Tomorrow’s TV Today

Television stations have been in the midst of a transformation since Congress mandated February 2009 as the final deadline for switching their broadcasts from analog to digital. While the transition remains daunting, Preston A. Davis, president of broadcasting operations and engineering for the ABC Television Network Group, is embracing the digital switch and blazing a few trails in the process.

With a staff of 1,300 employees and an annual operating budget of about $190 million, Davis, 57, is spearheading ABC Network’s switch from analog to digital (which uses audio/video signals that are translated by electronic pulses) and high-definition television. In the process, he handles virtually all of the technical support for each of the programming divisions.

The digital initiative, which was launched back in 1998, meant bringing technicians and broadcast personnel who were accustomed to analog up to speed on how to use the new technology. “The new digital technology has also forced a significant change in the way the network acquires, edits, and distributes the programming to the ABC affiliated stations,” says Davis, who sees similar changes taking place on the Web, where The Walt Disney Co. in 2005 became the first media entity to offer TV shows and other video content on Apple’s iTunes.

“This iTunes watershed decision by our company completely and forever changed the media landscape,” says Davis, who at the time remembers discussions over whether the content should be kept close to the vest or sold to iPod users via the Web. “We smartly decided to embrace this emerging consumer and make our content available in a way that allowed viewers to download it and view it on their computers or portable devices.”

Tony Cole, a vice president of engineering at Silver Spring, Maryland-based television operations group, which manages and supports post-production and network operations for all Discovery Networks, sees Davis as a visionary who knows how to recognize and use emerging technology and who isn’t afraid to make tough decisions on
implementation. “At a time when everyone was scratching their heads about where to go with HD, Preston stood back, looked at the situation, and took ABC in that direction,” says Cole. “He encouraged vendors to develop the technologies to make HD a reality, and blazed a path long before anyone else was willing to step up to the table to do that.”

Davis expects the network to continue its steady migration into the digital era. “We’ll continue to closely monitor and adapt to the changing consumer landscape, ensuring that we’re smart about using technology to stay engaged with our viewers,” says Davis. “In the meantime, I guess we will wait for the next big thing.”