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Technology Chief Key Driver of ESPN’s Technological Innovation from Beginning
Charles E. “Chuck” Pagano, who joined ESPN prior to its September 7, 1979, debut and whose vision and passion has driven ESPN’s innovative use of technology for 35 years, will retire from the company in February 2015. Aaron LaBerge, who rejoined ESPN in 2013 as senior vice president, technology and product development, has been named Pagano’s successor and will assume the day-to-day management of the team June 1, 2014, reporting to Pagano and ESPN President John Skipper. Pagano will remain in an advisory role in order to effect a smooth transition.
Pagano, ESPN’s executive vice president, technology since 2005, was given the added title of ESPN’s first chief technology officer in 2011 with added duties including advising other divisions across The Walt Disney Company on technological developments. Under his leadership and guidance, ESPN has built industry leading facilities at its headquarters in Bristol, Conn, its Los Angeles production center and around the world. This May, ESPN will launch Digital Center 2 in Bristol, a 195,000-square-foot facility featuring numerous technical firsts. Over the years, Pagano’s contributions have made ESPN the leader in marrying cutting-edge technology to unparalleled content across a variety of media platforms.
“Quite simply, Chuck Pagano personifies ESPN – its entrepreneurial spirit, its creative passion and its focus on the people who make it all happen – and we would not be what we are today without him,” Skipper said. “I am personally grateful for his contributions and insights, and I join all ESPNers in offering an enthusiastic thank you for all he has meant to our company.”
LaBerge’s ESPN roots go to the very early days of ESPN.com and ESPN’s initial Internet product development efforts. He is in his second tour of duty with ESPN, having left for a time to launch and operate his own consumer software and digital product development company.
“In Aaron, we have an executive well versed in ESPN’s culture and history, and who is also relentlessly focused on what’s next,” said Skipper. “He is a visionary technologist whose experience at ESPN and also in founding and successfully running his own company gives us a huge advantage as we contemplate how the future will evolve.”
Pagano’s career at ESPN spans more than three decades, having joined as a technical director in August 1979, a few weeks before the network launched in 1.4 million homes. At ESPN and throughout the industry, Pagano is known as a collaborative partner, an early adopter of new ideas and techniques, and a leader who always recognized that technology starts with people.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky to be at a place where from Day One, people have been emboldened to break barriers and seek new ideas,” said Pagano. “I’ve been surrounded by incredibly talented and dedicated people. I learned long ago that the best leaders let others do their best work, as long as they have the appropriate culture and motivation to innovate. Yet, for all the amazing advancements I’ve seen – from two-inch tape to HD – what I remain most proud of is simply our birth. The odds were against this rag-tag group of people crazy enough to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, but we had a goal and we reached it. We envisioned what others scoffed at – an all-sports network. Everything we are today started with that.”
Among his many accomplishments, Pagano’s influence was critical to the company’s decision to launch an HD service in 2003, well before there was industry consensus on the preferred format. ESPN’s first Digital Center, under construction at the time, was re-tooled by Pagano and his team, and at launch was the most sophisticated building of its kind in the world. ESPN’s second Digital Center will open in late May. LaBerge has been working closely with Pagano as a key architect of that facility.
Before joining ESPN, Pagano worked for WFSB-TV, the CBS affiliate in Hartford, Conn., as a technician from 1977-1979. The native of Waterbury, Conn., (half-) jokingly says he joined ESPN to cut his commute in half.
An avid astronomer, Pagano has received many honors for his visionary and creative approach to both technology and his approach to management, including being the recipient of the 2012 Vanguard Award for Science & Technology presented by the NCTA and induction into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in December 2012. Most recently, Pagano was honored by SMPTE with the David Sarnoff Medal, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of new techniques or equipment that have contributed to the improvement of the engineering phases of television technology, including large-venue presentations. He was also inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in December 2013, and has won two Emmy Awards for technical achievement.
Pagano remains active in giving back to the community. Pagano currently serves on the Board of Regents at the University of Hartford, his alma mater, as well as on the Board of Advisers for the College of Engineering, Technology and Architecture. He also serves on the Tunxis Foundation Board for Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Conn., and is Chairman of the Connecticut Technology Council. He is President of the Board of Directors of The Holy Land, a grass-roots community effort to restore a sanctuary in his hometown of Waterbury, Conn.
Pagano received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1984 and a master of science degree in organizational psychology in 2007, both from the University of Hartford.
LaBerge first worked at ESPN for a decade, 1997 – 2007, originally as a software engineer, through Disney’s acquisition of Starwave Ventures, the company that produced ESPN’s early Internet initiatives. In his current role, LaBerge is responsible for oversight and strategic leadership for technology and product development for digital media and mobile platforms, and on-air production software. His teams include the production data group supporting all ESPN media, technology integration across multiple media platforms, and ESPN’s technology research and development team.
In 2007, LaBerge pursued a new path as co-founder of Fanzter Inc., and served as CEO of the venture-funded consumer software and digital product development company. In this capacity, he directed the development and launch of a variety of consumer-focused Internet and mobile products.
“Chuck Pagano is one of the smartest, most curious and most loved people I know,” LaBerge said. “While it is impossible to fill his shoes, I’m excited to advance the legacy of innovation that Chuck has fostered for more than 35 years. ESPN is one of the greatest American companies ever created and I am humbled to accept the challenge to lead the technology team as we shape the next wave of products and services.”
He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of South Carolina.