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Terry Mackin: The Digital Director

Creativity runs in Terry Mackin's family. The Hearst-Argyle executive vice president's father was a stage actor, his grandfather an artist and musician, and most everyone in the clan was in some way in touch with the left side of their brain.

Except for Terry, he insists: “I was the shy kid who didn't act or perform.”

Looking at some of Hearst-Argyle's launches over the past few months, one might wonder if Mackin is selling himself short. The broadcaster, which owns 26 stations, inked a landmark deal with YouTube to launch dedicated YouTube “channels” for its stations in June. To date, some 20 million videos have been viewed on the channels. In August, Hearst-Argyle launched High School Playbook, a sports-oriented Web platform that includes user-generated video and social networking, in seven markets. Mackin plans to have Playbook, featuring “sideline reporters” from high schools wielding HD cameras, at 21 stations by next fall.

Mackin is now tweaking the Playbook concept for winter sports. “There's a lot of work ahead of us,” he says from his 39th-floor office overlooking Midtown Manhattan. “We'll come up for air maybe in the summer, when the first full season has ended.”

Mackin, whose own high school sporting exploits include running the option at quarterback in Richmond, Va., was essentially born into the business. After his acting days, his father was general manager of WXEX (now WRIC) in Richmond. Terry's godfather, meanwhile, ran competing station WTVR. Mackin's first job, at 16, was operating a camera for WTVR, as a clause prevented Terry from working for his father.

Both elders agreed that the best way for Terry to learn the station business was to study the numbers that drive it. “Both said, if you're going to get into television, you have to go through the business side and come through sales,” he says.

Mackin held account executive jobs at several stations, then shifted to Blair Television in the mid '80s. He next moved to Columbia Pictures Television Distribution, where he took Seinfeld into its lucrative syndicated second life.

Next up was a COO stint at 12-station broadcaster Ellis Communications. When Ellis was sold, Mackin moved to London to run StoryFirst, which had seven TV stations in Russia. He admits he was every bit the Ugly American when he first set foot in Moscow. “I was about as skilled in cross-cultural communication as I was in nuclear science,” he says.

Mackin helped launch the CTC network—which featured some Disney favorites dubbed in Russian—on the StoryFirst stations in 1997. He remembers a promotion for Beverly Hills 90210 in Red Square that still makes him chuckle, and the quirky tastes of the Russian marketplace. “We couldn't run ALF enough,” he says of NBC's furry-alien sitcom.

When Mackin tried to get a Cosmopolitan-branded talk show off the ground in Russia, his contact with Cosmo parent Hearst changed his career path once again. Hearst had just acquired more stations, and the ruble was tanking in Russia. When Hearst-Argyle President/CEO David Barrett made Mackin an offer in 1999, he grabbed it.

Mackin had the foresight to look beyond the Hearst-Argyle stations' traditional roles in their markets. He launched WeatherPlus on the various NBC stations' digital channels, and worked with Internet Broadcasting (IB) to make the station Websites local leaders. So adept was Mackin at the digital side of the business that Barrett made it his full-time gig. “Terry brings a good deal of understanding and insight to digital media,” says Barrett. “He also brings great vision and energy to what we do as we try to cultivate a good idea.”

Hearst-Argyle and Mackin continue to cultivate ideas. He has begun a contest that calls for user videos showcasing the “Best School Fight Song” in America. Hearst-Argyle ran a blogging contest with social network and partnered with CNN for the presidential debates in New Hampshire, and is partnering with ABC for the debates in January. (The former president/chairman of the NBC Affiliates Board, Mackin is also orchestrating NBC's Web plans for the Beijing Olympics.) As evidence of Mackin's innovative thinking, several rival station groups set up local social networking platforms and YouTube channels at their stations in the months following Hearst-Argyle's launches.

With the election less than a year away, Mackin wants to leverage Hearst-Argyle's reach to get young people more involved in voting. “We have a powerful medium,” he says. “We could be responsible for the Rock the Vote of the 21st century.”

Mackin, who lists Friday Night Lights and The Office among his favorite programs, still gets jazzed about dreaming up and executing the next big launch. But, like an actor who “really wants to direct,” he'd be just as excited to create documentaries centered around his family. He recently created a short film about son Matthew's tennis exploits and posted it on YouTube—until the embarrassed teen implored Dad to take it down. “He seemed to think he was the copyright holder on it,” says Mackin with a laugh.

Mackin's oeuvre also includes a short focused on his wife's gardening endeavors and a four-minute video for a local Boys and Girls Clubs fundraiser. “I'm toying around with how to tell stories,” he says.

Lucky for Mackin, his day job allows him comparable creativity. “I'm fortunate to work in a business where we can build things,” he says. “This is as much fun as anything I've ever done, and I've been lucky enough to do some interesting things.”

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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.