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Giving Tech a Positive Charge

Much of what has been written about technology and television in recent years has revolved around the negative impact of technological change on the traditionalTV business. But if CBS has its way, the appointment of its first chief technology officer, Doug Rousso, will help turn that debate on its head, as Rousso uses new technologies to expand traditional businesses and create new opportunities.

"When we hired Doug, we wanted someone who could step back and look at technology not just as a way to make your email work or infrastructure function, but someone who could look at technology as a revenue driver, as something that would afford us new business opportunities as well," says Joseph Ianniello, CBS Corp. executive VP/CFO.

Rousso arrived at Black Rock in April and admits that it is too early to be detailing the specific technologies he will focus on to achieve that goal. But his resume details two decades of using technology to build businesses at TV companies and Hollywood studios, and deploying software and enterprise systems that helped boost revenue from ad sales, TV syndication, digital distribution, network programming and other areas.

"I've always been intrigued by how you take technology and apply it to business problems and strategies," Rousso says. “I’ve always been interested in looking at the commercial value of technology, how do I exploit technology for commercial gain….How, for example, do you monetize your [intellectual property and content] across a multitude of distribution channels in the most efficient and effective manner?... How do you use technology to bring that all together to maximize pricing for your assets on different distribution platforms and make the right decisions to maximize your CPMs, ad revenue and license fees?"

Rousso's firm belief that technology can be an invaluable tool to solve practical problems began early. As a kid he tinkered with electronics, and in the early 1980s he became fascinated by PCs as an undergraduate studying business at the University of Southern California. After college, he applied that interest as a commercial real estate broker, creating a rudimentary software program that helped him pull together data for sales pitches.

“Within a few months, I was the top listing broker," an accomplishment that so impressed his boss they had him set it up so all the brokers could use the system, Rousso recalls.

In 1991, Rousso took his tech skills to the entertainment industry, joining MCA/Universal. He got experience in a wide range of TV, fi lm and entertainment operations and also went back to get his master's at USC, where he characteristically had a dual concentration in information systems management and the business of entertainment.

After MCA, Rousso put in stints at DreamWorks SKG, where he oversaw the implementation of the new studio's IT and tech infrastructure, and then NBC, where he ran the broadcaster's technical and network services and deployed a software system to help executives program the fall schedule.

"Instead of figuring out your fall schedule by sliding around programs on magnetic board, we set up a system for doing that electronically so you could analyze the impact on potential CPMs of various lead-ins and outs," he says.

Rousso took this work to an even more sophisticated level at Warner Bros.' domestic syndication unit, where his systems for inventory and sales management were so successful in boosting revenue that he was promoted to VP/chief architect for the whole studio in 2002.

One of his key goals at CBS will be to use technology to provide the various divisions with better decision-making tools for creating and exploiting new content, and to build a framework across all the divisions for managing that content.

While that is a big task, Ianniello says, "We're off to a good start. I've been getting some very positive feedback with the people Doug has been meeting with, and I'm very optimistic we're going to see some tangible benefits."

"This is a big multiyear project that involves unifying the financial engines, asset management, the sales engines and the [customer relationship management] functions of the company," Rousso says. "We are at different states of maturity in each of the lines of business and we are on different architecture....My first-year goal is to create the road map, to put the vision in place and measure what the return will be so we can start to make these investments.....There is a lot of work to do, but I think the things we are doing this year and into next year are transformative in nature that will have an impact throughout the company."

Meanwhile, when Rousso is not taking a deep dive into the technologies that might help CBS's management transform its businesses, he is, well, often taking a deep dive.

"I am a native of southern California and grew up in water and snow sports in a big way," says Rousso, who regularly worked summers in the diving industry as a young man and is a certified diving instructor. "Now that I'm living on the east coast, I don't get to dive so much, so we spend a lot of time traveling to places where we can dive.

"I'm looking forward to teaching my three boys when they reach 13, which is when I started," he adds.

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