The reluctant technology pro
By Broadcasting & Cable Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/13/2008 8:00:00 PM
Brandon Burgess, chairman and CEO of ION Media Networks and one of the founders of the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), describes himself as an improbable winner of a technology award, noting he's the only non-engineer among the winners of this year's B&C Technology Leadership Awards.
Burgess, 40, is a business guy, he says. He graduated from the European Business School and has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Brandon is selling himself short,” says John Eck, president of NBC TV Network and Media Works, which is also actively involved with OMVC. “He has very good technical knowledge and good business insight, to see around corners and put things together that others don't. That's what he's done with OMVC, bringing a lot of voices together.” The coalition is trying to come up with a workable mobile standard the entire industry can use, and hopes to have its work done by next February, when the digital switch occurs.
Of course, Burgess is correct about not having a technology background. For much of his career, Burgess has had decidedly non-tech stints, including as a corporate strategist for PepsiCo and in investment banking at Goldman Sachs.
SMART TECHNOLOGY MEANS BUSINESS
“Growing up in Europe, I always had an affinity for popular entertainment,” Burgess says. “The fact that I'm in this business is not a coincidence. The fact that we're focusing so much on technology goes back to my business training.”
For him, technology is a business opportunity. It's one he capitalized on at NBC prior to joining ION in 2005, and at ION, where he sees technology as a key to the media company's future.
“My personal view is that if you don't have a proprietary technology these days, you have a really tough time competing,” he says. “Most businesses these days have some kind of delivery technology in their portfolio, especially new media like Google, Microsoft and multi-platform gamers.”
The way Burgess sees it, for broadcasters that technology is the digital terrestrial spectrum. Digital is a relatively new opportunity that Burgess has been aggressively tapping into.
At NBC earlier this decade, he worked with NBC stations to create NBCOlympics.com, to tie into NBC's coverage of the games. And he was part of the team behind NBC Weather Plus, the first network-affiliated digital network.
In the interim at NBC, he was part of the team that orchestrated the company's acquisition of Universal Entertainment, which formed NBC Universal, and helped NBC acquire its first entertainment cable network, Bravo.
“I found him to be one of the more enjoyable, fun and smart people to work with at NBC,” Eck says. “He can take any situation and make it better, and he can take any team and make it better.”
THE PORTABLE CHALLENGE
Since late 2005 at ION, the largest television station owner group, Burgess has revamped the one-time PAX network into ION Television. He formed a partnership with educational book publisher Scholastic and media companies Corus Entertainment, Classic Media and NBC to form the 24-hour digital kids' block Qubo, which airs on ION, NBC and NBC's Spanish-language network Telemundo.
Burgess has also been busy tapping into the digital space. ION launched Qubo in 2007, and Burgess has overseen two more digital launches, including healthy-lifestyle network ION Life.
But ION and the broadcasting industry as a whole have only just begun capitalizing on the digital spectrum, according to Burgess. In late 2006, he spearheaded what has become OMVC. The group's goal is to enable reception of digital broadcast television (DTV) in portable devices.
“Broadcast has to have its own technology that makes it contemporary,” he says. “Right now, the broadcast technology is really a delivery vehicle for 90% of homes to get to the cable and satellite headends. Then cable and satellite take over from there.”
Burgess calls the digital spectrum a game-changer for broadcasters, giving the industry a direct link to consumers without going through cable and satellite. He estimates that it will expand broadcasters' reach beyond 100 million television households to some 400 million portable devices.
“The operator of spectrum would go directly from our tower to the consumer through over-the-air spectrum, with no one in between,” he says.
Although in the works for two years, OMVC officially kicked off at NAB last April, initially with eight station owner groups, accounting for 280 stations. By October, station groups comprising some 800 stations had become members. Burgess says there will soon be more.
“We're now up to 20 broadcasters and, hopefully, we're going to have two other significant groups join us, which would take us to almost 1,000 television stations.”
In late January, an NAB study found that broadcast TV could see additional revenue of $2 billion by 2012 by delivering content to mobile and handheld devices, provided the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) establishes a standard by early next year.
“It's a low-cost proposition,” says Burgess, “and the upside is very high.”
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