Television's quickly shifting video landscape keeps moving in new directions in 2017, as mobile platforms and virtual multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) become an even bigger component of the industry.
With virtual MVPDs like DirecTV Now, Sling TV and Hulu’s planned service gaining traction, and companies such as Verizon pushing mobile services like go90, digital knowhow is becoming even more crucial for companies — if that’s even possible.
That is why the achievements and vision of B&C’s 2017 Digital All-Stars are so noteworthy. These 16 executives sit on the front lines of the industry’s transformation and represent a range of disciplines: advertising/media, content, distribution, local TV, entrepreneurship, technology and more.
Not only did these honorees make a tremendous impact over the last 12 months, they are charting the course ahead. In the pages that follow, read how these honorees will keep pushing the business forward into its digital future.
BACKGROUND: Previously the chief marketing officer at an online financial information service called Capital IQ, Seung Bak launched DramaFever—a digital over-the-top network aimed at fans of Korean dramas—out of his apartment in 2009. Noticing an online community of people who went out of their way to see Asian TV shows, Bak set out with a limited selection of older Korean drama titles. “Along the way, we built the company in such a way that it’s almost the anti-Netflix strategy…We’re hyper-focused around verticals, particularly verticals where there’s a passionate audience base.”
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Last February, DramaFever was acquired by Warner Bros. The transition has been phenomenal, according to Bak, as “the core DramaFever business more than doubled.” Bak and the team have grown to “become essentially the backbone” for a new division within Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Digital Networks. “We are building and operating a whole bouquet of directto- consumer entertainment services,” he said. Among the services Bak has his hands on is Warner Archive, which caters to fans of classic American movies and TV shows.
WHAT’S AHEAD: In the year ahead, Bak looks to continue to grow Warner Bros.’s digital offerings under the Warner Bros. Digital Networks umbrella. “By the end of this year, we will really emerge as a very sizable and true digital network,” Bak said. “We have a whole slate of new services that are in the works that are going to get announced this coming year that feature some of the most iconic and best intellectual property from Warner Bros.” These services will continue to cater to passionate fan bases around “very specific verticals,” he said.
SENIOR VP, HEAD OF DISTRIBUTION AND PARTNERSHIPS, HULU
BACKGROUND: Tim Connolly comes from distribution and new product development, having worked for such heavy hitters as The Walt Disney Co. and ESPN. Prior to that, he served in product management and business development roles at Ericsson, focusing on mobile applications, networks and professional services.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Hulu is working hard to launch its new live-streaming offering, which will operate like an online cable service and include over-the-air channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox and hopefully NBC, as well as cable programmer Turner, by the time it launches later this year.
“We got those four business deals—Fox, Disney, Turner, CBS—done in the span of six months with a really small but skilled team,” Connolly said. “You don’t need armies if you have a bunch of really smart dedicated people. We got network partnership deals done with three of the four biggest networks in the country last year.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: With many of the necessary deals in place, Hulu is working furiously to get its live-streaming service launched, which will compete with other over-the-top live offerings such as DirecTV Now and Sling TV.
“The launch of the MVPD service is going to be fascinating,” Connolly said. “It’s an interesting market, it’s a complicated market, but we really are excited about it. The competition’s going to be fierce but we feel like we’ve got a lot of benefits, capabilities on our side that can help us be successful. We’re going to offer a groundbreaking user experience that will be refreshing and exciting for consumers.”
COFOUNDER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, BRIGHTLINE
BACKGROUND: Jacqueline Corbelli got her start in banking after graduating from Columbia University with her master’s degree and spent 15 years in the financialservices industry. She was president of Aston Associates— where she had advised on redesigns for 10 major financial corporations in 12 years—when she decided to apply her skills to a new field. In 2003, she cofounded BrightLine, which offers interactive advanced advertising, building the company with the belief that “the internet was going to radically and fundamentally change television.”
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: BrightLine has counted numerous networks—including AMC, A&E, Discovery, ESPN, CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC and Hulu—among its many partnerships. The Hulu deal, announced in May of 2016, has been crucial for the company. “Hulu represents 46% of the ad-supported television streaming in the living room,” Corbelli said. “So that was really a massive and essential thing for the marketplace and certainly for BrightLine.” For Corbelli, the key to BrightLine’s effectiveness is that “it’s heavily rooted in how you can instantaneously apply the insights of real-time data.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Going forward, this year looks to be a big one for BrightLine, including “finishing our fully self-served portion of the platform in the second quarter,” Corbelli said. BrightLine has also expanded the number and type of personalized templates brands can use. “We used the performance data that we collected over all those years and created templates that are performing much better than any other web screen” when it comes to this type of advertising, she said.
CEO, NEW FORM
BACKGROUND: After working in TV and film production, as well as producing web series on the weekends, Kathleen Grace landed the VP of production and programming job at Next New Networks (acquired by YouTube in 2011). At YouTube, she was head of creative development for YouTube Space LA and built physical production studios in London, Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York. After three years with YouTube, Grace started at New Form in 2014.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: In the past year, New Form has helped to produce 20 series on 11 different platforms—CW Seed, YouTube Red, Freeform and go90 among them. Including working with top digital talent, the studio also announced it sold an animated comedy developed by Olan Rogers and Conan O’Brien to TBS. Such a wide array of platforms has been key to reaching the millennial audience New Form attracts. “I think you have to go where they [viewers] are,” Grace said. “You have to be on the digital platforms that they love.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Last December, New Form announced it secured $18 million in second-round funding from ITV and Discovery Communications. “It’s allowed us to make more investments. This year we’re going to make more pilots than we’ve ever made before,” Grace said, adding that she’s also looking forward to working more with advertisers. “We’re really excited about working with advertising brands and marketers. It’s an area that we have done a little bit of work in when brands have come to us. Now we want to go to brands and see how we can help them tell stories better.”
EXECUTIVE VP OF DIGITAL, NBC ENTERTAINMENT
BACKGROUND: If, as they say, content is king, then Rob Hayes is loving his brush with royalty. Some prime NBC programming has given Hayes a great mix for the Peacock Network’s revenue-producing apps and platforms in a digital department that was little more than a marketing arm five years ago. In the last year, Hayes’ efforts have led to growth in the number of NBC app downloads, from 11 million to more than 48 million. That’s not surprising, given his past experience in creating video-on-demand channels for YouTube at Iconic Entertainment and overseeing digital at Showtime Networks.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Many a broadcaster has lately seen slowdowns in crossplatform audience growth, but chances are they don’t have the advantages—and the strategic initiatives—of Hayes at NBC. His team created the digital marketing plan for This Is Us, an incredibly successful 2016 launch; a live digital companion show that helped Hairspray Live! trend No. 1 worldwide during the broadcast; and “The Voice on Snapchat,” a unique, five-episode short-form series that brought new fans to the popular music competition.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Hayes understands it’s a cliché, but “more of the same” is what he’s most looking forward to, albeit with greater growth in areas such as scale, which would then lead to more engagement. “It’s all about growing our multiplatform viewership for the network,” he said. Strategic partnerships will continue, evolving tech and the link to fans through the likes of Facebook Live, but Hayes knows that a season where Saturday Night Live once again helps steer the narrative makes for a good digital showing. “Through the technology, we’re able to be available on more platforms that have come up over the last three years,” he said. “NBC continues to get stronger from a programming perspective. So it’s a perfect storm.”
SENIOR VP, ENGINEERING, TRIBUNE BROADCASTING
BACKGROUND: Hank Hundemer’s fervor for TV engineering kicked into full gear at age 14, during a volunteer gig answering phones at Cincinnati PBS station WCET. “I became infatuated with technology around broadcasting and the ability to reach the masses and the cool factor,” he said. In 2008, Hundemer left WKRC, Cincinnati’s CBS affiliate, after 13 years to join Tribune, where he has focused on building more efficient, more cost-effective systems in-house. The thrill has yet to wear off. “I still think it’s cool,” he said.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: During the last year, Hundemer furthered his “build vs. buy” strategy, constructing systems in-house that power Tribune’s newsroom and master control operations. Leveraging video game technology, Hundemer in 2016 made the processes for crossplatform news production and distribution more seamless, improving output and freeing up resources. Tribune-issued cellphones are now capable of shooting HD video; software allows content to smoothly migrate between social media and other digital platforms.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Hundemer has his 2017 sights set on making sharing video across platforms even easier and more efficient. “The industry talks a lot about material being platform-agnostic,” he said, “but we still really have the separation of on-air and digital platforms.” Successfully having a “truly platform-agnostic, 24/7 (operation) becomes a matter of workflow, where it’s easier to grab video and audio and put it only those platforms,” he said. “And, of course, the communications and coordination that goes along with this.”
HEAD OF DIGITAL/SOCIAL, IGNITION CREATIVE
BACKGROUND: Lissy L’Amoreaux became a digital groundbreaker just by staying on top of trends. L’Amoreaux got her start working in traditional film marketing for DreamWorks, focusing on tried and true tricks of the trade, such as movie posters and trailers.
“As I grew in that business, digital became more of the focal point,” she said. “Not a lot of people knew about that side of the business, and people like me volunteered to take it on.”
She moved to Walt Disney Pictures after DreamWorks, and there she focused on creating websites and digital web banners. From there, she started her own agency, Union Studio, with a partner. The pair designed and built websites and digital experiences for big movie launches, including Summit Entertainment’s Twilight franchise.
In 2013, that agency was acquired. L’Amoreaux accepted an offer to join Ignition Creative in July 2013, where she has helped build out that agency’s digital team and expand its purview.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: L’Amoreaux won her first Webby award in 2016 for Ignition’s campaign for the film 99 Homes starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon. She and her team also launched campaigns for Netflix’s Daredevil and BoJack Horseman, both of which won Clio Key Art Awards. “Those were two really strong campaigns I was lucky to work on when I was just starting here,” she said.
WHAT’S AHEAD: L’Amoreaux is looking forward to the campaigns for Universal’s Despicable Me 3, one of the film studio’s biggest properties, as well as Sony Pictures’ reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland.
EXECUTIVE VP AND GM OF DIGITAL MEDIA, DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS
BACKGROUND: When Discovery Communications brought on Karen Leever in October of 2015, they were adding a veteran with two decades of digital product experience, covering stints at DirecTV, QVC, HSN and Sears Holdings. And during just the year-plus she has held the digital reins at Discovery, she’s overseen major rollouts in OTT, TV Everywhere and virtual reality.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: For 2016, it was the launch of Discovery’s OTT offerings that stood out for Leever. “It really enabled us to reach Discovery ‘superfans’ on more screens than ever before,” she said. “And, of course, the launch of our Discovery ‘GO’ apps was no small feat.” Within six months of the launch of ‘GO,’ Discovery had not only created a new destination for viewers, both new and old, to consume the company’s portfolio of content, but also created an extremely scalable new business.
WHAT’S AHEAD: As for what’s next with her work at Discovery, Leever wants to focus on continuing to grow “GO” and establish it as a significant part of the business. “We’ll launch additional new OTT products and continue to satisfy the needs of our superfans,” she said. “And, finally, we will work hard to maintain Discovery’s first-mover and award-winning position in the virtual reality space. The Discovery brand is all about innovation and is so inherent to our DNA. The team has created one of, if not, the biggest VR entertainment apps and we want to continue that momentum.”— Chris Tribbey
CHAIRMAN & CEO, MOBITV
BACKGROUND: Charlie Nooney’s career has been all about distribution, and finding tech’s latest way to connect content to customers. Executive positions at companies such as Screenvision, Technicolor Network Services and a long stint at Disney/ABC Cable Networks honed his skills managing and moving content. Now nine years into his gig atop MobiTV—a leader in live and on-demand video delivery solutions—he’s reached a certain pinnacle with a company that has long worked overseas to perfect the means to help operators of various sizes compete in the evolving and competitive streaming environment.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Last July saw the announcement of MobiTV Connect Platform, an IP video-delivery solution for cable operators looking to move beyond the set-top box and utilize connected-TV devices and streaming boxes already in place—for the benefit of both consumers and those operators trying to grow beyond their resources. The first U.S. company to take advantage of the solution: C Spire. Mobi got the gig even though they were late to the RFP process. “We were able to show them an actual working service,” Nooney said of the company’s successes in India and other markets.
WHAT’S AHEAD: MobiTV has a sense that things are just getting started in the U.S., that they’ve found a niche in the IP-delivery business that they can now exploit across platforms. The goal is to find the next companies beyond C Spire (and interest is extremely high) to buy in. “We always anticipated the world would move to IP-based video across the board,” Nooney said. “How do you make sure you’re around for that? You continue to build your platform with that idea in mind.”
HEAD OF DIGITAL VENTURES, ICM PARTNERS
BACKGROUND: Jonathan Perelman brings deep experience from the digital realm to his post at Hollywood talent agency ICM. His resume includes Google in New York City, where he worked on the media and advertising side. From there, he joined BuzzFeed in Los Angeles, where he was vice president of operations at BuzzFeed Motion Picture Studios. He was instrumental in launching BuzzFeed’s video efforts, which were focused on creating bite-sized pieces of shareable video. “I think BuzzFeed led the way in creating different kinds of shareable video content,” he said. “None of us went into it saying this is what the future will be. It was a lot of testing and iterating and tying something out. BuzzFeed has a data-driven mindset coupled with really creative people who are open to that approach.”
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Since joining ICM in 2015, Perelman has worked to incorporate digital into the agency’s entire operations. “I think every department should be digital,” he said. “What we’ve done is here at ICM is not push digital to the side but make it front and center.” Perelman’s accomplishments to that end include everything from helping a showrunner build out a program’s digital world to working with talent to create apps to developing a client’s brand across a variety of social media platforms. “You have to be quick because this world changes quickly,” he said. “You have to have a willingness to jump in there and do things differently.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: “I think we are starting to see some walls come down between whatever digital means and whatever traditional means,” he said. “People are starting to see that it’s not one side against the other, it’s more and more opportunity and more and more ways to reach an audience.”
CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER, MEDIAMORPH
BACKGROUND: As cofounder and director of crossplatform entertainment data management and analytics firm Mediamorph, Mike Sid has helped shepherd the company into one of the tech mainstays used by Hollywood studios and cable networks, which use it for metrics, licensing and royalty management and third-party ad billing. Before helping launch Mediamorph in 2007, Sid ran his own digital consulting business, Michael Sid & Associates, for three years. Before that, he held positions with Connotate Technologies, Bearingpoint and Sony Music Entertainment.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: 2016 was a big year for Mediamorph: It won a 2016 Tech Award for Best Commercial Software, led the software category in the Deloitte Fast 500 and raised $21 million in growth capital. With platform advancements and new product development throughout the year, Mediamorph has seen growth in international markets and more customers in new verticals, including Hulu. “As digital deals, services and revenue expand, and the video ecosystem supply chain continues to evolve, more and more companies are relying on Mediamorph to provide solutions to simplify, automate, orchestrate, and grow their digital businesses,” Sid said.
WHAT’S AHEAD: With today’s explosion of digital content across all formats, business models, devices and platforms, Sid said challenges remain to manage and monetize content, with legacy spreadsheets and bespoke systems unable to keep up with the complexity and consumer adoption of new technology and viewing options. Mediamorph aims to continue helping content owners and distributors expand their control, visibility, automation and monetization opportunities. “Mediamorph is not only expanding these customers’ capabilities to optimize content and finances within their organization, but we are actively supporting the orchestration of their content supply chain,” Sid said. “Our customers have tremendous ideas about how to better manage and monetize their content. Simply put, we are here to help enable that.”
VP, DIGITAL INVESTMENT, HORIZON MEDIA
BACKGROUND: Alex Stone said his family always thought he’d wind up in advertising. As a kid, he would sing jingles from commercials at the dinner table. But it was his love of digital technology that moved him up the ladder on Madison Avenue, first at OMD and now at Horizon Media, which he joined in 2013. He heads a team of 22—dubbed the Stone Squad— which develops integrated marketing strategies incorporating digital for retail and packaged-goods clients.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Stone was instrumental in helping Horizon land two of its biggest new accounts, LG Electronics and Chobani, the yogurt maker. He worked with Horizon’s video-investment team to create an upfront with Hulu that incorporated advanced advertising and measurement into the agency’s media buys. More cool and fun was a digital video campaign for Stolichnaya vodka designed to be watched on mobile devices. Through haptic technology, when a cocktail was shaken, the viewer could feel the vibrations through his or her phone. “We saw great results from an ad lift perspective and from people wanting to rewind the pre-roll [spot] to replay it. Which never happens,” Stone said.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Stone noted that Google recently announced it would search users’ map and app search data to better target consumers with YouTube pre-roll ads. “I think eventually they’ll use Chromecast to better target you using that data, and Google Home and your voice queries to target you across screens” and personalize the user experience in the ad space.
EXECUTIVE VP OF BUSINESS, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT & MANAGEMENT, SHOWTIME NETWORKS
BACKGROUND: After graduating with an MBA from Northwestern University, Julia Veale found herself working as a director for cable set-top box maker General Instrument, later acquired by Motorola. She joined Showtime Networks in 1999 and hasn’t looked back. With Veale at the helm, Showtime has introduced subscription video-on- demand services and has launched the TV Everywhere product Showtime Anytime. The common thread throughout her career? “Content meets what you can do with it and how users can experience watching programming on different devices,” she said.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: With Veale overseeing the strategy for the standalone Showtime streaming service, which launched in 2015, it has already surpassed 1 million subscribers. Veale attributes its success partly to the programming and partly to “being able to create different ways for people to subscribe to us. Whether they want to buy us through a Hulu or Amazon or through our own branded service, it’s really about making Showtime more accessible.” A few days into the new year, Showtime extended its deal with Hulu.
WHAT’S AHEAD: As for what to expect from Showtime in 2017, Veale said to look for more of the same. “We want to expand the ways that you can access Showtime, so you’ll see us on new devices,” she said. Beyond expanding subscribers and their lifetime with the network, Veale pointed to harnessing data. “One of the cool things about launching our own streaming business is the data side of things,”she said, noting it gives the programmer a chance at “understanding deeper insights into consumer behavior and the subscription business itself.”
VP OF GAMES AND DIGITAL PRODUCTS, CARTOON NETWORK
BACKGROUND: After falling in love with programming and computers as an English Ph.D. candidate, with a focus in comics and pop culture, Chris Waldron left academia to launch his own company in Atlanta. Waldron later landed his dream job with Cartoon Network in 2000. Since then, he has launched a massively multiplayer online game (Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall) as an executive producer and oversaw the development and launch of Cartoon Network Anything, a “micro-network” made with smart-phones in mind that features a constant stream of 15-seconds-or-less clips and games.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Among several successful game launches, the Cartoon Network video app stood out in 2016, nabbing an Interactive Emmy Award along the way. The app allows users to personalize playlists with its The Mix function and gives them access to advance premieres with See It First. “The focus of that app is really about trying to create a personalized TV network in some ways,” Waldron said. “It’s about coming into the experience, selecting your favorites, and then getting an automatic mix that starts a video playlist of the content that you like.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Waldron points to Mighty Magiswords as one guide for the future of the network’s mobile experience. For the series, Waldron and his team created MagiMobile. The app listens to and recognizes an episode being watched, then rewards the user with a sword from that episode. “That idea of the audience getting to participate and being able to collect their swords just like the characters on the show was baked in from the very beginning,” Waldron said. “We’re going to see more of that over this year and the coming years done in different sorts of ways.”
CEO, KIN COMMUNITY
BACKGROUND: Coming out of a nearly five-year stint as VP of strategic alliances at Sony Pictures, Michael Wayne in 2007 cofounded Kin Community, a multichannel network aimed at serving all corners of women’s lifestyle programming. In the decade since, Kin has grown to host more than 120 content creators from every social-media platform. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, LaurDIY and Rosanna Pansino are among the Kin content creators with a multimillion YouTube subscriber base. A founding member of the Global Online Video Association (GOVA) online video trade association and the first chairman of the nonprofit International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV), Wayne was a marketing manager for ABC early in his career, and began his career as an entrepreneur in Prague, where he founded Velvet Magazine.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: Wayne said 2016 saw a number of highlights for Kin Community: heavy investment in Kin Studios, its original programming arm; the launch of Kin Australia, in partnership with Fairfax Media; marking the two-year anniversary of Kin Canada, in partnership with Corus Entertainment; and raising $13.5 million in funds to scale original programming and domestic and international sales infrastructure.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Looking at what’s next, Wayne said he sees nothing but growth for Kin Community: “Kin has evolved into a pure-play video company whose goal is to inspire millennial women across all platforms,” he said. “In this ever-changing media world, Kin is uniquely positioned to be the market leader for home-focused video content targeting a global millennial women’s audience.”
CHIEF REVENUE & MARKETING OFFICER, WWE
BACKGROUND: Anyone scouting Michelle Wilson for a job eight years ago would have found a pedigree filled with examples of bringing myriad sports to new audiences. In eight years as chief marketing officer of the United States Tennis Association, she’d helped make the U.S. Open the world’s most-attended sporting event. Prior to that were stints helping launch the XFL and a brand-management position at the NBA. But eight years ago is when she came aboard at WWE, where she’s responsible for all the company’s revenue lines—and is instrumental in the company’s wildly successful over-the-top (OTT) initiatives.
2016 HIGHLIGHTS: The company’s main OTT attraction is WWE Network, currently the fifth-largest subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service in the U.S. Wilson recognizes the incredible power of the sport’s faithful followers and their influence in the service’s growth. Speaking strategically about 2016, Wilson said WWE “focused on year-over-year… subscriber growth by continuing to super-serve our passionate fans with new programming, new features and more archival, on-demand content.” The result: transforming an $80 million pay-per-view business into a $180 million direct-to consumer concern, “making it our…fastest-growing business.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Wilson’s charter for 2017 involves understanding the continued consumer shift to digital viewership. “We’re focused on content development across all platforms, growing our business internationally, and investing in technology and analytics to drive revenue growth across all lines of business,” Wilson said. Also on tap: using tech and content to bring the next generation of fans into the ring, regardless of the platform.