Innovation Is Key For Spec-Tech-ular 10
New technologies are continually transforming the TV business, and finding talented young executives with a feel for proactivity and an eye on the future has become job-one at many companies. Such emerging leaders are key to evolution and growth. The 10 execs that follow are among the brightest minds helping reshape the multiplatform content industry.
The list—made up of traditional broadcasters and cable operators, data providers and Silicon Valley trendsetters—isn’t intended to be comprehensive. The tech talent pool restructuring the TV industry is much wider and deeper than many realize—thus, the continuing speed in the pace of innovation. What these 10 share is some highly notable innovation cred—and, thankfully, what they also share with us is their crystal ball perspective, a prediction for where the industry is going.
AMANDA BUDOW, SENIOR DIRECTOR,PRODUCT LEADERSHIP,NIELSEN
Career highlights: To get more content on more devices, TV companies need better measurement for their ad efforts, and Budow’s work at Nielsen is at the center of the research storm.
After starting her career as a consultant in 2010 at the Cambridge Group, working with a variety of industries, Budow began to focus more heavily on digital media, and in late-2014 moved to Nielsen, which owns Cambridge. Here the 26-year-old is spearheading Nielsen’s Digital Content Ratings and non-video content vertical. The Digital Content Ratings, which is slated to launch this fall and is part of a major alliance with Adobe to improve digital analytics, will include—among many other things—measurement of streaming over-the-top video with dynamically inserted ads, making it a key component of the company’s cross-platform measurement efforts.
Prediction: “It’s been said that TV is no longer device, but content. I would go further and say that content and the experience is the future of TV and that consumers are leading that change in content and the delivery of content.”
MANNY FANTIS, DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL CONTENT,SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP
Career highlights: After working as a TV reporter and assignment manager since 2001, Fantis says his big digital career epiphany came in 2008, when he took over as news director at KTVL in Medford, Ore. As part of a strategy to boost the market profile of its low-rated newscasts, Fantis focused on digital and social media, using those platforms to quickly provide news to its audiences. “Breaking news on Twitter actually improved our ratings,” he recalls.
The 39-year-old Fantis is now applying that philosophy at Sinclair, where he heads up an aggressive effort to expand the digital content for their 63 stations that offer news. Those efforts to reinvent TV news for the digital age have already produced some notable successes, where coordinated efforts to break news on multiple platforms during the Baltimore riots notched as many as 2 million impressions for a single story.
Prediction: “In the world we live in, we can’t be naive enough to think viewers will wait for the news if you don’t have to. Instead of waiting until 5 to run a story on the local newscast, it is better to put it out there, and when you do that the payoff for the brand is huge.”
ROSS HOFFMAN, SENIOR DIRECTOR,GLOBAL BRAND STRATEGY, TWITTER
Career highlights: After stints at William Morris and then YouTube in business development, the 33-year-old Hoffman earned Tech 10 status for the groundbreaking work he’s been doing in social media. Hoffman, who has been at Twitter since 2010 and in his current post since 2015, is particularly focused on connecting major brands with innovative social media campaigns that go far beyond simply sending out promoted tweets. For example, as part of an alliance with Viacom for the MTV Video Music Awards, Hoffman’s global brand strategy team worked with three Unilever brands and MTV to create hairstyle tutorials tied to Unilever’s TRESemmé and breakdancing GIFs and user dance videos with the Degree Women brand.
Prediction: “Over-the-top content will continue to grow with more and more individual subscription offerings. In addition to this, the lines will blur between traditional broadcast networks [via OTT] and the creator networks [those built around individual content creators with massive digital impact] to which consumers will subscribe.”
FIELDING KIDD, MANAGER OF INNOVATION PROGRAMS,MEDIA LABS AT NBCUNIVERSAL
Career highlights: TV companies continue struggling to speed up the pace of innovation, and Kidd is playing an important role in that process at NBCUniversal’s Media Labs. Kidd says she became fascinated by the impact of technology while studying political science in school, which prompted stints as an intern with digital operations at NBC Sports and then ESPN. After college, she joined NBCU in 2010, working on ways the company could capitalize on emerging technologies and in late 2013, she became part of the original team at Media Labs.
As part of this ambitious effort to tap into innovation coming out of new startups and develop innovative products, the 26-year-old has worked on NBCU’s first hackathons that have developed new products for the company. She also serves as the lead consultant on emerging technologies, such as 360 video.
Prediction: “I really believe that content will remain king but the experience of how consumers interact with the content will continue to evolve. An experience like virtual reality with the Oculus Rift can be very cool if you have the right content, but if you don’t have the content, they won’t be, which makes it great to sit at the intersection of tech and media and be a kind of matchmaker.
MATT KUO, DIRECTOR OF ENABLING TECHNOLOGIES, CNN DIGITAL
Career highlights: With media companies working overtime to build new infrastructures for new digital business opportunities, Kuo’s work overseeing enabling technologies for CNN Digital shows how important those efforts can be.
The 31-year-old came to technology at an early age, growing up in a family that owned a PC computer business. After studying computer engineering, he honed his skills at IBM, where he was involved in groundbreaking server automation efforts, and then at Apple, where he managed the company’s support communities. Since joining CNN in 2014, he’s been overseeing the implementation of technologies to power content recommendations, alerts and social media, and his teams have implemented technologies for such new products as CNN’s launch of custom content on Snapchat Discovery.
Prediction: “I see the future as taking broadcast programming and merging it with the digital experience. So much of the content is now being consumed on mobile devices. Those devices are with them every morning when they wake up and they play an incredibly personal role in their lives. That makes taking the TV experience and tying it closely with digital incredibly important.”
BRYNN LEV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,CONTENT STRATEGY,COMCAST CABLE
Career highlights: In the growing competition with over-the-top providers, Lev’s efforts to get more content into more devices at the nation’s largest multichannel video provider make her a rising tech talent.
After joining Comcast right after college in 2004, Lev first worked on teams that helped the company expand its VOD content and then was involved in negotiating content deals. Drawing on those skills, the 32-year-old now works with the MSO’s content partners to bring their programming to as many platforms as possible and to create new experiences for that multiplatform content as the nation’s largest operator rolls out newer technologies, such as its X1 platform. In the last year those efforts have helped greatly expand the number of live networks subscribers can view outside the home and to boost usage, with viewing jumping by 64% in its most recent Watchathon event in April.
Prediction: “For me the future is really about continuing to make more content and more choices available across all of the screens and all of the devices in the home so they can act as a TV and to expand the out-of-home experience with more content as well.”
MOSHEH OINOUNOU, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER,CBSN
Career highlights: As news organizations scramble to reinvent the way they deliver content to digitally savvy consumers, Oinounou is playing a notable roll in that transformation by overseeing the daily programming and editorial strategy of CBS News’ innovative 24-hour digital network CBSN.
Oinounou, 33, cut his teeth in the news business with stints at Fox News, Bloomberg and CBS This Morning before helping launch CBSN last November, where he oversees daily programming and editorial strategy. Digital efforts have often been seen as “stepchildren,” he says, adding that a key part of their early success has been changing that mentality, and creating close collaboration between the tech people who designed the app and the news creators. “Everything we create has to live in the digital space and all content has to have a social and digital strategy around it,” he says.
Prediction: “We are quickly approaching a reality where WiFi and broadband are pretty ubiquitous and watching news on mobile devices will be the go-to device. Ultimately, you will have various channels in your hand and that will become your [connection] to reality.”
JACOB SIMMS, BROADCAST SYSTEMS ENGINEER, SCRIPPS NETWORKS
Career highlights: This 31-yearold provides an illustration of the kind of up-and-coming engineering talent at mainstream broadcast and cable programmers that will be crucial to the industry’s efforts to transform its operations and capitalize on new businesses.
Simms’ father, who worked for many years at Sony, fueled his interest in technologies by taking him and his brother to the Chicago office and putting him to work in Sony’s NAB booth while still in high school. After a stint at the tech vendor Masstech, Simms joined Scripps in 2010, where his bosses say he’s helped improve their hierarchical storage management systems, worked on a small team that created a system to embed closed-captions into fi les and helped upgrade their disaster recovery systems.
Prediction: “I see the industry making an attempt to monetize multiplatform streaming and distribution….[and] networks spending more than ever on original programing [to] position themselves for this potential change in the industry. Companies like Scripps Networks Interactive that own their content appear to be well positioned for multiplatform streaming and distribution. The challenge for companies is finding the business model that fits best.”
SIMA SISTANI, VP OF MEDIA,MEERKAT
Career highlights: As TV companies ramp up efforts to make live programming more appealing, Sistani’s work at Meerkat offers many examples of how new live-streaming technologies can both disrupt and strengthen the value of traditional programming.
The 36-year-old remembers becoming fascinated with the intersection of technology and entertainment companies early in her career at Goldman Sachs. That led to extensive experience in social and digital media as cofounder of the social TV company Rogue Paper and work at companies such as Yahoo and Tumblr.
But she believes Meerkat’s streaming technology will lead to a whole new level of consumer engagement and participation. “The last decade has been all about showing and I think the next one will be about participatory media, where the audience is at the forefront of content creation,” she says.
Prediction: “There is going to be a whole new class of `reality- based’ content that people will watch not only voyeuristically with TV but can participate and engage with [so that] the next Jersey Shore, the next Kim Kardashian will be on Meerkat. The entertainment companies will be even more focused on premium content and other content will come to life on Meerkat.”
ROBYN WARD, HEAD OF NEW MEDIA VENTURES,UNITED TALENT AGENCY
Career highlights: Ward’s work at guiding the UTA venture fund ties in perfectly with the growing interest in finding ways to bridge the gap between the Hollywood creative community and the tech start-up world.
The 39-year-old had an early fascination with entrepreneurship, which she then studied at USC. After being involved with a number of start-ups—Ward was the first-in employee at five venture-funded firms—she joined UTA two years ago. Here she spearheaded several investments, drawing on her experience to help develop those companies, often with an eye toward making their technologies more appealing to studio and TV companies. “Everyone has been talking about the convergence of entertainment and technology for a long time but I think the barriers are finally starting to come down and we are finally starting to see it happen,” she says.
Prediction: “With the emergence of more players like Netflix and Amazon, you have a lot more video being created and a lot of cross-fertilization between the platforms.…But as you have more content and devices, the need to curate and for technologies to recommend and discover content becomes much more important.”
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