Innovators Who Span the IndustryOur annual honorees have grappled with and solved huge industry questions 4/11/2011 11:01:00 AM Eastern
Innovation and technology leadership are qualities, much like
creativity or wisdom, that aren’t always easy to define or reduce
to a simple formula. Yet, it is easy to recognize why the members
of the 14th annual Broadcasting & Cable Technology Leadership
Award class, whose work spans virtually every part of the TV industry,
are viewed by their peers as true technology trendsetters.
Two of this year’s award winners—Colleen Brown at Fisher Communications
and Jim Ocon at Gray Television—have made their mark by
adapting newer technologies to local broadcast stations. A third, Jerry
Steinberg at Fox Sports, has had a distinguished career first in cable and
then at a national broadcaster. Two other honorees—Angie Simmons at
QVC and Michael Koetter at CNN—have established their reputations for
technology leadership in cable. The sixth award winner—Chris Cookson
at Sony—had a long career of innovation in broadcasting before moving
to the Hollywood studios, where his work on digital technologies is transforming
the way content is both created and distributed to consumers.
Looking at the achievements of these honorees offers a few common
themes. Much of their work reflects both creativity in the traditional
broadcast infrastructure as well as resourcefulness in adopting technologies
from outside the industry to strengthen the power of more traditional
In many cases, they have also been grappling with some of the most
important technical and business issues affecting the TV industry. How
can TV companies deliver more content to more platforms? What can they
do to streamline their operations? And how can new technologies be used
to better serve local communities and audiences?
The answers the 2011 Technology Leadership Award winners have
supplied to those questions is probably the best definition of innovation
anyone can offer. With this year’s honorees, the list of B&C tech leaders
swells to 65 members. The current class is to be feted April 11 at our annual
event in Las Vegas, site of the NAB convention.
Fisher CEO Redefines Local Media with New Technologies
When Colleen Brown arrived at Fisher
Communications Inc. as president and
CEO in 2005, she joined a company
with serious operational problems.
Some broadcast veterans might have
approached the issues by simply focusing
on the traditional broadcast
operations that produce most of the
company’s revenue. But Brown, who
has been in the industry since 1980,
decided on a much more radical approach,
which explains why she is one
of this year’s Technology Leadership
“We needed to strengthen traditional
broadcast but at the same time
we couldn’t wait on developing new
media,” she recalls. “So we created this
strategic plan based on the idea this
wasn’t going to be traditional media
1.0 or just a fresh coat of paint. We
were going to fundamentally change
how we thought about media and reinvent how we thought about local media.”
Implementing that strategy has been hard—the toughest thing Brown has faced in her
career, she says. But in the last six years, she has relentlessly stuck to the plan by launching a
number of industry-leading digital initiatives, including a robust network of over 120 hyperlocal
neighborhood sites, a multiplatform effort called “Buzz Brands,” and the beginning of
mobile digital-TV broadcast in the Seattle and Portland markets.
These digital efforts are still small—online revenue accounts for only 4% of Fisher’s overall television total—but they are growing fast, climbing 73% in 2010, and helping strengthen the
company’s traditional broadcast operations.
In a March call with analysts on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, Fisher reported
that its stations have increased their audiences and have been expanding their market
share. That jump helped boost Fisher’s fourth-quarter television revenue by 61%, the largest increase
among seven pure-play broadcasting companies tracked by M.C. Alcamo & Co.
Even better, full-year 2010 revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and
amortization were the best Fisher had produced in a decade.
Such successes illustrate how Brown has used technology to strengthen both Fisher
and the broadcast industry, colleagues note. “Colleen is a true broadcasting leader,” John
Connors, a partner at the venture capital firm Ignition Partners, who serves on the board
of directors of DataSphere Technologies with Brown, writes in an email. “She was one of
the first executives to embrace the disruptive nature that technology would have on the
industry, and was ahead of the wave in preparing her company to compete and win in this
fragmented environment. By combining the power of traditional broadcast with technological
advancements, Colleen has transformed Fisher into a leader in local media innovation.”
That technology leadership is also evident in her industry-wide work on mobile DTV as
one of the founders, and current president, of the Mobile500 Alliance, which is working
to develop business models for mobile broadcasts.
“Mobile DTV broadcasts are the natural next extension of what we do,” says Brown,
who has already rolled out the technology in Fisher’s Seattle and Portland markets.
Brown’s ability to work with a wide array of other broadcasters, content-rights holders
and consumer electronics companies to help develop the technology, is another example
of her qualities of leadership, notes John Lawson, executive director of the Mobile500.
“Colleen’s pioneering work with hyper-local sites and mobile shows she’s an extremely
effective businesswoman who can really connect the dots between technology and new
services that create new revenue for broadcasters,” Lawson says. “More than most broadcasters,
she is really open to new alliances and new ways of doing business.”
Sony Digital Pioneer Works to Streamline Production and Distribution
Despite the almost universal use of digital files in the creation of movies and TV fare, digital
production and distribution can still be a cumbersome, thorny process that often wastes time
and incurs unnecessary expenses.
To change that, Sony has been working to streamline how digital files are created, distributed
and used. The ultimate goal is to be able to move a file seamlessly from a camera through the
entire production and distribution process “without the physical steps that have slowed down
the creation and distribution of content throughout the industry’s history,” notes Chris Cookson,
who is president, Sony Pictures Technologies at Sony
Pictures Entertainment and chief officer of the Sony 3D
Technology Center at Sony Corp. of America.
“For the last 100 years we’ve asked the creative
minds to work around the limitations of their tools,”
Cookson adds. “What we are to trying to develop are
tools that are almost transparent to the creative mind.
We want to make sure people in this industry no longer
have to adapt to the tools. The tools are adapted
Such efforts offer one example of how “Chris’ technical
perspective on the world of entertainment is
enabling us to reimagine the way we create, manage
and deliver our products,” writes Michael Lynton, SPE
chairman and CEO, in an email. “From our industry’s first forays in digital in the ‘80s to the emergence of 3D
today, Chris has helped companies like ours navigate
Cookson got his start in TV during the 1960s, working
at a broadcast TV station in Phoenix while attending
Arizona State University. Then he joined the Air Force,
where he made recruitment films.
After a stint at RCA, he joined ABC in 1976, where
his work in 1984 as director of the ABC and International Olympics Broadcast Centers won
an Emmy for his pioneering use of digital technologies. Then, as VP and general manager of
operations at the CBS Television Network from 1988 to 1992, Cookson pushed those digital
technologies deeper into the broadcast infrastructure.
At Warner Bros., which he joined in 1992 and where he became chief technical officer in
1999, Cookson worked on a number of innovative projects for digital distribution, including
the development of video playback on optics disks that became the DVD format. Cookson
currently holds some 62 patents as an inventor or co-inventor, including a number of patents
detailing technologies that were used in what eventually led to the DVD.
Since arriving at Sony, Cookson has worked to streamline those digital production and distribution
efforts even further, with the 2009 launch of Sony’s innovative digital Colorworks facility
and the opening of the Sony 3D Technology Center in 2010.
The latter, which is run by Cookson, has since educated more than 1,100 people in high quality
3D production techniques in the hopes that they will produce better content and improve
the overall 3D market.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Cookson says, expressing a sentiment that could also apply to
how his work has helped the TV industry overall.
CNN News Production Guru Plots Rapid Digital Workfllow
In the highly competitive news business, getting
a big scoop isn’t worth much if a journalist
gets so bogged down transmitting or encoding
files that rivals get the news out first.
Overcoming that problem has been particularly
important for CNN in recent years as
it has ramped up its own news production and
reduced its reliance on video produced by outside
news agencies. By owning more of its own
content, company executives hoped, CNN would
distribute more news to more platforms and
continue to expand the business.
“In news, the value of the video goes down
exponentially over time,” notes Michael Koetter,
CNN’s VP of news technology, planning
and development. “The sooner you know that
someone has a piece of video and the faster you can move it [to consumers
on various platforms] the more valuable it can be.”
That dynamic also explains why Koetter’s work on simplifying workflows
and developing production systems and media asset management systems
for CNN has been so valuable to the company, notes Dan Darling, chief
information officer and senior VP of technology, production and operations
at Turner Broadcasting.
“Under Michael’s leadership, CNN has overcome huge technology challenges
to implement an integrated content environment where original
content and metadata travel the globe as files from camera through production
and into the archive,” Darling explains; that, in turn, has significantly
strengthened CNN’s competitive position.
Koetter began working on video production systems while getting a master’s
degree in computer technology and media at Georgia Tech, where he
worked on a number of cutting-edge online streaming video projects.
After graduating in 1998, he joined IXL, a Web integrator, where he worked
on developing digital production systems; in 2000, he brought that expertise
over to BBC Technology, where he worked on a variety of leading-edge media
asset management and video production systems that are still in use.
After joining Turner in 2006, Koetter continued to focus on finding ways
to streamline and improve digital workflows, while also pushing forward the
company’s HD upgrades and its move to file-based workfl ows.
One significant advance in those efforts occurred last year, when CNN
deployed a new HD video production and asset management system in
Atlanta that is now being implemented around the world.
Thanks to that work, CNN now has “systems and workflows that work in
concert with one another on common platforms and file systems,” producing
significant improvements “in production time, picture quality [and] operating
cost,” John Courtney, VP of CNN Image + Sound operation, writes in an email.
As important as Koetter’s work has been to the news organization, he
credits Turner for encouraging technological innovation and employing
many talented engineers and technologists, creating a culture that has won
several of his bosses Technology Leadership Awards in the past.
“I’m really a big picture thinker,” he stresses. “Having teams of people
that can really think through the problems and execute has been crucial.
Being able to draw on that kind of talent is really something that is unique to
Gray’s Top Technology VP Reengineers the Newsroom
Visitors to the Gray Television NBC affiliate WOWT
in Omaha, Neb., will find a quick primer in why the
station group’s VP of technology, Jim Ocon, is part of the
2011 class of Technology Leaders.
Here, as part of a strategy to reinvent the way broadcast
stations run their operations, Ocon has taken the
unique step of combining the news production system
and master control, using just one employee to direct
the news and run the control room.
Such efforts have “gone a long way toward making
us a much more efficient company and, frankly, a better
company because the automation innovations have
actually helped to produce a better news product for our
local news,” writes Bob Prather, president and COO at
Gray, in a lengthy email.
By automating more of the news and play-out operations,
the changes are also making it easier for Gray
to deliver more content to multiple platforms and to
reallocate more resources to newsgathering or its digital
At the same time, Gray has been automating operations
as it moved to HD local newscasts and has used
the savings from automation to fund improvements in
the picture quality it is now delivering
to viewers, Ocon says.
Ocon’s effort to use technology to
reshape Gray’s operations draws on
a career that combines experience in
both traditional broadcast television
technology and newer technologies
from the IT and digital worlds.
Ocon got his basic technology
training in the Navy, but he was always
interested in the broadcast craft
and recalls reading up on HD technologies
in the 1980s while still in the military.
After leaving the Navy, he worked for the Coast Guard
on communications systems and used that experience
to land a job at KNBC in Los Angeles, helping the station
fix its two-way radios and communications systems.
“Once I got my foot in the door, I was like a kid
in a candy store and loved every second, learning my
chops,” he says.
As he became an expert in broadcast technologies,
Ocon’s interest in IP solutions continued to grow. In
2001, he co-founded a company that provided professional
Web streaming services, and
he continued experimenting with
ways to combine broadcast and IP
technologies at Pappas Telecasting,
where he was the deputy director
of engineering from 2004 to 2008.
Ocon brought this perspective and
experience to Gray in 2008.
To encourage that kind of innovation
at the company, he created a new
position called broadcast information
technologist, and he has worked to
“take off-the-shelf technologies and combine [them]
with broadcast infrastructure all the way into the DNA
of the stations,” Ocon says.
Ocon and Prather believe this will help Gray continue
to improve operations in the face of a rapidly changing
media landscape. “Jim realizes that there are drastic
changes going on in our industry because of the encroachment
of new media, and he is working to embrace
all of these technologies to make sure that Gray
Television stays on the forefront of innovation and creativity
in the television world,” Prather says.
QVC’s Multichannel Manager Upgrades the
Finding new technologies that will allow TV companies
to gain more money from the Web, mobile and other
digital platforms has been top-of-mind for everyone
in the TV industry of late. But those efforts have been
particularly aggressive and successful at QVC, where
the success of its multiplatform strategy has helped
earn Angie Simmons, the company’s executive VP of
multichannel platforms, one of this year’s Technology
“Since joining QVC five years ago, Angie has had a
tremendous impact on our technology platform,” writes
Mike George, president and CEO of QVC, in an email.
“When Angie joined QVC, we were largely an analogbased
TV production environment with a small but growing
Web business. Her work has helped transform QVC
into an engaging multi-screen shopping experience.”
Simmons, who has a bachelor’s degree in business
and computer education from the University of Georgia,
spent eight years at Acuity Brands Lithonia Lighting
before joining Turner in 1995 as manager of technical
At Turner, she rose to senior VP of network operations
in 2003 as she gained valuable experience in deploying
digital technologies and HD upgrades as well as launching
“I was hired at Turner when
they hired their first woman
CIO,” she recalls. “There are
a lot of great people there,
and I got a great breadth of
knowledge from it.”
In 2006, Simmons took
that experience to QVC,
overseeing operations at the
network’s broadcast division
as senior VP of broadcasting
and TV Sales; in 2008 she was
promoted to her current position.
Now she leads a team of
over 700 people and oversees
QVC’s digital platforms as well
as teams handling sales and
broadcast TV operations.
Simmons says that while
revamping QVC’s operations
over these past few years, it
was useful for her to look at technology from the perspective
of a QVC shopper. “My favorite part of this job is
taking the QVC experience to where our customers want
to be,” she says. “I’m a QVC customer and I thought
about how I would like to shop and what that experience
For starters, that meant a
major HD upgrade for all of
the company’s studios and
then its mobile operations
in 2007; that allowed QVC to
launch an HD feed in 2008.
As part of that upgrade,
the network also upgraded to
a digital infrastructure. That
has allowed it to more easily
repurpose its content for
multiple platforms, significantly expanding the amount
of video on its website and,
more recently, on smart
phones and tablets.
Such efforts have helped
boost online sales to about
one-third of its revenue, she
notes. It is also increasing the
importance of QVC’s mobile
operations, producing “significant revenue” George says.
“One of the key strategic advantages we have is that
we can leverage our network’s live broadcast capability
and our vast library of video to take that shopping
experience online and to mobile and make it unique and
engaging for our customers,” Simmons says.
Fox Sports’ Head of Operations Changes the Sports Tech Game
Two of the biggest changes in the TV sports landscape
in the last half-century have arguably been the launch
of ESPN in 1979 and the rise of Fox Sports. Being part
of one of those launches would be enough to make a
career, but Technology Leadership Award winner Jerry
Steinberg, who has overseen the operational side of the
live sports broadcasts on the Fox network since 1994,
was in on the ground floor for both.
“Being part of two great start-ups has been the most
fun I’ve had in this business,” says Steinberg, the senior
VP of field operations at Fox Sports. “I was the engineer
in charge of an ESPN truck when it first launched and
then I was blessed to get a second opportunity when
they launched Fox Sports.”
Throughout, Steinberg has remained passionate about
sports, so much so that he calls himself a “crazy sports
fan. Either I’m putting an event together on the weekend
or I’m going to watch events. It is more of a lifestyle than
a job. I’m doing what’s fun for me, and in life, that is a
Over the years, that passion has made Steinberg one
of the most respected sports operations managers in the
business, with a distinguished record of technological
“Jerry has been a huge asset to
Fox and he’s overseen multiple
Emmy-winning efforts, especially
in technology, where Fox has been
a leader in things like audio,”
notes Ken Aagaard, executive VP
of operations and engineering at
CBS Sports. “If I want to get a take
on a technology or talk about a
common problem that we all have
in our positions, Jerry is going to
be one of the first guys I’m going
Steinberg got his first TV experience
working as a page for NBC,
and he showed an early technical aptitude by renting
out and installing production equipment from a friend’s
In 1979, he joined ESPN in its first season, as an engineer
in charge of one of the ESPN trucks. “We went all
over the country, and it was great,” he says. “It was the
wild, wild west of sports TV.”
In 1984, Steinberg went freelance,
working on virtually every
major sporting event imaginable,
from the Olympics to World Cup
Soccer to the Super Bowl, before
being recruited to run operations
at Fox’s new sports division in
“At the time we used to call it
Fox Sport because we just had the
NFL,” Steinberg jokes. As those
duties expanded—Steinberg now
oversees operations for some 250
to 350 live events a year—he also
established a reputation for deploying
new sports technologies,
working early on with slow-motion cameras, 3D and the
expanded use of audio to capture the drama of an event.
Steinberg stresses, however, the importance of not
letting technology rule. “We try not to do things simply
because it’s cool and someone else did it,” Steinberg
says. “We’re here to provide technology and tools that
producers and directors can use to tell the story.”