The drumbeat around digital has never been louder across the television and video landscape.
Consider this month’s earnings calls: For better (CBS added a record number of new All Access subscribers on Super Bowl Sunday) or worse (Viacom grappling with falling linear network ratings as young viewers shift to digital platforms), virtually every aspect of the business hinges in some way on digital execution.
That is why the achievements and vision of B&C’s 2016 Digital All-Stars are so noteworthy. These dauntless 21 players hail from every corner of the industry—advertising/media, content, distribution, local TV, entrepreneurship, sports, news and technology—where they are on all of the front lines of transforming the industry.
Not only did these honorees make tremendous impact in the last 12 months, they are charting the future. From data, mobile and OTT to such radical new technologies as virtual reality, these honorees share in the pages ahead how they plan to continue moving the business forward.
VP, Digital Content and Technology, Tribune Broadcasting
BACKGROUND: Steve Baron, 43, who began his career hosting overnights on an oldies AM radio station, was a longtime TV meteorologist and Emmy-winning reporter in markets such as Salt Lake City and Chicago before moving into digital leadership a decade ago. He built a live video news aggregator at Fox’s WFLD Television in Chicago, then served as VP of interactive content at Local TV. When Local TV was sold to Tribune in 2013, Baron came along to create the digital platform, content and social media strategy, mobile apps, live-streaming products and programmatic advertising tools used in more than 40 Tribune markets.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Tribune transformed its series of discrete websites for different cities into a true national network of interconnected websites and apps—with common goals, shared data and a new Web platform with the same set of tools. Tribune’s 42 stations amounted to about 50 websites and 125 apps. Tribune, ranked as one of the top 50 U.S. Web properties nearly every month now, can see data showing what is working in one market and replicate it in another. “It became a powerhouse player on the national scene,” Baron says. “It was our crowning achievement of last year.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Baron and Tribune are focusing on mobile, aiming to create a unique stream of digital content separate from the broadcast. For instance, there is a mobile app feature that, with permission to use location, will send an automated push notification for any news happening within a mile. Baron is excited the television industry is taking digital more seriously. “We’re happy to be in the front of the pack but happy to see others do it as well,” he says. “We all want the TV industry to grow and thrive. We understand digital is part of that.” –Jonathan Kuperberg
Executive VP, Digital Media and Emerging Businesses, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises
BACKGROUND: Peter Blacker took a busy route to a post where he now leads his division’s mission to monetize cross-platform content, formats and talent at Telemundo and NBC Universo (along with overseeing partnerships with digital, social and mobile companies). His nearly two decades of digital experience includes posts at AOL, where he set interactive marketing strategy for the U.S. multicultural market, and the task, starting in 2005, with leading Telemundo into the digital space. Now, along with developing the company’s multiplatform, multicultural movie studio, Fluency, he also touts what he calls a Generation M business approach, which focuses on millennials, mobile and multicultural.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Under his digital watch, Telemundo has remained the No. 1 Hispanic Network in video-on-demand for videos viewed five years running, and he aided in the launch of a growing news app for the U.S. Hispanic market one year prior to Election Day. Switching digital publishing strategies from “platform agnostic” to “platform specific” helped Telemundo in 2015 to become the first Spanish-language TV network to hit 1 million subscribers, according to the company. “That was a huge recognition that what we were doing on websites, VOD platforms and social media were the right things,” Blacker says.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Blacker is tied into the Generation M idea and the fruit it can bear. He and his team have a three-prong strategy to keep up the startling engagement momentum he achieved in 2015. It’s going to be all about scale (“It’s critical more than ever for our ad partners and our own ability to market,” he says), innovation (and the continued focus on a second-screen app approach) and insights-based management. And one more thing: Blacker is now expecting all members of his team to have a greater degree of data awareness. It’s all about each team-member channeling their inner data scientist. –Robert Edelstein
Senior VP, Syfy Digital
BACKGROUND: Matthew Chiavelli was named senior VP, Syfy Digital in 2015. He oversees development and production of all digital content and applications for Syfy and its websites including Syfy Labs, syfy.com, Blastr.com and ChillerTV.com and apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Xbox. Since joining Syfy (then SCI FI Channel) in 2002 as creative director of then-SCIFI.com, he spearheaded a range of innovative initiatives, from early podcasting for Battlestar Galactica to a partnership with Philips Hue on connected home lighting integrations for Sharknado and 12 Monkeys.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Chiavelli shepherded Syfy’s expansion into virtual reality, with an inside-the-spaceships experience for The Expanse; he also formed the channel’s innovative Syfy Labs, announced at CES. Chiavelli relaunched Syfy.com in January 2015, with a new video player built around the binging experience, “making [it] a lot better and more in line with services in the SVOD space like Netflix or Amazon,” he says. Blastr also relaunched in July right before San Diego Comic-Con (and has seen a 40% increase in monthly uniques year-to-year, according to Syfy). In January, the Syfy Now App posted their highest tally of full-episode streams.
WHAT’S AHEAD: A point of pride for Chiavelli at CES was demonstrating things that are “shipping out to consumers,” rather than being theoretical. Syfy Labs formalizes the channel’s commitment to using new and emerging technologies “across everything we do digitally” and empowers the group to continue getting innovations in the hands of their early adopter fans straight away, he says. Chiavelli says they are talking about next steps in VR and expect to make announcements soon. As Syfy Digital continues to launch “cool transmedia storytelling experiences,” the unit is focused on ensuring “they’re working really well on desktop and mobile,” Chiavelli says. “That’s been a really big push for us.” –Melissa Grego
Senior Director of Digital Solutions, Sinclair Broadcast Group
BACKGROUND: Antonia DeFeo, a former a.m. news producer, recognized a great story when she saw one. When Sinclair acquired a small digital services agency business in March 2014, she was intrigued by the potential value of growing it. “Growth” is an understatement—the Sinclair digital team, which DeFeo joined in 2003, has gone from fewer than 30 clients to thousands. Before exec-producing the group’s News Central product, she had oversight of the production of Sinclair’s TV station websites and mobile news products. The Maryland native began her career in 1995, at Sinclair’s flagship station WBFF.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: DeFeo was already a digital standout, implementing strategy and managing a digital agency squad that oversees TV station sales teams. But with company resources behind her, and DeFeo’s determination, the Digital Solutions team experienced tremendous growth in 2015, reaching out to small and medium businesses with a proposal of marketing services and putting considerable savvy and weight behind operational changes that allowed those businesses to function as competitive digital entities. “We came to realize, this doesn’t have to be a side thing to build additional digital revenue; this can be a business for Sinclair,” DeFeo says.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Now that the business has been established, DeFeo’s goal is to make 2016 “our year,” which means, to begin with, expanding the business beyond the safety net of Sinclair’s TV station markets. The strategy is still about introducing services—content curation, geofencing, responsive websites—and both empowering clients and building their trust. “If you’re not in the digital arena, you’re missing out; it’s where everybody is,” she says, while also mentioning a particular triumph—helping a prom dress company experience a very quick 80% growth in interactions. Recalling that, as a news producer, success once meant reporting on someone else’s tragedies DeFeo says, “now, a really good day is someone succeeding and being happy.” –RE
VP and General Manager, WAAY Huntsville, Ala.
BACKGROUND: Paul Dughi, 57, has been in the broadcast business for more than three decades, winning dozens of regional, statewide and national awards as an anchor, reporter, news director, general manager and group president. He joined the Calkins Media-owned, ABC-affiliated station serving the Tennessee Valley area of North Alabama (DMA No. 79) in January 2014 after serving as president of Cowles California Media Company, which owns and operates six California stations and a network of 30 websites. He also previously was general manager at KNDO/KNDU in Tri-Cities/Yakima, Wash., as well as news director at WBNS Columbus, KHQ Spokane and WAEO Rhinelander, Wis.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: WAAY made inroads in the over-the-top sphere last year. In addition to debuting an app on Roku and partnering with Watchup to deliver news on the Apple Watch, the ABC affiliate was the first TV station in the country to launch a channel on Fire TV, according to Dughi. The station also launched three standalone websites and apps—on space, the business of technology and Redstone Arsenal, a military base located in Huntsville. In an effort to provide revenue streams for all its product development, WAAY debuted its own digital services company, Audience Pop, which offers SEO, video production, native advertising and more.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Online traffic is moving toward mobile at WAAY, and the station has turned more of its focus there. “Our strategy is, if eyeballs are going places watching content, especially local content, we certainly want them to find us,” Dughi says. After the Internet and mobile, “OTT for us is the next frontier.” In addition to the OTT launches and partnerships WAAY made in 2015, the station is also working on a full-blown 24/7 linear channel to run on OTT platforms.—JK
Senior VP/General Manager, CBS Sports Digital
BACKGROUND: Holding an MBA from Stanford, Jeffrey Gerttula oversees strategy, product development, operations, content and design for CBS Sports across its varied digital platforms. After six years as general manager at SportingNews.com, where he also oversaw the site’s fantasy sports, Gerttula came on board at CBS as VP of programming on the digital side in 2009. Based in Florida, he got his B.A. at Tufts University, majoring in quantitative economics, then snagged an MBA from Stanford.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Gerttula had a busy 2015, overseeing the launch of the picks-and-projections site SportsLine.com, which offers the SportsLine Pro subscription service, and the acquisition of the college/high school recruiting site 247Sports—a longtime partner of CBS Sports, where signing day is the site’s Super Bowl. The 247Sports grab in particular brought CBS Sports Digital a vast batch of experts on the hot topic of recruiting. “That helped broaden our content by bringing a number of news reporters in a number of localities,” Gerttula says. “It was a great addition.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: CBS took a leap into the future for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, becoming the first network to offer a live stream as a true simulcast of the linear TV feed, commercials and all. Nearly 4 million unique viewers watched the stream. “A number of people watch for the commercials, so we thought that was important to stream,” says Gerttula. “Football fans were able to watch the Super Bowl on whatever device they wanted.” CBS Sports Digital continues to see substantial user growth, with Gerttula pushing a more urgent tone to content. Live and forward-leaning is the credo. “Rather than just focus on what happened, like the newspaper model, people are interested in what’s happening now,” says Gerttula. “Our approach has resonated real well with our mobile and social audiences—we’ve seen significant lift from that.” Ahead are March Madness and the Masters. “It’s another big year for us,” says Gerttula. —Michael Malone
BACKGROUND: Louis Gump, 48, is a veteran of the mobile industry. He previously led the mobile team at the Weather Channel and led the launch of a global portfolio of mobile products at CNN, where he was global VP of mobile. He also served as CEO of mobile advertising and media firm LSN Mobile. When Gump heard about a group developing a local news app, he reached out and ultimately joined as CEO of what came to be known as NewsON. In addition, Gump spent more than a decade on the board of the Mobile Marketing Association.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: NewsON, a free, ad-supported app, offers live and on-demand local newscasts and clips on mobile and connected-TV devices from hundreds of markets and stations, with competitors collaborating on this national product. The service launched in late 2015 initially by five major broadcast groups: ABC Owned Television Station Group, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Media General and Raycom Media. NewsON is aiming to increase local news’ daily audience by delivering it via the medium people are increasingly using—mobile. “It’s a nice way to be a catalyst for growth for the local TV industry,” Gump says.
WHAT’S AHEAD: This year, NewsON is looking to add more stations to the fold, continue to grow its user base and implementing in-app updates. Gump says NewsON has a valuable position in the marketplace, strengthening local news brands, bringing it to the people the way they want it. His goal: for NewsON to become the “iconic” app for local news, the way the Weather Channel is for weather or ESPN is for sports. “NewsON has a chance to be one of the most important ways local news can connect with audiences,” Gump says. “If we do this well, it’s kind of a golden age of local news in the future.”—JK
Chief Commercial Officer, Discovery Communications
BACKGROUND: Paul Guyardo joined Discovery Communications as chief commercial officer in October 2015 and oversees Discovery’s advertising sales, digital media and licensing businesses. Guyardo had been on the other side of the distribution game as executive VP and chief revenue and marketing officer of DirecTV, where he oversaw advertising, consumer research and product management. While there, DirecTV’s U.S. subscriber count grew 33%. Before that, he was involved in retail, helping Kmart emerge from bankruptcy, and HSN, which he helped push to eight consecutive years of revenue growth.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Though he’s only been with Discovery a short time, Guyardo has already spearheaded the launch of Discovery Go, a TV Everywhere offering that provides subscribers with content from nine networks. The launch is part of a three-pronged strategy. First is to protect the multichannel video programming distributor ecosystem and provide added value to pay-TV customers. Second is to try to engage, grow and monetize millennial audiences, largely through Discovery Digital Networks, which recently hired former E! boss Suzanne Kolb. Third is a direct-to-consumer agenda that won’t cannibalize pay-TV by appealing to the super-fans of the content of networks such as Discovery, Animal Planet, Science or Velocity.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Guyardo says the industry has been a little late in pursuing TV Everywhere. He says you can’t expect younger consumers—like his own teenagers—to “consume television the way we consumed it. It’s a whole different world. And I think that rather than bringing them to the linear screen we have to take the content to them. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing with the digital networks and these TVE products.” While Discovery may skew older, younger viewers are interested in documentaries such as Racing Extinction. “I think you have to serve it up on different platforms,” he says. —Jon Lafayette
Senior VP, Turner Content Distribution
BACKGROUND: Based in Atlanta, John Harran oversees the multiplatform distribution of Turner’s portfolio of branded content, driving the company’s TV Everywhere strategy as well as expanding partnerships across OTT, SVOD, VOD and AVOD. He and his team also work to build content partnerships with digital platforms, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and Apple. Turner’s TVE products are now offered by more than 400 distributors and in more than 86 million homes nationwide.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Last year, Harran and his team cut Turner’s first OTT deals with Sling TV and Sony Playstation VUE, bringing Turner content to new audiences. He helped implement a new shortform video strategy, which created a new revenue stream for the company as well as expanded its audience reach. For Harran, one of the most pivotal parts of 2015 was that “we have transformed the company structurally. Over the past 18 months, we worked to bring in people with the right skill sets and to put the right people in the right places. I feel we are ahead of the industry and ahead of our peers in terms of what we’ve done and how we’ve done it. We’re helping to define the future of the television experience. At the end of the day, we’re in the business of storytelling, and making sure those stories are available to the widest audience possible by distributing that content to the marketplace. All the business models that surround the underpinnings of how we do that have changed, but that’s what we do.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: “I think 2016 is going to be a huge year, in which you are going to hear so much about data that it’s just going to continue to confuse people. We think data is super important. We’re spending a lot of time thinking through and developing our strategies around data and how that can inform our approach in the marketplace.”—Paige Albiniak
Chief Technology Officer, Disney/ABC Television Group
BACKGROUND: After becoming fascinated with technology while growing up in Iceland, Skarpi Hedinsson studied computer science at the University of Washington and then worked at a series of start-ups, where he was involved in early development of technologies for the smartphone. He then joined ESPN in Seattle in 1998 and in 2004 moved to Disney/ABC’s L.A. operations in 2004, where his tech teams produced a host of broadcast network firsts, including making full primetime episodes available on ABC. com in 2006, and the launch of the 24-hour feed on the Watch ABC app in 2013. In December, 2015 he was promoted to CTO of DATG.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: After breaking new ground during the last decade with its apps for tablets and smartphones, Hedinsson says they’ve recently been extremely focused on upgrading their Watch apps to capitalize the popularity of newer connected TV platforms and exploring new ways of telling stories with interactivity and virtual reality. “One of the really seminal things that happened last year was the introduction of Apple’s TV OS and the second coming of Apple TV,” says Hedinsson, who is the holder or coholder of seven U.S. patents on innovations in the area of digital media and streaming video.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Building on their 2015 work with connected TVs, VR and other newer technologies, Hedinsson says their key focus is on using technology to transform the way they can tell stories across multiple platforms. “The next ten years will be all about how technology is now starting to enhance and impact storytelling itself and not just about distribution [of stories to new platforms], which is what the past 10 years has been mostly about,” he says. “The combination of creative content and software code has tremendous possibilities for storytelling and I’m focused on scaling our software engineering teams to tackle those opportunities.” —George Winslow
Executive VP of Digital, Bravo and Oxygen Media
BACKGROUND: Lisa Hsia refers to herself as a “digital immigrant,” coming from a long and accomplished background in TV news before shifting to the digital side a decade ago. Hsia was a senior VP of NBC News, and Katie Couric’s senior producer, with oversight of Today, Dateline and Peacock Productions. Prior to her time at NBC, she was Diane Sawyer’s producer on ABC’s Primetime Live. A Harvard grad with an MBA from Columbia Business School, Hsia oversees digital business for Bravo and Oxygen Media. .
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Under Hsia’s watch, BravoTV.com and Oxygen.com both saw record traffic in 2015, the Bravo site up 61% in unique visitors year-over-year, and Oxygen jumping 46%. Hsia spearheaded a redesign that delivers fresher content to users—and compels them to stay longer, and come back more often. Hsia oversaw the launch of shopping vertical The Lookbook on the Bravo site, which she describes as “escapist entertainment,” and Oxygen’s Very Real, which covers relationships, the workplace and pop culture for millennial women. The latter, launched in May, emerged as the most visited part of the site. Hsia’s digital team scored an Emmy for its efforts, with the social online docuseries The Singles Project winning for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Sticking with the game plan of more unique digital content, Hsia’s squad will roll out a series of lifestyle destinations on the Bravo site, focused on food, travel, home design and relationships. The Feast and Jet Set are the first two to roll. The various digital channels are firstly entertainment, but can generate meaningful revenue too, as users seek to grab a piece of the brands they love for themselves. “The technology has evolved—you can make video shoppable,” Hsia says. “We want fans to feel fully immersed.” —MM
President and Chief Revenue Officer, Atlantic Broadband
BACKGROUND: David Isenberg’s long history with innovative broadband products began with work on the launch of high-speed Internet services at Continental Cablevision—one of the first in the U.S.—in 1996 while getting an MBA at Harvard. That led to stints at the MSO as well as Boston area tech start-ups before joining Atlantic Broadband in late 2003 as senior director of products. Since then he’s spearheaded the launch of a number of new products for the cable operator, helping the MSO double its revenue growth in the last three years and adding new responsibilities, most recently being promoted to president and chief revenue officer in early 2015.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Isenberg lands on the 2016 All-Star list with groundbreaking work at the 12th largest MSO, to bolster the pay-TV business by embracing services such as Netflix. After launching the TiVo advanced set-top boxes in recent years, the cable operator added Neflix to its user interface in 2015 and is planning to launch Hulu soon. It has also launched a popular Prime TV skinny bundle, which includes a TiVo set-top with integrated Netflix access. “Adding OTT services has clearly been a win-win,” he says. “Most of the people who have Netflix have activated it and we’ve seen improved loyalty and satisfaction,” along with improved subscriber trends.
WHAT’S AHEAD: “We’re working with TiVo on a number of things but they all fundamentally have to do with how we can help the customer get the content they want to see more quickly,” with more OTT content, improved search and better multiscreen integration, Isenberg says. They are also reexamining their bundle structure, given the popularity of Prime TV, which accounts for one of eight new bundle sales, and working on a 2016 launch of Gigabit Internet services in the Connecticut MetroCast Communication systems. Isenberg played a key role in acquiring those systems last year. —GW
Senior VP, Affiliate Partnership Development and Operations, Disney and ESPN Media Networks
BACKGROUND: Lori LeBas joined ESPN in 2000 with a talent for cultivating relationships in affiliate sales and operations. Her success at working those ties led to a post overseeing global ad sales operations and a growing understanding of the cross-platform power and opportunities within Disney. A tide in her career directed her closer to posts in distribution, and she ran strategic direction for Disney’s video distribution business last year, which included the Watch authenticated network process. With her latest shift to a leadership spot in affiliate sales and marketing, LeBas will help spread the Disney and ESPN content word.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Last October, LeBas left behind the longtime role of managing 250 people in an operations group to work alongside a team of about 35 committed to the breadth of multiplatform digital distribution. She leads efforts in engagement with departments across Disney and distribution partners and worked strategy and guidance around the launching of Watch products and the content and tech within. “The [decisive] moment was looking at the distribution landscape and understanding that… if I had to hitch my wagon to a most important thing we can get right at Walt Disney, it’s making sure the distribution model we are a part of continues to be a strong and sustained one,” she says.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Keeping the distribution model strong in 2016—especially with ESPN and Disney apps—involves keeping the details in mind. They include reducing friction in the authentication process (“You want to make sure that process is as seamless and simple as possible when you find there’s a great game on,” she says) and developing and testing methods to reduce password sharing or piracy. The lessons of keeping good relationships with partners still hold: “[Success is] about continuing to advance as we dip our toe into the direct-to-consumer business, not to abandon but to add complementary ways our fans can see our content.” —RE
Cofounder and Senior VP, Products and Solutions, Ooyala
BACKGROUND: Belsasar Lepe was a systems engineer at Google before cofounding video platform solution Ooyala in 2007, along with his brother, Bismarck, and their friend from Google, Sean Knapp. Ooyala was acquired by Australia’s Telstra in October 2014, but Lepe remains with the company, overseeing technology partnerships around the world. Ooyala currently serves more than 500 broadcasters and publishers, including ESPN, Univision, NBCUniversal, the U.K.’s Sky Sports, Australia’s Foxtel, Germany’s RTL Group, France’s M6, Sweden’s TV4, Spain’s Mediaset and the U.K.’s STV.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: “One of the most exciting things we did in 2015 that our customers will see the benefit of in 2016 is the combination of our ad-tech business and our video-tech business,” says Lepe. “At the heart of everything we do is data.  was the year in which we started the foundation for combining those two data signals, allowing us to do things like optimizing the ad load based on what we know about the user. That allows us to do the type of optimization on companies’ owned-and-operated websites that haven’t been possible until now. One of the other exciting things we did in 2015 was to untether our analytics from our video player. As we saw the value of the data we were generating, we realized it wasn’t always going to come from our player, and it wasn’t always going to come from a property that we power. Now it’s possible to use our analytics capability separate from our player.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Lepe has two bold predictions for the near future. First, he asserts, “Programmatic as a concept will cease to exist and become more the norm. It will simply be how business is done.” Second, he believes that the arrival of virtual and augmented reality will allow a “level of personalization that’s only possible today with mobile phones. VR and AR allows advertising to become part of the experience. It’s something that can become truly embedded in what you are doing.” —PA
CCO and President, Content Distribution, Univision Communications
BACKGROUND: Tonia O’Connor was promoted to chief commercial officer and president of content distribution at Univision in December 2015 and reports directly to Randy Falco, Univision’s CEO. She joined Univision in 2008 as executive VP of distribution sales and marketing and helped the company expand its portfolio from three networks to 17 broadcast, cable and digital networks. She also developed Univision’s VOD and TV Everywhere strategies. Before Univision, O’Connor was with Gemstar TV Guide, where she was executive VP for distribution. She began her career in the telecommunications industry in sales and marketing jobs.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: O’Connor spearheaded Univision’s efforts to bring content to younger users on the platforms and devices they prefer. She led the launch of the Univision Now direct-to-consumer subscription video service, brought Univision to Netflix and initiated partnerships with upcoming distribution outlets such as Verizon’s Go90, Dish’s Sling TV and Snapchat. She also helped create Flama, Univision’s first English-language video digital network. O’Connor extended Flama’s reach with launches of its content on Hulu, Comcast, The Scene, Dish’s Sling and Comcast’s Watchable service.
WHAT’S AHEAD: “The digital and mobile space is moving so quickly that our job is never done,” says O’Connor. She points the Univision Creators Network as one of the few multichannel networks started from scratch by a media company. “The Univision Creators Network really sits at the epicenter of all these digital assets we’re building,” she says. But at the same time, the line between what’s digital and what’s linear is blurring. “For us it’s about creating excellent content and great experiences for our consumers, an expanding consumer base that we want to come back to any one of our brands over and over again.” —JL
Managing Partner, Modi Media
BACKGROUND: Jamie Power helps run Modi Media which is the advanced television group at WPP that plans and implements addressable TV, local TV and interactive TV campaigns for clients of media buying giant GroupM. The group focuses on the use of data to target ads and deepen consumer engagement, which produces higher returns on clients’ advertising investments. Before Modi, Power had a stint at TouchTune Interactive Networks, a digital music company. Before that she spent 10 years at GroupM media agency MEC as a strategic planner working for clients including LG, Lions Gate and Pizza Hut.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: During 2015, Modi Media mounted more than 125 campaigns for about 67 different clients. Modi worked with Volvo to identify in-market luxury auto intenders—marketing talk for people looking to buy a high-end car. Modi found those households using data from car registration information from motor vehicle departments and from researchers such as Experian and Acxiom; then, using addressable technology, Modi was able to send messages only to their households. Sales were 22% higher in homes that got the campaign. With return on demand documented, the retention rate on a client that executes an addressable campaign is above 80%, she says.
WHAT’S AHEAD: “It’s really exciting to be a part of a transformation of television,” she says. When people talk about advanced advertising in general and addressable advertising in particular, they ask when it will achieve scale. In 2015 about one-third of all TV households had the capability. In 2016, Power expects Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Charter and Cox to come on board, bringing the total to 60 million. “All of a sudden one in two households will be able to insert at the household level. There’s been scale for years and it continues to grow.” —JL
Head of DreamWorksTV
BACKGROUND: As head of DreamWorksTV, Birk Rawlings is responsible for shepherding new projects and presiding over the production and creative process. Prior to his time with DreamWorksTV, Rawlings worked as an independent producer and consultant, including linking up with talent such as Doug Lawrence (SpongeBob SquarePants) and Paul Rugg (Animaniacs). Rawlings also served as VP of animation development at Nickelodeon. While there he oversaw the production of 30 original shorts and numerous pilots, of which five were series pick-ups including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Kung Fu Panda. He also served as director of creative affairs at Walt Disney Feature Animation, and had stops at Spyglass Entertainment and Fresco Pictures.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: With a focus on short-form content and 1,000-plus episodes of original content created for the Web in 2015—equaling 70 series and 50 hours—DreamWorksTV has risen to the top of You-Tube, surpassing Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon in subs and views. Rawlings cited Life Hacks for Kids as content that has excelled in the digital world. “It was successful, first because it was good, but it is an example of a show that used the YouTube algorithm to its advantage, ultimately by riding the coattails of a format and a type of content that was already successful on YouTube and creating a kid-centric version of that format.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: For Rawlings, the key to growth in the past and into the future is giving Dream-WorksTV’s audience “what they want, where they want it, when they want it, and being as flexible as possible. Making sure that we’re responsive to the things that they like and giving more of what they respond to and being comfortable moving on from things that they don’t.” With 80% of DreamWorksTV’s content viewed on mobile and tablet, Rawlings adds, “We are planning on doubling our growth this year and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we do that.” —Luke McCord
General Manager, Content and Services, Roku
BACKGROUND: Over the course of Steve Shannon’s career he has led numerous innovative digital efforts that have helped transform the way video is viewed in the home. After getting an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley, Shannon joined Coopers & Lybrand, where he worked with Silicon Valley start-ups and met Roku founder Anthony Wood. They cofounded iBand, creating popular Web design software, and Shannon later worked with Wood to launch Replay TV, which offered the first DVR. Shannon also cofounded Akimbo Systems, an early Internet VOD service, and in 2012 joined Roku.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: As usage of connected TV devices such as Roku skyrockets, Shannon’s work overseeing content and services at the company has made it a key ally in helping TV players expand their OTT offerings. Over the past year, Roku has expanded its work with pay-TV operators such as Sky and Time Warner Cable, increased the number of TV set manufacturers who offer the Roku operating system, added new capabilities such as 4K streaming and boosted its content with three to five new channels each week. “It was really a transformative year,” he says. “The launch of Showtime, HBO and Sling TV were seminal events for the industry.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Top 2016 priorities include making it much easier to access and quickly find content with an improved user interface, universal search and further personalization of Roku’s My Feed, Shannon says. They are also looking to expand ties with pay-TV operators, add more 4K content, boost their fast-growing ad business, put the Roku operating system inside more TV sets and attract more You Tube channels with a greatly simplified SDK for launch. “We are really only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of surfacing content users are interested in,” he says. —GW
Senior VP and Group Director, Digital Media, Showtime
BACKGROUND: Brian Swarth oversees all mobile, digital creative and marketing, technology and production, iTV and digital content production groups within Showtime’s digital media group. He’s also tasked with driving external partnerships for the digital group. Prior to joining the premium cabler in 2012, Swarth was managing director of digital client strategy at agency Zemoga, where clients included IAC, A&E Networks and AMC Networks. Before that, he was a senior director of strategy and business operations at MTV Networks. Based in New York, Swarth picked up an MBA from New York University following his undergrad degree at University of California, Santa Cruz.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Last summer, Showtime launched its streaming service, with Swarth a key figure in both the design and debut. Authenticated users can access Showtime’s hit shows, including The Affair and Homeland, through its app on Apple TV, Google and Roku, and through an add-on on other platforms. Swarth describes the mission as “all hands on deck. The entire team galvanized behind this.” He also spearheaded an initiative to keep fans of Showtime series well engaged even when the show is off the air. For Penny Dreadful, that means “embedding” a content producer on-set in Dublin to produce regular digital-only material.
WHAT’S AHEAD: This year has already seen the launch of Billions, which broke premiere records for the network. A multimedia native ad in the Wall Street Journal, called “Gaming the American Dream,” helped Billions break through the clutter, and a dogged social media strategy has built on the strong start. “The writers continue to be extremely committed to driving social interaction,” Swarth says. Next up is promotion for the Cameron Crowe series Roadies. Swarth is also digging in on virtual reality, wearables and the Internet of Things, and how they relate to Showtime. “It’s a question of, where else can our content live in the future?” he says. —MM
Executive VP of Marketing and Digital, truTV
BACKGROUND: Puja Vohra was promoted to her current position earlier this year from senior VP, and manages marketing, off-air creative, digital and social for truTV. She also added oversight of the network’s creative services team to develop strategies around on-air and multiplatform creative. Responsible for truTV’s multiplatform content strategy, Vohra has led successful campaigns with the network’s “Way More Fun” brand—launched a little over a year ago—with series such as Billy on the Street, Adam Ruins Everything and Impractical Jokers.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: Vohra and her team were successful in connecting with younger consumers around the network’s March Madness coverage with the playful #HaveUFoundtruTV campaign. Centered on consumers not knowing where to find truTV, the network created a microsite and a promoted Twitter hashtag in March. The Twitter campaign created 273 million total conversations, as well as 64.2 million promoted trend impressions; as a result, truTV saw a 48% increase in mentions of March Madness over the prior year. “It was just our way of being self-aware, of being self-deprecating, of being funny, not saying we’re funny,” Vohra says. “The team created over 1,200 custom pieces of content on Twitter and responded to folks who were coming after our brand.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: In addition to reducing promotional and advertising loads on-air in the fourth quarter and reaching its audience at physical events such as Comic Con and SXSW, building audience engagement is the key for Vohra and truTV in 2016. “It’s about giving the fans what they want more of. We are doing a lot to really put the fans first and thinking about the stuff that they need, the stuff they want,” Vohra says. “On the digital face, it’s about getting the content out there in ways that doesn’t feel promotional, in ways that feel organic and conversational.” —LM
Senior VP, Chief Product Officer, Sling TV
BACKGROUND: Ben Weinberger cofounded Digitalsmiths, a North Carolina-based company dedicated to finding the best possible video discovery solutions for viewers. The company’s products have been adopted by seven of the top ten pay-TV providers in the U.S. In 2014, TiVo acquired Digitalsmiths for $135 million. Weinberger spent a year with TiVo and then was recruited in June 2015 by Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV, the Internet TV unit of Denver-based Dish Network. Sling TV offers a package of 20 channels for $20 per month, with add-on options such as a Latino package for $5 or HBO for $15. Subscribers can access the service from anywhere on any device without having to authenticate through a pay-TV provider.
2015 HIGHLIGHTS: After arriving at Sling halfway through 2015, Weinberger hit the ground at a full sprint, getting Sling TV up and running and working to quickly add content partners. He currently oversees product management, programming acquisition and promotion. “We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary,” he says, “and we went from having 12 channels to more than 65 domestic channels and more than 300 international channels. We didn’t even have a Latino package when I got here.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Weinberger’s true passion seems to remain the same as it was when he cofounded Digitalsmiths—creating the best possible user interface for consumers. In fact, he’s working with Digitalsmiths now to bring that experience to Sling TV’s UI, which will roll out on various platforms over the course of 2016. “It’s all built around a concept called MyTV and it’s about personalizing the whole TV experience,” he says. MyTV takes a more intuitive approach to the program guide, representing “a total shift in how to find what you want. We want people to think about content in the way they want to think about it, apart from when it’s on what network.” —PA