Scott Teissler: Turner’s Seer

Scott Teissler: Turner’s Seer
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The next time you encounter any kind of hassle when authenticating into a pay TV app or website, know that at least one person is howling with indignant empathy. His name is Scott Teissler, executive vice president, CTO and chief digital strategy officer for Turner Broadcasting System.

When asked about his chief concerns about the state of video technologies, Teissler replied: “This is heartfelt — the biggest thing I’d like to see is an industry-wide and persistent, common effort to make TV Everywhere authentication and authorization simpler and even invisible to the pay TV subscriber.” (Amen!)

At Turner, Teissler and his colleagues led the way in building a TVE authentication system for all eight of its video properties. A key proof point: Making all 68 games of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships — better known as “March Madness” — available on the Web, Apple iOS, and Google Android platforms.

It was an enormous undertaking: Collectively, NCAA.com/March Madness Live, CBSSports.com, SI.com, TruTV.com, TNT.tv and TBS.com delivered more than 220 million visits across online and mobile platforms during the college-hoops tournament, up 11% from 2011.

WELCOME MAT

Still, it could be better, Teissler said. When asked what he wouldn’t do again in such an effort, he is clear: Authentication rigidity.

“We’d have preferred more of a focus on detecting exceptions, rather than making darn sure there was no leakage,” he said. That means “whatever we have to do to not ask you what your account number is,” and generally being more “come in!” than “keep out.”

“We have the technologies and techniques to do TV Everywhere right — but the industry in general hasn’t applied itself adequately to the problem,” Teissler continued.

It is that blend of candor, passion and intellect that marks Teissler amongst his colleagues as an industrial seer and seeker of truth. “He understands technology, but he also has a profound understanding of the overall business — he thinks of technology in the context of the viewer and the business,” Mark Randall, chief strategy officer at software firm Adobe Systems, a partner to Turner in its TVE efforts, said.

“I frequently tell people that he’s the smartest person in the industry that I’ve ever met,” Randall added. When it comes to TVE technologic foundations, “it comes down to Scott having a vision and understanding of what (Turner) wanted, and being able to articulate it clearly.”

TVE wasn’t the first of Teissler’s technical conquests. Back when analog, tapebased television still reigned, he helped to organize Turner’s push into digital. Sony Corp. was a major provider of production technology to the company at the time (1994-1998) and was resisting the digital progression (along with much of the Japanese TV marketplace).

Turner pushed back, Hugo Gaggioni, chief technical officer of Sony’s Broadcast and Production Systems Division, recalled. A backlash ensued.

“CNN didn’t want to continue perpetuating the tape-based solution, and the guy behind that was Scott,” Gaggioni continued. “He possesses a macro vision that is very far-reaching, and he’s extremely human — he has the ability to bypass nationalities and language barriers, and get to the heart of a person.”

In 1995, he helped build the team that built CNN.com, using $5 million in funds that had been earmarked for the company’s email system. As he puts it, “that’s how, sometimes, innovation and collaboration have to work.”

Teissler, an avid book reader who’s amassed some 15,000 bound volumes in his lifetime, was placed on book-based “independent study” from the second to the sixth grade; he completed mathematics and economics degrees in three years at Santa Cruz University in California.

After completing an MBA at the University of Chicago (“it read like a degree in applied mathematics, and that was comforting to me”), he stayed on as systems programmer, partly to remain steeped in the academia scene.

Also at the University of Chicago, he was a participant in building out the bones of the Internet’s immediate precursor: NSFNET (National Science Foundation) — which is what originally made him attractive to Turner in 1993.

What’s perhaps most striking about Teissler are his quick-fire philosophical positions, which he delivers with alacrity. Examples: “The early part of an exponential curve is pretty reasonable” (on IP as a percentage of MPEG video traffic).

“It’s better to get first-order things right first” (on best practices).

“You can squeeze 98% of the risk out of an effort or project for X, but for the last 2%, it takes effort of 10x” (on risk management).

“Innovation is a species of problem-solving.” Married (Paula) with three kids (Madeline, a senior at Emory University studying drama and literature; Nicholas, a freshman at Georgia Tech; and Jeremy, a high school freshman who serves as the school’s IT department), Teissler was born in Chicago and grew up in Orange County, Calif. “This was back in the days when you could drive from Santa Ana to Newport Beach in 12 minutes. Now, it takes an hour.”

HEAVY READER

When not working, Teissler “does chores” or buries himself in a book — in addition to the 15,000 bound volumes, the family counts about 16 tablets and e-readers between them. A “terribly addicted” reader of books, Teissler frequents everything from physics to economics to “some fiction — Thomas Pynchon.”

At Turner, Teissler views himself as the technical conscience of the company. “A technology company, or divisions thereof, should be in a constant dialog with itself about its methodologies.”

Like how to make it easier for consumers to view pay TV on their various screens. “These [authentication] steps are as valid a part of the user experience as whatever whizzy app or site that authentication makes available — and should be treated as importantly,” he said.

AT A GLANCE

Name: Scott Teissler

Age: 59

Title: EVP, CTO, Chief Digital Strategy Officer

Company: Turner Broadcasting System

Prior jobs: University of Chicago; Pacific Bell Spectrum Services

Telling quote: “Innovation is a species of problem solving.”

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