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The software behind the scenes at Food Network and HGTV

Matthew Heusser | Dec. 23, 2015
A cable television network requires round-the-clock programming, an agile development team, some impressive software and a whole bunch of project management. CIO.com’s Matthew Heusser sat down with Tara Nicholson at Scripps Networks Interactive to find out how this complicated operation works.

It's a beautiful corporate campus in Knoxville, Tenn., sitting behind a sign for a company you might not have heard, although Scripps Networks Interactive is the home of a few cable TV channels you have heard of – Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel and Great American Country.

sni knox hq front exterior
Scripps Networks Interactive's Knoxville headquarters.

Keeping all that television running 24 hours a day, takes more than a little IT. The organization has not only teams, but teams of teams, all working on similar projects and periodic releases. These projects might be small, each a tactical move, and it might be possible for a team to work on two or more projects at one time.

The larger, long-term, continuing investment is the Program. Programs organize releases, which is essentially a new release for an entire website. At Scripps, Programs each have an individual Program or project manager such as Tara Nicholson. Promoted from software test management, Tara Nicholson about test documentation and user experience before getting the call to manage the Home Category Program at Scripps.

Which brings up some questions. What does a program manager do, anyway? How does Scripps organize its teams? How do they pick projects? How do they plan? Where does "the business" end and IT start? What services does IT provide the business, and how and when does that change?

nicholson tara hs web2
SNI's Home category program manager Tara Nicholson.

We met with Tara to find out.

CIO.com: Let's start with program management – what is the scope of a “program?” Does your program have a specific name?

The Digital department of Scripps Networks Interactive is where we develop our Internet-based products and distribute them. In addition to supporting our broadcast channels, we also publish Food.com, a user-generated content formatted website, the In the Kitchen iOS app, several blogs including DIYNetwork.com’s Made + Remade, current episodes and live streaming on our Watch apps, and exploration into emerging platforms. We are an industry leader in online lifestyle media. We were founded on innovation, and this year we are celebrating our 20th HGTV Dream Home giveaway. How exciting!

The programs are organized around specific brands, groups of brands and strategic objectives. I’m primarily responsible for the Home program, which includes HGTV, HGTV Gardens, DIY Network and Great American Country. I work with software engineering, product, editorial, design and other teams for the delivery of new systems or features.

Many of us “live the brands,” and by focusing on a program, I find the teams embrace the lifestyle – often creating  content that comes from the heart, like online products we ourselves want to use, say, for our own DIY projects. Our audiences can engage with us on the Web in ways that weren’t possible in the 20th century, and we love them for it.

 

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