When speaking withthis year’s crop of honorees of B&C’s 19th annual Technology Leadership Awards, one key common ground becomes apparent: Everyone has tomorrow constantly in mind.
Your TV Everywhere service is top-notch? Fine, but what about 4K delivery? Got dedicated live streams of your programming for pay TV providers? Great, but let’s get to work on adding augmented reality to the content. Your HDR strategy is all set? Fantastic, but you had better be thinking hard about ATSC 3.0 too.
The six industry tech experts being honored April 18 at the NAB Show in Las Vegas got to where they are by always looking at what’s next, keeping their companies at the forefront of technological innovation. They’ve had a hand in setting industry standards, have influenced government regulation of the broadcast industry and have pioneered the development of transformative technologies.
One helped grow her company’s business from the start. Another is shepherding unprecedented international live content expansion. A third is tackling virtual reality in ways nobody has seen before.
This year’s honorees took different paths to land where they are today, yet each is invested in not only keeping their company savvy with the latest tech but also contributing to “what’s next” for the industry as a whole. What follows are closer looks at each of this year’s honorees.
JOSEPH ADDALIA JR.
Director of technology projects, Hearst Television
In his 30-plus years as a broadcast engineer—the last decade with Hearst Television—Joe Addalia has seen (and been involved with) his fair share of technical innovations, covering everything from radio to internet.
Projects have ranged from designing entire studio and transmission facilities for TV broadcasting company Press Communications in the early ’90s to making sure Hearst’s stations were compliant with the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act just a few years ago. Whatever the test, Addalia can attest that the broadcast industry hasn’t seen anything like the conditions it faces today.
“Technology changes used to be more sequential, one after another after another, and yes, today’s technology is rapidly changing,” Addalia said. “But what we’re seeing is multiple technologies not only being introduced at the same time, but also rapidly changing at the same time.”
Differing resolutions, multiple codecs, varying compression standards, thousands of devices to deliver to, HDR, wider color gamut…for what broadcasters have to deal with today, Addalia used the analogy of a train going down a track: “It used to be one. Now you’ve got 10,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s interesting, but it’s also overbearing at times, because you can’t do it all at once,” Addalia added. “Instead, you have to make long-range, strategic moves for your organization, with technology [in mind].”
That’s what Addalia has kept in mind in his post with Hearst, keeping the company’s TV workflows up to speed with the latest technologies. He has a voice in how Hearst approaches live and on-demand streaming, mobile content delivery and multicasting. He serves as the company’s representative on the 200 station-strong Pearl TV Group Technology Committee, as well as the NAB’s Technology Committee and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). Plus, Addalia oversees key Hearst vendor-partner relationships with the likes of Adobe and Imagine Communications.
“People want to watch on the devices they have closest to them, and it’s important for broadcasters to make it available to them, whether it’s an app or our own streaming,” Addalia said. “At Hearst we play to all platforms, and my role in that is to facilitate the digital connection into our TV stations, make sure that if our digital people need a signal or an interface into the TV station, it gets done properly.”
Before joining Hearst in 2006, Addalia was corporate director of engineering technology for Emmis Communications’ 16 TV and 25 radio stations. Before that, Addalia was corporate director of engineering for Press Communications, where he designed and constructed studio and transmission facilities in New Jersey and Florida.
Director advanced technology and engineering, CBS
At first, Greg Coppa was not sure he deserved to be honored with a B&C Technology Leadership Award. It took a slew of congratulatory notes from industry colleagues to remind him what he’s accomplished over the decades.
“I didn’t get too excited about the award,” Coppa said of his initial reaction. “However, being recognized by my peers as a ‘leader’ puts it in a different perspective, one that I’m deeply honored by.”
After joining CBS in 1982 as a project engineer designing broadcast systems, Coppa moved into the company’s advanced technology group in the early ’90s, just in time for the development of HDTV. As director of engineering and advanced technology, he manages the lab where all new technologies are evaluated and tested for use at CBS.
Along with high-def, Coppa’s contributions have included everything from the transition from analog to digital to coauthoring the ATSC Recommended Practice A/85, which led to the adoption of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act (and an Emmy for ATSC). His mark has been left on how CBS deals with advancements in video compression, the general quality improvement of CBS product delivered to TV viewers and the launch of CBS All Access.
But what Coppa may be best known for is pioneering the development of Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) technology, which enabled the transmission of several news signals from one single, remote location. DSNG uses newly developed digital video compression and digital satellite modulation techniques to make transmissions more efficient, revolutionizing the process of remote newsgathering.
“To be in a position to lead requires opportunities to do so, and throughout my career at CBS I’ve been presented with many,” Coppa said. “[With DSNG] I recognized that the advances in video compression and satellite transmission were a natural solution for the problem of providing simultaneous signal delivery from one news location to multiple receive sites. With the cooperation of some forward-thinking CBS News colleagues, we created something that significantly changed the way things were done.”
Currently active in the standards committees for both ATSC and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Coppa isn’t aiming to stand pat. He figures to have his hands full in the coming years in getting CBS up to speed with the development of Ultra HD TV, high dynamic range, wide color gamut and high frame rate TV production standards. He will also help develop production techniques and workflows for live TV, to facilitate the delivery of advanced TV features. That’s plenty to get excited about.
CTO, Turner Broadcasting System
The work is never done for Jeremy Legg and Turner Broadcasting.
“Turner is building and innovating at a pace greater than any time since I joined,” the CTO of the broadcaster said. “[And] we can’t build technology for technology’s sake—it has to serve the consumer and drive tangible benefits. Historically, we’ve focused mostly on business benefit.”
Legg rose to the role of CTO—where he oversees all linear and digital technology—in June 2015, about a decade after he joined Turner. Throughout his run, Legg has played a major role in the company’s TV Everywhere work, handling nonlinear and product distribution for broadband, internet TV and wireless. He also has shepherded significant advances in broadcast IP routing and cloud infrastructure.
Legg is getting his team prepped for what’s on the horizon: software-defined networking for broadcast infrastructure and media supply chains, and DOCSIS 3.1. “This enables IP for broadcast in the last mile and will spawn a new generation of set-top boxes and application development platforms,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to distinguish between ‘broadband’ and ‘broadcast’—software will enable similar consumer features across each delivery path.”
First joining Turner in 2006 as a senior VP, Legg was elevated to head of technology strategy and product monetization in mid-2014. He managed Turner’s digital and enterprise technology teams for all domestic brands, distribution and ad sales. He also oversaw the software development and digital infrastructure for TBS. Before Turner, Legg was VP of business strategy and development for AOL, handling deals with telecom and broadband providers. He’s also held roles with Oracle and Accenture.
A regular technology panelist at industry events including CES, Legg is an active player with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM). He also sits on the advisory board of SambaTV.
“I’m thrilled to receive the [Technology Leadership Award], but don’t feel like my work is done,” Legg said. “I hope that the industry renews its commitment to innovation; that programmers and distributors deliver best-in-class programming and products to consumers. I want to see what others do and wonder, ‘How did they do that?’ It makes us all better.”
Executive VP, media technology, production and operations, Discovery Communications
ATSC 3.0, 4K delivery and high-dynamic range are the big buzzwords around the industry nowadays, but as the executive VP of media technology, production and operations for Discovery Communications, Glenn Oakley has his sights set on something else at the moment.
“One of the things we’re really focused on in terms of transformation is cloud and cloud playout, which we see very much on the horizon,” he said. “We’ll be launching that later this year in two of our continental regions. We’re going to be migrating very quickly to that technology.
“We view the advancements being made in distribution, whether it’s MPEG-4 or HEVC, driving IT distribution, as very much a part of our future. And we’ll also be expanding what we do with nonlinear, OTT, digital media. We’re taking a very aggressive stand in deploying that type of technology, so we can be there when viewers are ready on new and different platforms.”
First joining Discovery in late 2009, Oakley was quickly elevated to his current role in April 2010, putting him in charge of all media technology and international broadcast operations for Discovery’s pay TV, digital terrestrial and free-to-air services. And keeping Discovery’s international footprint large, expanding and constantly up to date is a huge priority: Oakley oversees 10 facilities worldwide, covering 400 feeds in 45 languages, reaching roughly 3 billion subscribers in 220-plus countries and territories.
Most recently, Oakley oversaw the consolidation of Discovery’s broadcast centers for Latin America into the company’s broadcast center in Sterling, Va., using technology to help drive down costs. He is also driving localization efforts throughout Asia and Europe and adding a slew of live programming worldwide. “In the Nordics alone, we’ve gone from over 200 hours of live to nearly 6,500 in three years,” Oakley said. “And the technology and the operations we manage have had to lead the way.”
During his time as senior VP of international media operations for Discovery, Oakley was the lead on the company’s acquisition of Ascent Media’s broadcast operations in the U.K. Before joining Discovery, Oakley was executive VP and GM at AMC Networks, handling day-to-day operations and strategic planning for 17 domestic and international high-definition services at Voom TV. He also worked as senior VP of corporate strategy and international operations for Showtime Networks in New York.
Senior VP of operations and engineering, MLB Network
Imagine it’s MID-2008. You’re one of only 10 people working to get a dedicated cable network for Major League Baseball up and running. The NBA, the NHL and the NFL have already done what you’re up to. And you and your team are working with wireless air cards instead of internet.
Susan Stone was on board from the beginning when MLB Network first became available to pay-TV subscribers on Jan. 1, 2009, and she still smiles when talking about what she and her colleagues managed to do.
“What we were able to accomplish in those six months, it’s still just so unbelievable,” said Stone, who first joined MLB Network as VP of operations, bringing with her more than a decade of TV sports production experience. “When we launched in 2009, we had two studio shows and we were up on the air for seven hours a day, live, in season.
“Now, in season, we’re live 16 hours a day. The volume of live programming—which is what our viewers respond to—is our signature, and we’re proud of our ability to put this programming on and give a dynamic feel to everything we do.”
Today, Stone oversees every corner of MLB Network’s studio, broadcast and remote engineering and operations, covering on-site productions for the league’s spring training, All-Star Game and World Series shows as well as MLB Network’s Showcase, the net’s weekly game telecasts. And following the mid-2015 digital media rights agreement between the NHL and MLB Advanced Media, Stone also has day-to-day oversight over the operations and engineering of the NHL Network.
Résumé touch points are nice and all, but Stone would rather talk about how MLB Network has launched dedicated live streams of its programming for pay TV providers; added augmented reality features; and is constantly pushing the envelope on new broadcast technologies.
Before joining MLB Network, Stone spent two years tackling remote operations for NFL Network; had a four-year-stint as director of production services for CBS Sports; and was a sports mainstay for NBC for eight years, including three years as director of production management and venue operations for NBC’s Olympics coverage.
Looking back at her career, Stone sees a difference between her time at MLB Network and everything before it.
“When I was at CBS and NBC, it was different era, [we didn’t have] the same specialized cable sports networks,” she said. “All of those guys have advanced and adapted and put terrific products on the air. I have nothing but respect for them.”
“From an MLB Network standpoint, what stands us apart is the sheer volume of programming we put on the air.”
Executive VP, media operations, engineering and IT, Disney-ABC Television Group
Renu Thomas may be the one getting a Technology Leadership Award, but when talking about her accomplishments over the years with the Disney-ABC Television Group, there are more references to “we” and “team” than “I.”
“The television business is going through fundamental changes right now, and our team has never shied away from the challenges we face,” she said. “In fact, we are usually the first to tackle them head-on.”
Thomas’ team was the first to fully upgrade and automate control room functionalities (for ABC’s nightly national news broadcast), streamlining production workflows to be more efficient and consistent and giving producers more creative control. She is overseeing Disney-ABC Television’s effort to transition its traditional linear broadcast operations to the cloud with an IP-based, virtualized master control. TV Everywhere? Disney-ABC was the first network broadcaster to develop the infrastructure needed to deliver a live, linear stream to desktop and mobile devices, with the Watch ABC app offering national, local and syndicated programming.
“Local affiliate feeds are delivered in their entirety in a cobranded application that honors existing local ad requirements and opens doors for new revenue opportunities,” Thomas said. “That was a massive companywide effort to accomplish, and it establishes a template that can be used industry-wide.”
Thomas first joined Walt Disney Co. in 2007 as VP of operations for ABC News, responsible for leading operations for studios, control rooms, editing and graphics for all ABC News programs including Good Morning America, 20/20 and Nightline. In mid-2011, Thomas was upped to VP of technology and operations for Disney-ABC Television Group. In that role, she was responsible for the technical and operational direction of all television functions for Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, ABC Family and Radio Disney. She was elevated to her current role later that year.
Before joining ABC News, Thomas oversaw technical and production management for PBS’ The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer as director of production for MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. She also held the role of director of studio operations for NBC Universal.
Next, Thomas and her team will have an eye on the evolution of 4K content, the delivery of high dynamic range and—the next big thing—virtual reality.
“Across Disney-ABC Television Group, there’s been a lot of experimentation with VR that’s really exciting,” Thomas said. “Our ABC News teams are taking viewers to such faraway places as North Korea and Syria, while the entertainment team is crafting unique story experiences with shows like Quantico and Nashville that bring viewers into the storytelling experience in really rich, compelling ways. I think there’s a lot of potential there that will be interesting to explore.”
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