Hearst TV’s New SVP Stefan Hadl Opens Up About 3.0, News Tech, Recruiting The Next Generation

Hearst Television
Stefan Hadl, senior vice president, broadcast engineering and technology, Hearst Television. (Image credit: Hearst Television)

NEW YORK—Hearst Television this month announced the promotion of Stefan Hadl to senior vice president, broadcast engineering and technology.

Hadl, 54, has a long history with the company, rising through the engineering ranks with Hearst where he started in 1995 as a broadcast engineer at KCRA-TV in Sacramento. Since then, Hadl has ascended through the organization achieving more senior engineering positions at a succession of Hearst stations. In 2019, he was promoted to group vice president of engineering working with Marty Faubell, the broadcast group’s longtime top engineer.

In that role, Hadl led the team responsible for maintaining operations during the pandemic, launched more than 40 multicast channels around the country and drove the group’s participation in the rollout of ATSC 3.0. At present, 14 Hearst markets are on-air with NextGen TV.

In this interview, Hadl opens up about the ATSC 3.0 rollout, the challenges and opportunities NextGen TV presents to broadcasters, the evolution of newsgathering technology, Hearst’s technical approach to producing news for multiple different viewer platforms, the group’s efforts to recruit a new generation of people into the technology and engineering ranks of television and what his concerns are for the industry as he takes the reins to lead the group’s engineering and technology direction. 

(An edited transcript.)

TVTech: Hearst Television is part of the Pearl TV consortium. How do you characterize the ATSC 3.0 rollout, especially given the delays stemming from the pandemic? 

Stefan Hadl: I have to tell you, even though there was the pandemic, we actually have been pretty aggressive. We've launched in 14 of our markets already, and by the end of the year we're hoping to do maybe three more.

So, we're heavily engaged in participating. We understand that you have to be there to draw in the set manufacturers, all of which are starting to step up, and to give us the opportunity to take a look at 3.0 capabilities and see what we can do. 

I think we've done pretty well all things considered with regards to the pandemic and getting stations lit up and participating in markets. 

We've actually created a nice cookie cutter kind of rollout in that both Pearl and BitPath are utilizing the same model. We've done a good job, and Joe Addalia and the team on my side, as well as Tom Mikkelsen at BitPath and Rick Hunt on the Pearl side have done a great job of consolidating the checklist of things we need to do. After the first two markets, these things have actually gone really smoothly.

I think we're being aggressive. I think we need some of the big markets to weigh in. We can only do what we can do as a television group. Our largest market is Boston right now. It is slotted to transition to 3.0 at the end of this year or early first quarter next year. Sacramento is a big market that we're in. I think it's moving, but obviously nothing moves fast enough.

TVT: At NAB New York, Pearl TV announced two moves to advance 3.0. One is a FastTrack to accelerate manufacturers building HDMI NextGen TV receiver dongles to enable 1.0 sets with HDMI connectivity to receive 3.0. The other was related to its Run3TV platform, specifically enabling server-side ad insertion. What are your thoughts about these developments?

SH: With regards to the push for the HDMI devices, that's something that's needed. You're not going to push everybody to buy a new set. 

Similar to the set top boxes that we were giving away for the digital conversion, it gives that particular viewer an option to say, “Hey, you know what? Let me go check this out and see if it's something I want.” Then later on, that viewer might replace their set with a NextGen TV. That development adds to the set manufacturers doing their part, putting 3.0 in the set. It also gives them an avenue to take the existing footprint and make it compatible. That's a good direction.

With regards to the Run3TV, the framework they're providing needs to be monitored and established so that we all work within the same parameters. That's a good direction as well, in my opinion. 

We are working on the broadcast app as well and using that framework with partners to come up with what it is we're going to do and how we're going to do it. This is a technology that's evolving. We're still trying to figure out what the opportunities will afford us and what's the best way to accomplish our goals. 

The biggest thing for us is security. So running the certifications for security is job one for us and then the broadcast stuff and trying to monetize what we know. The next level of that is how do I secure what I know? Cybersecurity is a big deal, and once we start having these connectivity things, one of the things I'm thinking about is what data are we going to collect. How's it going to be used? How do we secure it if indeed we do that?

Then you’ve got the datacasting models—all kinds of things with automotive and similar uses. So, I think the outlook is good, there are options out there. We just have to figure out what fits our model. We’re going to do what we do best. We're going to provide news content. That's our bread and butter, and that'll always be our mainstay. But the opportunities that 3.0 provides, we have to take a look at those things and see where we go next, and how do we do those things even better, as well as add to what we can provide.

TVT: ATSC 3.0 offers a wide variety of new possibilities. From a technical perspective—not necessarily a business perspective—what do you see as the lowest hanging fruit for broadcasters to implement?

SH: It's tough to say because there are a lot of capabilities. You have to be able to dabble in those and see what the validity of each is with regards to the cost of the investment on the tech to implement them and what the return on investment is—even if it's long term.

The one thing about these launches is we're all doing this together. We’re all on one stick. We don’t all get to play and figure things out because we got everybody together. One of the things I think we have to start leveraging once we get this rollout to a point where everybody feels comfortable is taking it to the next level. How do we break up the single PLP into multiple PLPs so that those folks that are in these shared scenarios can actually start experimenting and understanding the tech.

So the first phase is exactly what we're doing. Let's get these things lit up. Let's figure out how do we do it? How do we plan? How do we negotiate and partner up in a market, which is a heavy lift. If you think about everything that goes into that—from the network releases on content to the tech. But again, I think we've got a nice cookie cutter kind of way of doing it now so the rollouts are moving a lot quicker.

I think the next step of that is figuring out the tech that allows us individually to take the space we've been given in a 3.0 world and start experimenting with our ideas and things we want to maybe do. That’s where you're going to find out what works or doesn't work. I think that's where the real learning begins. 

TVT: Shifting gears, let’s talk about newsgathering tech. What technologies are on the horizon or are already being deployed to help your newsrooms increase story count and produce more content, especially now since news is produced for on air and digital?

SH: We're hyperlocal. Our goal as a broadcaster in a market is knowing that market and producing news for that market. So as far as technology that we've deployed, with regards to TVU and bonded cellular, that's made it a lot easier to be able to get out in the field and get more news.

What we're doing is putting more of that out in the field. That's the key. Setting up an ENG truck or an SNG truck, those are the kinds of things that you do for the long haul, especially SNG, and for those times when you really need to be there for a period of time, and there's no other way out. 

After hurricanes, unfortunately, even cellular goes down. When we see those things, we're deploying satellite trucks to that region to make sure we can get a signal. 

The bonded cellular, 5G, we're playing in that space. Cameras now all on their own without a backpack can get to the internet and bring those signals back. We partnered with TVU. They are our main provider for that technology. We just continue to work with them to grow that and do more and even production through that same type of technology.

We are actually putting more cameras in the field. When I put in my order for the upgrade, replacing cameras, I might get asked why we need six more. Well, we’ve got six more photographers we’re putting in the field, and we do it quickly because they're not worried about putting up a 42-foot mast. As a matter of fact, the new generation likes the one touch. One button and they’re on the air. 

ENG is going to be the dying technology out in the field. SNG will always be my go to, my Get Out of Jail Free card, for any kind of environment. Then the bonded, the cellular, just continues to work and in places where early on it didn't. 

TVT: If we broaden the question a bit beyond field contribution to news production in general, are there other tools that are making it easier to publish news to digital and social while still meeting on-air needs? In the same vein, do you use separate digital and on-air teams, or do all journalists simply “publish” to different platforms—i.e. on-air, digital, social and mobile?

SH: The tech we have deployed from the engineering standpoint focuses on how that signal gets encoded and put on any given platform. ENPS is our newsroom system. It lends itself to do certain things in that regard.

Our digital media managers—that’s what we call them at our stations—are responsible for helping gather news. They sit in the newsroom right there by the assignment desk, right there with their A.M., P.M. or evening newscast counterparts. So, they're working in conjunction, doing those things, feeding those other alternatives out of here. For the tech side, it’s really what box are we using to get it there?

It’s really a matter of focus. The digital media managers and the digital team help the producers and the reporters. Then conversely, those journalists help the digital media teams. 

Of course, there is the matter of formats. When you format for the phone, things have to change. I think vendors and our partners have done a good job of implementing the ability to create the story once and their solutions sort of automatically do some of the work for us to fit the screen. Early on, that was always a problem. I think we've kind of gotten past that.

TVT: Where will the next generation of technical and production people come from for the television broadcast industry?

SH: From the Marty Faubell Broadcast Technology Fellowship. [Editor’s note: Hearst Television announced the fellowship in April in honor of its longtime top engineer. Faubell retired from the station group in 2020. More information is available online.]

That's the sole purpose of the fellowship—to bring in a new generation of folks into our industry. We are a very niche, very cottage industry. You have to love what we do and a lot of folks did. That was one of the draws to us—the flash and the glitter.

To recruit the next generation of tech talent, Hearst Television has launched the  Marty Faubell Broadcast Technology Fellowship named after the company's former top engineer.  (Image credit: Hearst Television)

Now, everyone's into the Googles of the world and the Facebooks of the world coming out of school. But we're doing all that, and they don’t necessarily make that connection. So things like the fellowship help. I also have an edict for every director of engineering in every market. They need to be out in colleges and talking to these young people, getting in front of them, telling them about what we do and how we do it.

Telling them about the future and what we're doing with video. Telling them that we do all the same social stuff, we deal with all the same IT connectivity, which is just going to grow. If that excites you, you get that plus more in the broadcasting industry in my opinion because you still have all the glitz and glamour of what we do day in and day out.

We are pretty heavy on the recruitment front. We try to do it, and the fellowship is another way and have some paid folks come in and experience the industry with the guarantee that if they make it through the 10-week program, they have a job with us. We'll find them a place in the company.

We’re doing everything we possibly can. It's still difficult. But I think we as an industry can do these kinds of things.

TVT: You were just promoted to senior vice president of broadcast engineering and technology at Hearst Television. What keeps you up at night when you look out across the landscape of technology and workflows used by Hearst or your peers in broadcasting?

SH: I think the fact that we as broadcasters have always strived for backups. We always have redundancy in the things we do. So as far as the broadcast chain, I think we've knocked it out of the park. Power outage, there’s a generator; a transmitter problem, even the transmitters today are very robust.

It's really our people. Are our people safe out there doing what they do today? Are we doing what we do in the most efficient way? Are we providing them the right tools?

What we've done, we know how to do, and we continue to do that. We shouldn't have to focus on that. We should be focusing on what the future holds for us. I’m more concerned about where we're headed. 

For instance, if we move workflows up to the cloud what other issues am I going to have? What control do I have? Now I have a piece of paper with an SLA [service level agreement] that says you're going to provide me the service and you're going to do the security upgrades and the hardware upgrades and all of the things that we do at the local level that I can control. Now, I have really no control over the AWS’s of the world and the services that spin up and shut down. It's going to be on them. And all I have is an agreement that they're going to do these things.

So for me thinking about how do I do these agreements in the future? What type of security requirements am I going to ask? What kind of control and transparency do I have? And then how do I build them with the diversity and the backups that we're used to so they can go down but there’s a way to switch and we're back in business?

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.