Darcy Antonellis, head of tech ops at Warner Bros., has earned her stripes through stints at CBS in both news and sports (including winning two technical Emmys) before joining Warner where she oversaw the move from analog to digital distribution. Now, she’s the first recipient of TVNewsCheck’s Women in Technology Leadership Award.
Antonellis: Industry ‘Captain’ In Every Sense
Buried deep in Darcy Antonellis’ resume is a small but vital detail, the kind that brings an entire life into focus.
Antonellis, the president of Warner Bros. technical operations and the recipient of TVNewsCheck’s first Women in Technology Leadership Award, has plenty on that resume.
She has run news engineering operations for CBS in Washington, and in wartime Kuwait. She has worked on three Olympics for CBS Sports and has won two technical Emmys. She is widely considered one of the industry’s leading architects of digital production facilities and one of its most ardent and capable combatants against piracy.
So it might seem to many an afterthought that she also holds a ship captain’s license to pilot 100-ton vessels. An avid boater since her 20s, Antonellis got the license to advance a hobby, but it provided the perfect metaphor for her leadership skills and for a career that has often involved navigating uncharted digital waters.
“What’s most satisfying about my job now is because the industry is in the midst of massive transformation, a number of decisions that we make set a strategy that may have implications in the near and long terms,” Antonellis says.
Chris Cookson, president of Sony Pictures Technologies and a friend and colleague of Antonellis’ for more than 20 years, was one of the first to recognize her talents when he ran operations engineering for CBS. At the time, Antonellis was a junior manager, having graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Temple University and come to work for the network after an internship.
“I’ve always been tremendously impressed by her abilities and intelligence,” Cookson says. “She’s the kind of person you go to when you want to get something done.”
Cookson gave Antonellis her first big break at CBS, running news operations from its Washington bureau. The job, which Antonellis was only intended to fill briefly while a permanent replacement was sought, soon became hers.
“In a very short period of time she made such a tremendous improvement in the operation that it became obvious that I didn’t need to look anywhere else,” Cookson says.
Antonellis, a New Jersey native, says she learned a lot from the experience. “One of the early lessons was to understand the urgency around news gathering and reporting,” she says. “People are surgical in what has to get done and what’s important.”
When Cookson sent her to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, Antonellis says that sensibility further deepened. “If you can be poised in those instances, chances are you can carry that poise into less stressful situations,” she says.
Antonellis exhibits a rare duality — she is as much engaged with the wonky details of film and television engineering’s craft as with the big picture implications of those details.
By the time she moved to Warner Bros. in 1998, her charge was to move the company from the linear models of content delivery into the new terrain of advanced digital distribution.
Having also earned a master’s degree in finance from Fordham University, Antonellis straddles the worlds of entertainment engineering and business more comfortably than most.
“My team gets to work cross company, which is fascinating and fun,” she says. “I spend a lot of time in the Bay Area now, and I love the cross-pollination that’s going on between the skills in the Valley and the skills in the media and entertainment business.”
One of the areas in which her skills have been brought to bear has been in the industry’s anti-piracy efforts. After all, doesn’t a good ship’s captain need to know how to fend off pirates?
“It is very clear that Darcy has been one of the most forward-thinking and important voices in the motion picture industry’s effort to combat piracy,” says Preston Padden, a senior fellow with Silicon Flatirons at the University of Colorado, who worked with Antonellis extensively when he was EVP for government relations of the Walt Disney Co.
Antonellis began to zero in on the issue around 2003 or 2004 when she was involved in efforts to map out the piracy supply chain, which, she says, has informed a host of tactics over the past several years.
“It made us smarter about understanding the issues at hand,” she says. “The biggest thing we do now is to try to stay ahead of the curve in terms of understanding [pirates’] technological innovations. This is not just something that goes away. It’s more how you manage the issue.”
How Antonellis also manages to rear two teenagers is also a source of wonder and awe for her colleagues.
“A schedule and a workload that would depress most of us she handles with aplomb,” says Scott Teissler, chief technology officer and chief digital strategy officer at Turner. “She does that in successful balance with her personal life.”
Perhaps it’s her zeal for innovation that drives her forward. “I think particularly in our industry, transformation and all that that means — what we do socially as a culture and cross-generationally and using that information to transform our industry in terms of how we produce and provide entertainment — is something that I’m laser focused on,” she says.
Bob Zitter, an Antonellis admirer and EVP-chief technology officer of HBO, concurs. “She’s always looked to be an innovator and to do things that were non-traditional,” he says. “And when I learned that she had a captain’s license, as someone who loves the water, I was really impressed.
“I’m looking forward to a trip to Catalina with her.”
TVNewsCheck publisher Kathy Haley will present Antonellis with the 2001 Women in Technology Leadership Award on Tuesday, April 12, at a 5 p.m. reception held in Room N 117, Las Vegas Convention Center. Please join us in celebrating her career, the achievements of women in technology and the NABEF’s Technology Apprenticeship Program.