls.

She credits her Comcast success to senior vice president of digital television Mark Hess, Dusto, and vice president of business development Steve Heeb. “They took a chance on me .”

And Comcast has benefited from her acumen and varied sensibilities.