Engineering NBCU’s Tech Transformation

A notable example of how major media players are working to bring in new technical expertise to help transform their operations came in December 2012 with the hiring of Atish Banerjea as executive VP and chief information officer of NBCUniversal.

“In just over a year with NBCUniversal, Atish has significantly moved our company forward, transforming our technology to better meet our consumers’ evolving needs,” says Banerjea’s boss, John Wallace, president of operations and technical services at NBCUniversal. Wallace points to a recently opened $17-million facility in Englewood, N.J., as an example of Banerjea’s impact. “He was instrumental in developing our state-ofthe- art NBCUniversal Technology Center that is more akin to the Silicon Valley startups than traditional media companies.”

The new NBCU facility includes virtual meeting rooms, “Smart Bars” where staffers can try out the latest gadgets and a new Media Labs operation for testing next-generation technologies.

Such efforts have become a prime directive at NBCU and other media companies as they work to speed up the pace of innovation, and Benerjea has extensive experience in helping traditional media companies reinvent themselves. “I’ve been at the center of helping traditional media transform itself to new media since the mid-1990s, first at Pearson and then at Dex One,” he says when asked what drew him to NBCU.

Banerjea became fascinated by technology while growing up in India, where his father was a senior executive in the airline industry. As a kid, Banerjea also decided “I wanted to use technology and engineering in a way that was business-focused. I was not much interested in a backroom computer programming job.”

To that end, he first studied business at the University of Delhi in India and then got a masters in computer information systems at Temple University. After a few years of teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Banerjea took a job in 1995 in the higher education division of Simon & Schuster, where he helped set up the publisher’s first Web-based systems.

Following a stint at the retailer Maurices, where he helped upgrade old mainframe computer systems, he returned in 2000 to the Simon & Schuster educational division, which had been bought by Pearson. Here, he worked to transforming the operations of Pearson Education with the development of new digital platforms for delivering educational content. Banerjea was promoted to CTO of Pearson Education and then to the top technology job at the whole company in 2005.

After deciding he needed a new challenge, Banerjea then took the top tech job at the Yellow Pages company Dex One in 2011, shortly after it had emerged from bankruptcy. There, he led the deployment of new technologies that helped the print media company successfully reinvent itself as a digital marketing operation that was sold to SuperMedia in 2012.

Investing in Disruption

Prior to Comcast’s acquisition of the company, General Electric had underinvested in NBCU’s technology infrastructure. Banerjea’s early priorities were to upgrade the infrastructure and bring in new technologies and talent. “Comcast wanted a technology group that could really help drive the company’s business,” he says. “We needed to better understand our business partners and provide technology to move the dial forward.”

Besides upgrading core technologies, Banerjea has been installing technologies like virtualized servers to help cut costs while working to implement new systems to boost revenue. One notable example of those efforts has been his work to provide a unified technology platform so NBCU can sell all of its networks together to the ad market under the direction of Linda Yaccarino, president of advertising sales at NBCUniversal. In the past, those efforts had been hampered because each channel had different systems.

“As we have brought together our entire portfolio of networks and platforms into one, Atish and his team have helped us develop state-of-the-art technology systems that capitalize on the strength of our unique assets,” Yaccarino says.

When not working, Banerjea loves travelling with his family and is an avid reader, often of trade publications and journals to keep up on business and tech trends. That focus on future developments is also at the center of much of his work at the new Technology Center and Media Labs operation.

“The general concept of Media Labs is to focus on the disruptive,” Banerjea says. “We will be partnering with various businesses to pilot ideas and see if they work.”