Five Questions With: Brett Jenkins

Vice president chief technology officer at WPRI-TV parent LIN Media talks about his newly created position. More

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Five Questions With: Brett Jenkins

COURTESY LIN MEDIA
"IN THE television world, technology has often been the 'plumbing' behind the scenes," said LIN Media Vice President of Technology Brett Jenkins.
Posted 1/4/12

LIN Media, which owns WPRI-TV CBS 12 and operates Fox Providence locally, created a new position –vice president chief technology officer – to advance the company's IT strategies and opportunities for business development.

The first man on the post, Brett Jenkins, took a moment to speak to PBN about his vision for LIN’s tech integration strategy.

PBN: You went to LIN on Aug. 16, from a similar position, vice president of technology, for Ion Media Networks. What have you accomplished so far?

JENKINS: LIN Media operates TV stations in 17 markets across the United States; my first task was to take a really fresh look at the entire engineering and IT organization across the entire company and make an assessment of how prepared we are to cope with the dramatic technology changes that are impacting media today. What I’ve found is a solid foundation of technical and operational expertise. So, I’ve been focused on making incremental organizational changes to improve the day-to-day flow of information and exchange of ideas, as well as creating a culture of innovation where best practices and fresh ideas can be shared throughout the company.

We also sat down and developed a short and long term capital spending plan for our core TV operations to make sure we continue to offer our audiences the best possible viewing experience.

Your readers might have noticed recent improvements to the on-air look of WPRI’s news programs and “The Rhode Show.” At a time when many media companies are looking at cut backs, we’re focused on making smart investments into our platforms to ensure we have the up-to-date technology that allows us to produce content of the highest quality.

PBN: What are the hot tech issues for television currently? How do you plan to address them?

JENKINS: In the television world, technology has often been the “plumbing” behind the scenes. Engineers have focused on keeping the pipes working, and no one really notices the technical piece unless something goes wrong. But in today’s world, technology is having a dramatic impact on the media environment. There is now almost no area in our business that technology doesn’t touch, from content rights to regulatory issues.

The most notable impact is that digital has opened up additional distribution channels: ways in which a consumer can access their news, information and entertainment. TV viewers are using DVR’s to time shift programming, accessing on-demand streaming from providers like Hulu and Netflix, and finding compelling content from alternate producers on YouTube. I see these issues as more of an opportunity and we plan to strategically evaluate all opportunities to make sure we continue to be the relevant source of news and information in our communities. Change is a reality and we are embracing new distribution platforms and striving to be the first in our markets on any new platform that becomes available.

The other area that is most exciting for me right now is the integration of social media with TV. This hasn’t hit the general public yet. But we’re seeing an explosion of tech start ups that are looking to combine the unique ability of TV to aggregate large audiences with the power of social media. I believe that we are in the very early stages of developing ways that TV viewers will be able to interact both with each other and with the content itself as they are watching. LIN is very interested in this emerging space.

PBN: What about digital television – you’re on the board of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, which is working to develop voluntary standards for digital television.

JENKINS: The ATSC is best known for creating the Digital Television (DTV) standard that is used today by all TV stations in the US to broadcast signals to consumers’ homes. The DTV standard is a series of technical documents that detail exactly how TV broadcasters, like LIN Media, format their signals. These standards enable all consumer electronics manufacturers to build TV sets that will work as expected when you bring them home from the store shelves. Our entire industry is built on these voluntary standards. Can you imagine if every TV network decided to use different technical systems? Then perhaps you’d be able to watch NBC on your Sony set, but not CBS because that network is only available on a Samsung TV. Instead, the entire industry gets together as a group, like the ATSC, and builds consensus on how things should interoperate.

The ATSC is currently working on some exciting new technology standards, including one that will one day in the near future allow your cell phone or tablet to get live TV wirelessly without needing to connect to a cell service or WiFi. The device will just be able to pick off the signal that is already being broadcast. The consumer will really benefit from this new technology because it is so much more cost effective and bandwidth efficient to deliver TV signals using existing broadcasts than to try to retransmit video thru traditional mobile networks.

PBN: What do the mobile/ Internet markets look like for a television company? It seems like everyone’s testing the waters but no one really knows what will pan out.

JENKINS: The Internet has already become a well established business for LIN Media and our fastest growing business segment. We strive to be the number one digital platform for news and information in our local markets, and in most markets we are achieving that. Here in the Providence area, wpri.com has ranked number one in user engagement/time on site, compared to all local media, for the past year. One reason for this is because LIN had the foresight in the early years to focus on digital as a “co-primary” platform. We didn’t simply put up web sites and hope that viewers would find them. There was a well thought out strategy on developing content specifically for digital platforms and integrating digital publishing with our TV newsrooms.

Mobile is still in its early days, but it is growing incredibly fast. Smart phone penetration continues to rise. And tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire are proving to be a game changer. The tablet is a great device for surfing the web, but also for personal video viewing. And it’s in the video space where TV companies have tremendous expertise. LIN Media was one of the first TV companies to introduce mobile web sites and iPhone apps. Just last week, we launched new iPad apps for all of our TV markets. The new app makes it incredibly easy to navigate thru our digital content. (You can check out WPRI’s new app just by searching for WPRI in the iTunes app store.)

There are still open questions in this digital age about how best to make digital platforms sustainable. For example, in the industry right now we are seeing a bit of experimentation with “pay walls” where a content producer/publisher only makes their content available for those users that pay a subscription fee. It’s not clear exactly what business model will become dominant, but there is no question that there will continue to be a huge consumer demand to access the kind of content that LIN Media creates on a day-to-day basis.

PBN: What will be the biggest challenges in the next two years for you at LIN?

JENKINS: Using technology to improve operating efficiency will always be a blocking and tackling activity. That’s really a given for every business in today’s world. But it can be very difficult to find those areas where technology can create a strategic advantage that’s truly sustainable. So I’ll be looking everywhere I can to create those opportunities.

The bigger challenge is to continue to find opportunities to leverage technology to create growth for the company. To do that, we have to look at both sides of our two-sided business: consumers and advertisers. First we need to be smart about figuring out what consumers will be doing three to five years down the road and prepare for that today. What are the implications of new digital and mobile distribution platforms and devices? How will consumers want to get their news, information and entertainment? What types and presentations of content will be the most compelling? Then we need to couple that with innovative ways that help our advertising clients reach their target audience. I firmly believe that over the next few years, technology will pay a more prominent role in helping make advertising more effective. It’s the potential to create that new value and drive growth that really gets me excited about my role at LIN Media.

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