Cox Media Group’s tech SVP Dave Siegler is nothing if not nimble. “Just about the time you get a technology figured out, it changes again,” he says. “You’re constantly in a learning mode, and we look for engineers who are in that mode, because when you stop learning, you are going to get frozen in time and the world will pass you by.”
Ask Dave Siegler about his biggest challenge and he doesn’t hesitate.
“The hardest thing is to manage constant change,” says Siegler, who took over SVP of technical operations at Cox Media Group in January 2011 following the retirement of Sterling Davis. “It’s not just about keeping up, but staying progressive to remain ahead of the competition.”
Siegler, 58, is no stranger to managing change — whether it involves technology, personnel or even business models — throughout this career.
It began in the early 1980s in his home town of Jacksonville, Fla., as a bench tech for Post-Newsweek Stations’ WJXT, maintaining cameras, VTRs and film chains. He stayed with Post-Newsweek (now Graham Media) for the better part of two decades, logging time at WPLG Miami as well as WDIV Detroit.
In 2000, he jumped to Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta, but after five years moved to Cox Media, which operates 14 TV stations, a local cable channel, 59 radio stations and all of the attendant digital outlets.
The common denominators in the jobs have been technology and change.
While at WSOC, the CMG-owned ABC affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., as director of broadcast operations and engineering, Siegler was responsible for converting the station’s news operations from standard- to high-definition, putting a mobile DTV service on-air and implementing a new multichannel master control suite.
Siegler found his love for broadcasting and electronics as a teenager “building and tinkering with” Heathkit radios.
Projects like shepherding the conversion to HD news at WSOC, while significant, were carried out against the backdrop of a much larger transition from broadcast-specific gear to IT-based networking and production.
That transition, which continues to unfold, has required Siegler to build a team of engineers willing to learn. “Just about the time you get a technology figured out, it changes again,” he says. “You’re constantly in a learning mode, and we look for engineers who are in that mode, because when you stop learning, you are going to get frozen in time and the world will pass you by.”
Siegler, who now works out of the CMG headquarters in Atlanta, strives to give his technical staff the training needed to deal with the hybrid broadcast-IT environment. “What we need is a hybrid workforce that knows both sides of the fence [IT and broadcast],” he explains. “We continue to train our staff. You can always be smarter.”
The IEEE Broadcast Technology Society’s Bridging the Gap course, a two-day seminar focused on tackling the chasm between broadcast and IT technology, has been a valuable resource, he says.
Other major changes — the move to next-gen ATSC 3.0 digital standard and FCC-mandated TV spectrum repack — are looming on his horizon.
CMG is one of nine major broadcast groups making up the Pearl consortium, which in June signed a agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group and Samsung to collaborate on developing business models based on the new standard. Siegler sits on Pearl’s technical committee.
“I think ATSC 3.0 is absolutely vital to our future in broadcasting, and we need to get it done as soon as practical.” The standard should make it easier to reach mobile devices, he says. “Certainly mobile is the key to the future. The younger generation consumes media on mobile devices.”
The new standard is not compatible with existing receivers, but the transition to ATSC 3.0 should be eased by the use of so-called gateway devices in the home. They would receive the ATSC 3.0 signal and rebroadcast it via Wi-Fi throughout the home for reception on TV sets, tablets and smartphones.
“I see these gateways as the first ATSC 3.0 receiving devices out there,” he says. “They will get our content delivered to the home and viewers will watch it on devices they like to use.”
Gateways will build demand and encourage consumer electronics manufacturers to make devices with ATSC 3.0 tuners built-in, he says.
Another potential benefit of ATSC 3.0 is support for over-the-air transmission of 4K Ultra HD. However, whether consumers will demand higher-res video with a higher dynamic range and wider color gamut straight out of the chute is unclear, he says.
“I think that will come, but it may take a little time. The big measure that I look at on any new big display technology in television is live sports,” he explains. “If it succeeds with live sports, there is a good chance that it will come all the way through broadcast and cable plants.”
The impending TV spectrum repack is the other big change Siegler will have to manage for CMG. While Siegler says “it sure would be great if they [the repack and ATSC 3.0 rollout] could coincide,” he isn’t counting on it. Rather, he is preparing for both and will deal with them as they come.
“We are in preparation mode for the repack,” Siegler says. “We are doing our homework, looking at all of our towers, looking at the diameter of our transmission lines.”
At this point what is important is to record all of the details of CMG’s transmission facilities so that the station group knows how to respond to new channel assignments, if they come.
“The reallocation of spectrum, that’s the next big moment,” he says. “We better have a good inventory when that happens. That’s the mode we are in right now.”
It all comes down to managing change, he says. “These days, staying reliable and competitive depends on managing change, change in consumer viewing habits, the platforms they use and the equipment from manufacturers.”
To read more with Dave Siegler, go to TVNewsCheck’s Playout tech blog for a Q&A with him here.