Bill Clinton adviser and streaming chief Rick Allen reveals tech’s biggest challenges ahead of Madrid visit

Bill Clinton adviser and streaming chief Rick Allen reveals tech’s biggest challenges ahead of Madrid visit

Thirty years ago, Rick Allen was poised to take on an adviser role to a certain President Bill Clinton – a job that brought him perhaps the first major tech conundrum of his career.

But unlike today’s tech concerns over data privacy leaks and cyber attacks, in 1993 it was a missing letter on a keyboard that became a bump in the road for the Bill Clinton administration.

A bugbear that today could easily be overlooked with touch screen monitors and virtual keyboards, in the 90s a missing E key on every computer in the White House was probably akin to bringing down an entire network today.

But it was just a glitch for a tenacious Allen, who took it in his stride as one of those things that have to be fixed in order to make things work smoothly.

This attitude has carried him throughout his successful career at major media companies including Sporting News and National Geographic, to today where he sits as CEO of cloud-based streaming company ViewLift, which offers end-to-end video streaming solutions for sports and entertainment.

Bill Clinton adviser and streaming chief Rick Allen reveals tech’s biggest challenges ahead of Madrid visit
Rick Allen with Bill Clinton

Ahead of his visit to Madrid for the annual SportsPro OTT Summit this week, Rick – a former corporate lawyer – spoke to the Euro Weekly News about all things tech – all starting with that pesky E key.

“I had always worked in presidential politics due to being a lawyer, and that led to Bill Clinton asking me in 1993 at the beginning of his administration to put together a domestic Peace Corps, which became AmeriCorps in the US,” he explained.

“When we got to the White House, the previous administration had removed the E key from everybody’s desktop computer keyboard. I remember we were completely hobbled by having a single key removed. It sounds crazy but those were the kind of difficulties we had back then.

“Email was really just starting – that was new technology at the time. And we were all trying to understand how the existence of the web was going to allow better communication, and enhanced commerce, all aspects of a revolution that had been talked about for a while and was coming to fruition.

“Digital was really the wild wild west. The question was, what kind of content was best fit for the web? Where did linear TV need to head and how would those two points of distribution work together?”

Bill Clinton adviser and streaming chief Rick Allen reveals tech’s biggest challenges ahead of Madrid visit
Rick Allen discussing the streaming needs of sports fans

Rick continued: “There was a tremendous amount of concern about anything that would adversely impact the MVPDs [multichannel television], the cable and satellite distributors.

“So those early years were really what can we do with this new tool, and how do we avoid our existing partners being hurt by the use of that new technology?”

Rick stayed at the White House for three years helping to launch the AmeriCorps programme and keep it running – something that he is “really proud” to have participated in.

This exciting moment in time only fed Rick’s hunger for technology, which today brings new challenges for streaming companies.

Speaking about the jump between then and now, Rick said: “Well, it’s 1,000 years of history compressed into 30 for technology.

“I think we’ve struggled as a modern society, under understanding how to set the proper balance between a consumer’s desire to get everything for free immediately.

Bill Clinton adviser and streaming chief Rick Allen reveals tech’s biggest challenges ahead of Madrid visit
Rick Allen talking about artificial intelligence at #TATGranada

“The early methods of delivering revenue for our viewing experience involves advertising and the use of cookies to identify the viewers and therefore, sell them to advertisers with some data and information attached so that it wasn’t just a blind buy.

“We’ve seen that the pervasive use of cookies has raised a whole bunch of public policy issues around confidentiality and privacy, then there are the GDPR rules in Europe.

“We will continue to find out what is the right relationship between the viewer and the provider of content, mediated by government institutions, to try to reach a balance where individual privacy is protected.”

Indeed, as the CEO of a digital content distribution site providing streaming services that deliver and monetise content over the internet, striking this balance is key.

But so is how to entice content owners – especially the small, independent filmmakers – to choose one particular service over another when there is so much choice.

“We are all consumers of content of some kind and we love the increase of choices,” Rick explained. “That’s an important part of modern life, and certainly it was during the pandemic.

“But we’re overwhelmed by choice. And one of the principal areas where a technology company can help a content owner is to help them think about how to make the maximum amount of content available in the easiest possible way to get each individual viewer what they want.

“Those personalisation techniques and tools are a critical part of offering larger libraries.

“But really, for every service, whether in entertainment, in education, in fitness, in traditional sports, in all of those areas, personalisation for the viewer is one of the biggest of digital tools leading to a really successful viewing experience.”


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Vickie S
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Vickie Scullard

A journalist of more than 12 years from Manchester, UK, Vickie now lives in Madrid and works as a news writer for the Euro Weekly News.

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