John Clark is taking on responsibility for NAB’s new Pilot initiative as its first executive director.
John Clark remembers a story from the days of the flip phone that strikingly foreshadows the role he will play as the new executive director of NAB’s Pilot initiative announced last month.
At the time, Clark was working with Sam Matheny, now EVP and CTO of NAB, at Capitol Broadcasting Co. Their efforts were focused on a project to stream WRAL’s news and other video content to mobile phones — years before there were smartphones, HEVC/H.265 high efficiency video coding and adaptive bit rate streaming.
“It was postage-stamp-sized video,” Clark recalls. “You couldn’t see anything. It was terrible, and the connections were ridiculous.”
But Clark and Matheny, like the Capitol Broadcasting leadership team, realized the importance of reaching people where they were with the station’s content. So Matheny and Clark pressed on.
“At one point, we were working through some of the technical hurdles with some loose documentation from people who were trying to do the same thing,” he says. “I remember coming across a note in there that said: ‘It’s good when it works, but it doesn’t always work.’ ”
That experience — finding a way to exploit technology that, at least for the moment, was unrelated to broadcasting and making it a catalyst for broadcast innovation — is precisely Clark’s mission at Pilot.
“My passion is where media, technology and business collide,” he says. “That’s where I am happiest.”
In late January, NAB announced NAB Labs was becoming Pilot, an effort to attract high-tech companies, organizations and educators to collaborate with the association to drive broadcast innovation. Charter members include Accenture, Akamai, Frankly, Google, Nielsen, Shareablee and Yahoo, NAB said.
Clark comes to Pilot from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he worked as a professor at the Reese News Lab in the School of Media and Journalism.
The lab, an innovation incubator, gave Clark an opportunity to work with undergraduate and graduate students, helping them to figure out new products and services that could be created around local media, he says.
“Obviously, this is an educational experience for students, but serendipity has stepped in and some of these ideas have turned out to be pretty good,” he says. “We’ve had students take their ideas, get funding and start earning revenue from them.”
A native son of North Carolina who grew up on a farm near the Virginia border, Clark, 38, spent 13 years at Capitol Broadcasting before joining the university.
Starting off at Capitol Broadcasting as an online news producer for WRAL Online in the late 1990s, Clark focused his efforts on how to use the Internet to convey information.
“We knew the Internet was much more than a promotional tool. There was a real content play here for news,” he says, adding that while everyone takes this for granted today, it was far from commonly accepted at the time.
In 2007, Clark was named general manager of WRAL.com, a position he held to 2011 when he joined the university.
Clark credits his time with Capitol Broadcasting for learning “what it means to be a broadcaster” and catching the bug for innovation.
At Pilot, Clark hopes to replicate that zest for finding new tools to help broadcasters take advantage of opportunities that today may seem little more than a kernel of what actually might one day be.
Clark says he will do so by working with “a lot of the smartest people from across different industries” to drive innovation.
“For me, it is a wonderful opportunity,” says Clark. “How do we start reaching out and expanding into these newer technologies from companies that aren’t necessarily from broadcasting?
“There’s no doubt we can find interesting opportunities.”
More information is available on the NAB Pilot website.