Viacom’s Chief Technology Enthusiast

Anyone talking technology with Viacom CTO David Kline will quickly find themselves drawn into a whirlwind tour of some of the most interesting and daunting technological trends facing the TV industry.

Some of this reflects the pressure big media companies face to evolve their businesses. “When everything is changing so rapidly, how do you make the right decisions so you have the foundation two years from now to turn on a dime and not be stuck in a position where you’re steering the Titanic?” Kline says.

But even those daunting questions reflect an infectious enthusiasm for new technologies that has helped Kline and his tech teams provide Viacom with a new foundation for the future.

“Dave has made some revolutionary changes within Viacom’s tech organization at a critical time in the industry,” says Wade Davis, CFO of Viacom, one of the two executives Kline reports to (the other is Rich Eigendorff, Viacom Media Networks COO). “In modernizing and building a state-of-the-art uplinking/broadcasting infrastructure, he has brought our capabilities to the forefront of what the next generation of television network ops look like.”

That boundless enthusiasm for leading tech changes began accidentally, Kline says. When he was 16, the mother of his girlfriend (now his wife), got him a job at Long Island’s North Shore University Hospital as a part-time data clerk.

Kline continued working in tech at the hospital during college. He changed plans to go to law school when the hospital offered him a chance to go into management, paying for an MBA. “I’ve been lucky enough to go from a tech era where you had punch cards and mainframes to the PC environment and now wide area networking and cloud-based networking and workflows,” he says.

In 1996, Kline moved to consulting firm Integrated Systems Group. After working on a big project for Cablevision, he moved to its programming subsidiary, Rainbow. Here he was exposed to a host of early technological developments, including pioneering pushes into VOD, new satellite services at Voom, high-definition channels and network DVRs. “They were pretty much first to market with a lot of technologies and patents,” Kline says of Rainbow.

In 2007, Discovery Communications president/CEO David Zaslav brought Kline on as CIO. Kline and John Honeycutt (recently promoted to Discovery CTO) worked “like twins” to revamp operations and technical infrastructures. “The goal was to change the culture of the company so it could blend into the new media world, and technology played a big part in that,” Kline recalls.

Another Wild Ride

In November 2010, Viacom hired Kline as CTO, making it one of a growing number of major media companies to employ top technologists from the IT world to revamp their operations so that they could use newer IT and IP technologies to more efficiently deliver more content to more platforms.

“When I arrived, broadcast, IT, digital and production were very siloed,” Kline says. “Now after four years, I can say the buck does really stop here with me.”

That provides a much better technical foundation for Viacom’s future growth, with systems for “dynamic ad insertion, ad insertion into VOD, digitization of our library, meta-tagging of everything so we can offer much more compelling and broader scope VOD,” says Davis, who adds that the upgrades have also helped Viacom do “all of this at a lower cost.”

While much more is on the way, Kline says, some things have remained the same. Outside of work, he remains happily married to Karen (whose mom got him that first tech job), and much of his life still revolves around his family and kids. “We’ve gone down to the Disney and Universal theme parks every year since my son was born,” he says. “I guess I’m still a kid at heart.”

And that may also explain his willingness to embrace the wild ride of tech change. “There is just so much that is fun and so much to learn,” he says.