The Right Moves

John Wallace keeps NBC U on the cutting edge

To help lead the technological revolution at a place as diverse as NBC Universal, an executive has to possess an abundance of skills and also know that the right answers are elusive in a fast-changing business.

John Wallace, NBC executive VP, television operations and production services (TOPS), has the goods. He has leveraged his technological savvy and business acumen to help the network evolve its high-definition programming and has been an important part of other innovations.

He was a college intern at the NBC station in Providence, R.I., and the experience hooked him. After graduating from Providence College with a degree in English literature, Wallace snagged a job as page for NBC in 1988, working to make sure that David Letterman and his guests were happy.

“I really started to recognize that this was a business that I wanted to be a part of. It was a fun business. It was a very sexy product,” he says. “There's just something very dynamic and challenging about it that really energizes me when I come to work. I've been here now 18 years, and I feel about as pumped about coming to work as I did as a page.”

By 2000, he worked his way up to senior VP, broadcast operations. He helped develop the broadcast-hub model, centralizing the master-control operations for NBC's owned stations into three regional centers: New York, Burbank, Calif., and Miramar, Fla. From them, NBC runs many functions for other NBC stations in each area.

Wallace also oversaw the creation of the NBC ArtHouse, a central graphics-production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. “Our intent is to have more high-end graphics making air and really using our resources more efficiently” so that the best computer-graphics artists can do their thing.

John Eck, president/chief information officer of Media Works says, “John is very much a visionary about the industry and is extremely process-focused. He thinks about our business as a series of interconnected processes and is visionary about what you can do to simplify and enhance the operations of the business.”

Wallace was promoted to his current position in May 2004 and oversees the network's transition to HD. Last fall, Saturday Night Live began broadcasting in it, and in September, the top-rated Today will begin to do so. During the winter Olympics, NBC broadcast more than 300 hours in high-def.

“When I came in, it really was at the start of our HD transition so I'm proud of the method we've taken to convert the network,” says Wallace. “I'm very pleased with the current shows and how they're going in terms of high-definition.

NBC is pleased with Wallace, too. Says Jay Ireland, president of NBC Universal television stations, “John's best skill is the ability to take technology that's either on the shelf or being developed and, using his knowledge of business operations. seeing where you can take the technology to help the business operations over and above whatever the vendors would try to tell you. He has an uncanny sense of the operational aspects of a television station and the television industry and understanding what technology can be used and where.”

Wallace is glad to have the support of the network because, as he looks to the future, he knows enough about technology to know that he has no idea what's coming next. “Change is hard for anyone,” he says, “and certainly I don't want to make it sound like it's easy. The way our business is changing and the way that media is now being consumed, there are going to be opportunities that I can't even think of today.”

But he also knows that, “in all of our operations, whether it's production or on-air operations, much of our success is predicated upon our technology.”