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NAB’s Matheny Leads Plunge Into New Tech

In the hunt for new new business, the increasingly lengthy “to-do” list of the broadcasting industry looks a lot like the résumé of Sam Matheny, the National Association of Broadcasters’ top technologist.

When Matheny was hired last July as executive VP and CTO to lead the association’s tech efforts, he not only brought extensive background in broadcasting and government affairs to the post. Matheny has also been involved in pioneering online, mobile and advanced broadcasting platforms since the 1990s. An avid aviator who got his pilot’s license in college, Matheny is well-equipped to help the broadcasting industry navigate a profitable flight path into the use of drones in newsgathering.

“It’s critically important for the NAB to stay on top of technology issues,” says NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith, adding that Matheny’s wide-ranging technical expertise makes him “the perfect fit” for the association. “Our role is not just advocacy in Washington, but also involves making sure our members understand trends in technology that keep us relevant and help us stay hyper-competitive.”

Matheny initially wanted to go into aviation, but switched gears and transferred to East Carolina University, where he majored in communications. “I figured that being a good communicator would serve me well no matter what I wanted to do,” he recalls.

While in college, he interned at WITN Greenville (N.C.) and got his first paid job at WNCT, where in his senior year he produced the market’s No. 1 weekend newscast. After graduating in 1993, Matheny jumped into tech with a job at the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina in the Triangle Research Park.

Matheny specialized in data networks, supercomputing and web development, teaching himself HTML as the Internet was beginning to make an impact on academia. Those skills led to a job at Capitol Broadcasting’s Capitolnet Marketing Group, which was then making a pioneering push to launch websites for its stations.

From there, Matheny worked in a series of Capitol start-ups, including DTV Plus (delivering content and data to computers) and News Over Wireless, which built the first mobile phone app for a local TV station. Later, as VP of policy and innovation, he led groundbreaking social media initiatives and received a patent that allowed WRAL to deliver mobile broadcasts to the public bus system in Raleigh, N.C. “Capitol—under Jim Goodmon Sr. and his son Jimmy—are true innovation leaders in local broadcasting,” Smith says.

Since joining NAB, Matheny has worked to apply that background to help broadcasters capitalize on new technologies and translate complex technical issues into a language that government leaders can understand. “He speaks the language of a technology enthusiast without making it indecipherable for non-engineers,” says Smith, who adds Matheny has “an easygoing Southern style.…He’s our technology ambassador at the FCC and on Capitol Hill.”

To help the industry speed the pace of innovation, Matheny has set up a NAB digital officers committee of top digital execs in the industry. He also is deeply involved with the NAB Labs. Other top tech priorities include drones, big data, advanced advertising and working with the Advanced Television Systems Committee (Matheny is a board member) on the next-generation broadcast standard ATSC 3.0. He sees all of these initiatives as part of the effort to strengthen the future of local broadcasting.

“The technology will change, but the important thing is preserving the service broadcasters provide to local communities,” Matheny says.

When not taking deep dives into new technologies at work, Matheny loves piloting planes and duck hunting. A certified master diver, he regularly plunges into the deep blue sea with his wife and two sons. “If this technology thing doesn’t work out, you’ll find me out in some Caribbean island somewhere,” Matheny quips.