2014 Digital All-Stars: TV’s Best At Busting Out of the Box

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B&C’s annual roster of Digital All-Stars shows that savvy across platforms is driving the industry forward

In 2014, it is fair to say, all TV jobs are digital. Anyone who used to hammer out deals a traditional way, focusing only on linear channels and time slots is now factoring in mobile viewing, streaming rights and a host of other elements. Programmers who thought only in half-hour and hour-long increments are now brainstorming the perfect 60-second viral video. And the vibrant M&A marketplace is showing all the signs, with companies acquiring and showcasing digital assets with a near-historic hunger.

And yet, the ubiquity of digital does not mean that everyone can master it. There is still an elite group of pros that demonstrate an ability to see around corners, and maintain unerring instincts about the way technology will evolve. They treat the digital landscape as the new frontier, but attack it as their forebears attacked the landscapes of yesterday. In the end, perhaps it is exactly that all-star ability to remove the halo from digital and treat it as an everyday challenge that will help usher in the most transformational changes yet.


Distribution strategy VP gets to the heart of Web-shaping tech issues

0803_DAS_SBrennan_0.jpgSherry Brennan did her graduate research in economics at Iowa State University on two topics. One was the transportation of chicken feed. The other was the optimal paving of the road grade in the Midwest.

Though those topics are agricultural, “I do think the training as an economist comes in very, very handy in terms of giving me a big picture view of things and a framework for creative problem solving,” says Brennan. And as senior VP, distribution strategy & development at Fox Networks, Brennan often spends her workdays wrestling with distributors over technology issues that are shaping the Web.

Another handy item on her résumé is that she started with Falcon Cable and worked at Cablevision Systems. “I think it gives me a great appreciation for how much work it takes to actually bring a product to the consumer,” she says. “People think ‘how hard can that be?’ I know the answer is really, really hard.”

These days, Brennan gets involved in discussions with new entities that want to use Fox content. That keeps her busy. She was part of the group that evaluated whether or not Fox should sell Hulu, and negotiated Fox’s licensing agreement with the overthe- top digital service. She was a witness in Fox’s lawsuit against Aereo and attended the Supreme Court’s oral arguments. Recently, she’s been working on distribution via apps, including Apple TV.

“It’s really interesting to work with these big Internet companies,” Brennan says. “In their world, they are the 800-pound gorilla. In our world we are, so you need to be very creative in how you negotiate things.” —Jon Lafayette


Helping lead ABC group that keeps cranking out innovative solutions

0803_DAS_CCarpenter_0.jpgABC has long been a pacesetter on the digital front, and it’s on Carla Carpenter, senior VP, digital media, to ensure the network’s owned stations crank it up on the Web and mobile too. Carpenter’s lean digital team overhauled the station websites this past spring, and produced new mobile apps dedicated to news—users can watch local news in HD—weather and alarm clocks. Mobile page views increased 131% from June ’13 to June ’14.

The sites also have a new content management system that gets breaking news out much more quickly. “It went from 20 steps to two,” Carpenter says.

The station sites feature way more video and responsive design; instead of shrinking the screen for a smartphone, complex coding serves up the full user experience whatever the screen size. In other words, you no longer need “toothpick fingers,” Carpenter says, to click on a link on your iPhone.

The digital team has produced 49 products in the last two years. Such creativity and productivity is part of the Disney culture, says Carpenter, who’s quick to deflect credit to her team. “This is the most forward-thinking company in the country,” she says. “It’s been innovative from the beginning, and that has never stopped.”

Carpenter, former WPVI Philadelphia VP and news director, also serves on the Watch ABC committee, and says there will be a “dramatic difference” in that gold-standard mobile TV platform next year.

“We anticipate the future,” she says, “rather than waiting for it to come to us.” —Michael Malone


Innovative CIMM executive is bullish on expanding cross-platform numbers

0803_DAS_JClark_0.jpgBetter cross-platform measurement has been a huge pain point for TV players in recent years, as it’s become readily apparent that a good chunk of viewers are being left out of the ratings.

Jane Clarke, managing director, Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) has been leading the charge in measuring viewership across multiple platforms—and even pushing the leader in the ratings space, Nielsen, to speed up its own efforts. “People had been complaining for years about the lack of crossplatform measurement,” says Clarke. “This year we’re actually starting to see some data.”

One of CIMM’s biggest cross-platform pushes is Project Blueprint, which, with an assist from comScore and Arbitron, aims to provide measurement across five platforms—TV, radio, computer, tablet and smartphone. ESPN funded the first phase last year, with CIMM taking the baton for what Clarke calls the 2.0 version.

It remains to be seen how well Project Blueprint will play alongside Nielsen, which is readying its own cross-platform service. “That will be an interesting challenge,” Clarke says, adding that over the next year, they will see if the industry supports more than one service.

While Clarke is bullish on the growth of expanded measurement, she knows it still has a ways to go. Along with keeping an eye on a service that’s still in its infancy, Clarke also expects that with the TV industry in a constant state of change, CIMM and others will have to keep up.

“Things will probably change and there will be new things that have to be added in,” she says. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to say we’ve truly solved it.” But that watchful attempt certainly helps. —Tim Baysinger


With new initiatives, Viacom exec leads with the future in mind

0803_DAS_EFlannigan.jpgA big part of Erik Flannigan’s job at Viacom is figuring out how to read what’s on the digital horizon.

“I spend a lot of time looking outside of our shores,” says Flannigan, executive VP of multiplatform strategy and development for Viacom Entertainment Group, explaining that he studies generation edge—those consumers born after millennials—start-ups and apps that remove friction for greater ease of use.

Flannigan leads multiplatform initiatives across VEG’s Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land properties. His efforts have resulted in the recently released Comedy Central app.

“We really took an approach on the app to think about it very much as an extension of the network, of the television screen and less so, which I think a lot of folks have done, as kind of like an evolution of a website,” he says of the mobile offering, which has garnered more than 1 million downloads since its April 1 debut.

Next up for Flannigan are apps for Comedy’s sister networks.

“We’re going to bring a similar approach to both Spike and TV Land,” he says.

The exec is also looking for ways to extend what he’s learned to VEG shows, including The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore, which will take over The Colbert Report slot on Comedy Central in 2015.

“I think part of what I’ve done and we’ve done over the last 12 months and really in the seven years that I’ve been here has been redefining the definition of what a television show is,” he says. “It’s more than just 22 minutes you put on air once a week for however many weeks it runs.” —Jessika Walsten


Comcast veteran helps boost usage with improved marketing and tech

0803_DAS_VForlenza.jpgFaced with slumping subscriber counts and the growing clout of over-the-top services such as Netflix, the push to make content on a host of digital devices has made TV Everywhere one of the most important initiatives undertaken by multichannel operators and programmers in the last decade.

That has landed Vito Forlenza, Comcast Cable’s senior director, TV Everywhere content and product strategy on this year’s list of Digital All-Stars, both for his team’s successes and for their upcoming efforts to build awareness of these offerings.

Some of that progress was evident during the recent World Cup, which produced a record 13 million-plus live streams of soccer matches by Comcast customers via Xfinity TV Go and Watch ESPN. They’ve also been working to add live channels, boosting the number to 53 in less than a year since he was put in charge of TV Everywhere efforts. “We want to have 75 by the end of the year,” he says.

Forlenza, who started his career as an online sports journalist/editor and first joined Comcast in 2003 to oversee the sports section of its website, has extensive experience in using high profile events such as the Olympics and the World Cup to drive usage. But he also stresses that they are intensely involved with industry groups to boost consumer interest in the offers. “They don’t have the glitz of an event like the Olympics but educating the consumer and reducing the friction points is a huge focus for us,” he says, with the ultimate goal of getting “the majority of our user base using TV Everywhere on a daily basis.” —George Winslow


Tiny Riot! executive VP/GM helps Fremantle invest in long-term multiplatform value

0803_DAS_GGilman.jpgGayle Gilman recalls the moment when she became sold on YouTube. She and her family were preparing to go to a bar mitzvah when she walked in on her elementary school-age son trying to tie his own necktie.

“He had a YouTube video up that he found on how to tie your tie,” she says. “He was in there doing it all by himself. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing that he found that and figured it out and didn’t strangle himself.’”

As executive VP of and general manager of Fremantle North America’s digital studio Tiny Riot!, Gilman now spends her days helping to create content for YouTube. Tiny Riot! develops for FremantleMedia’s You- Tube network The Pet Collective—which Gilman also oversees—as well as Munchies, a YouTube food network and partnership between FremantleMedia and Vice, and StyleHaul, a fashion-centric YouTube multichannel network with which the studio has a multiyear deal.

Gilman joined FremantleMedia in September 2013 to head digital production for the company, arriving from Original Productions Entertainment Network. In June 2014, FremantleMedia spun its digital production off into its own division, Tiny Riot! For the foreseeable future, Gilman says, YouTube will continue to be the studio’s primary platform, even though she admits advertisers have yet to fully embrace it. But her studio can still bring value to FremantleMedia while she waits for ad dollars to catch up. “Overall, my goal is to create new IP that we can exploit across multiple platforms and to build brands for that IP,” she says. —Daniel Holloway


Updates for flagship app are only part of Weather’s data-driven mission

0803_DAS_ALinde.jpgWhen Alex Linde joined the Weather Company in 2012, he was tasked with taking its already widely popular multiplatform offerings to the next level.

“What we did that I think really stood out was to try to bring together the experience of advertisers and consumers into one cohesive piece of design,” says Linde.

Toward that end, Weather Company recently released an updated version of its flagship app for Weather Channel, which has had more than 120 million downloads.

“There’s definitely a push toward content. If you’ve seen inside our new app, we’ve moved from a fixed screen to a vertical feed of content because we were just out of space in the old app,” says Linde. “We had no way to bring more things to consumers.”

That, of course, was key for Linde, who now serves as senior VP of monetization at the company, overseeing a swelling portfolio that includes Weather Channel, Weather.com and Weather Underground.

“From where we are today, you have to get mobile right first,” says Linde, who is originally from England. “That’s the platform that’s growing the fastest, where we have such a large audience. Then you need to figure out what that experience is going to be across all screens so you can give something consistent.”

That consistency is key across all areas of the company, from the successful app, to the valuable data that gets licensed out to other companies, governments, airlines and television channels.

The app, Linde points out, is only a small part of what goes on. “The Weather Company,” he says, “is a data company at its core.” —JW


Pioneering the future at NBCU by building new offerings on solid foundations

0803_DAS_AMoore.jpgAlison Moore would deserve a place on this year’s B&C Digital All-Stars list simply for her work at HBO, where she led the way on a host of cutting edge digital initiatives, most notably overseeing day-to-day operations of HBO Go and other offerings as senior VP and co-head of digital products from 2010-12.

But Moore’s cred also comes from her appointment in April as executive VP and GM of NBCUniversal TV Everywhere, where she heads a newly created group focusing on offerings that many see as key to the future of the multichannel industry.

In addition to her work on HBO Go, which has been an important driver in consumer awareness of TV Everywhere offerings, Moore brings to the new post a long career in emerging technologies. Beginning with work at Turner and then at HBO with new satellite multichannel distribution outlets in the 1990s, Moore was later involved in Internet startups, early efforts to market broadband offerings and a variety of pioneering on-demand and digital product launches. “I’ve always been drawn to startups— starting from the ground up and building a groundswell,” she says.

Moore credits NBCU executive VP digital distribution Ron Lamprecht and his teams with “great work” in launching more than 16 authenticated network offerings, and she sees her new group building on that foundation with several marketing initiatives and product launches in fourth-quarter 2014. “We want to create broad consumer awareness and best-in-class consumer experiences,” she says. —GW


Univision exec used the huge international event to showcase the second screen

0803_DAS_MNagrani.jpgHispanic viewers, as has been well documented, are among the biggest adopters of second- screen options, and Mehul Nagrani, senior VP and general manager of digital, Univision Communications, is making sure the Spanishlanguage broadcaster is reaching them.

That become clear last month during the World Cup, when Univision’s digital offerings for the month-long tournament brought record traffic—even topping ESPN on certain nights.

“We worked very hard to make sure product, content and sales are very aligned,” says Nagrani. “If any of those three aren’t in sync with what we’re trying to do, you get experiences that don’t flow well together.”

Nagrani has been rapidly rising up the ranks, getting his current position at the end of last year, which expanded his role to overseeing products, technology, revenue operations and analytics for digital.

Nagrani explains that Univision actually used the World Cup to educate their viewers on TV Everywhere, particularly with mobile consumption. Nagrani says 80% of the digital traffic for the World Cup came via mobile devices.

“Audiences actually made the shift with us,” says Nagrani. “The mobile device is your primary connection to the outside world.”

Nagrani has also been hard at work on Univision’s two-year-old UVideos platform. “UVideos was the one platform where we could provide all of that to consumers as an on-demand experience,” he says, explaining that the platform continues to increase with uniques and engagement.

“You’ll see continued releases and updates,” he says. “We’re very excited about what the future holds for UVideos.” —TB


CW executive has been ambitious in digital, pressing value of engagement

0803_DAS_HNorman.jpgHiram Norman left AOL in December 2005 to join Warner Bros., where he was hired to work on digital media for the WB Network. The next month it was announced that the WB would merge with UPN to form The CW, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and UPN’s parent company CBS.

“I saw it as an opportunity,” he says, a little slowly. “I looked at it—I tried to embrace….” Finally he breaks down, laughing. “I had all these great plans for what we were going to do with The WB. So then it was like, ‘Well, if you’re starting a new network, maybe we can get even more ambitious.”

With its 18-34 target demographic, The CW has to be ambitious in digital. As the senior VP, digital media at Warner Bros. worldwide television marketing, and CWTV.com general manager, Norman manages social media for CW series such as The Vampire Diaries—which boasts more than 22 million Facebook fans—among many other responsibilities.

But Norman agrees that too often, networks use social media to declare artificial victories. He measures success by engagement—are users accessing and sharing the network’s content? “People are looking for that quick announcement, but you really do have to take that next step to look at what the individual behaviors are for each platform,” he says.

Norman also developed and oversees The CW’s Web portal and OTT apps. Unlike other broadcasters, The CW runs the same ads in its digital streams as it does in its broadcasts. Advertisers, Norman says, have recognized viewers’ desire for “the convenience of being able to watch the show that they like” when and how they like. —DH


Digital-savvy Nexstar’s main multiplatform man is on an ambitious mission

0803_DAS_TOBrien.jpgAt some broadcast companies, digital revenue may not be much more than an afterthought. At Nexstar, it is, in the words of Perry Sook, president and CEO, a “focus area.”

Doing the primary focusing is Tom O’Brien, executive VP of digital media and chief revenue officer. He oversees Nexstar’s stationlevel Web businesses, as well as the various digital outfits Nexstar has been acquiring, including, most recently, Enterprise Technology Group (ETG).

Nexstar gained ETG, a cloud-based content management system provider, in May, following acquisitions of online publisher Internet Broadcasting in March and Inergize Digital a few years back. “It gives us a unique technology stack in the Internet publishing space,” says O’Brien.

The exec spent much of his career at NBC, where his posts included general manager at WNBC New York and executive VP and chief revenue officer at CNBC. He came on board at Nexstar in November 2013 (see “Fifth Estater,” Jan. 13, 2014).

Nexstar’s, and O’Brien’s, focus on digital is paying off. Digital revenue is closing in on 10% of total revenue, says O’Brien, healthily above the industry norm. That’s around $50 million a year—roughly half from the station sites and half from the technology acquisitions. Sook has told O’Brien he wants that number to climb above $100 million annually inside of five years. “There are a lot of pieces to Tom’s job, and he’s doing a great job,” Sook says. “We are well on our way to that goal.”

O’Brien is up for the challenge. “Digital is an important part of the revenue composition at Nexstar,” he says. “We invest in it.” —MM


VP uses independence of Horizon Media to give agency and clients an edge

0803_DAS_RRomero.jpgRay Romero, VP, digital media activation at Horizon Media, believes his success stems from starting out in the traditional media space and having the ability to look at new media the way traditional media people look at TV and print.

“I can talk to clients in a language they’re more comfortable with when making digital recommendations,” Romero says.

After taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that—including some acting and dancing— at Iona College, Romero majored in marketing and communication because it “was the most scientific, yet the most creative all in one.” He got his first job at Griffin Bacall, which merged into Omnicom, whose media departments had consolidated to become OMD.

Romero rose at OMD, becoming group director for digital on the giant PepsiCo account before coming to Horizon to grow the agency’s digital team. When he arrived, there were 80 staffers; now there are 130. The agency has done holistic campaigns for clients including Burger King, Little Caesars, Stanley Steemer and Stolichnaya vodka.

Romero also helped forge a partnership between Horizon and interactive ad firm True [X] that enables the agency to buy ads based not on exposure, but on consumer engagement.

While big agencies believe size gives them an advantage with the escalating cost of technology, Romero believes Horizon’s independence is an edge. “We are more nimble,” he says. “We are more transparent as we speak to our clients, so that allows us to implement more innovative technologies sooner than later.” —JL



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