Head in the Cloud
October 30, 2019
By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA
How history and sociology major Hiram Todd Norman ’94 harnessed the power of the liberal arts to become the overseer of all things digital for The CW Network.
Twenty years ago, Hiram Todd Norman ’94 was your typical East Coast kid chasing Hollywood-size dreams. Today, he’s on the cutting edge of American pop culture.
As senior vice president of digital for The CW Network, Norman leads a staff of 25 employees focused on identifying and embracing the network’s digital-first audience. Under his direction, hit shows like The Flash, Supergirl, and Riverdale find their way onto every platform imaginable, from mobile and desktop to Xbox and AppleTV.
Of course, Norman didn’t get here overnight. But he did have a differentiator: a Rollins education that helped guide and support him—in more ways than one.
Entering Rollins in 1990, Norman was part of the last generation before personal computers, email, and the internet. The digital transformation that would forever change society was in its infancy.
Yet the skills gained from a liberal arts education pushed his academic limits and provided a foundation for critical thinking. As an example, he points to the Sociology in Film and Fiction course he took with professor emeritus Larry Van Sickle.
“I thought we’d just be watching movies,” laughs Norman, “but we had to read a book basically every day, and within a month we wrote 16 papers. That taught me I can absorb a ton of information and make sense of it. In corporate America, to be successful, you need to be able to develop that muscle, to process massive amounts of information and create a point of view.”
To some, it might seem odd that a history and sociology major from a small, liberal arts college is running digital operations for one of America’s most visible TV networks. On the contrary, says Norman, that kind of background goes a long way in the entertainment industry.
“The industry is always changing,” he explains, “so you’ve got to be really good at adapting and evolving. But that’s super exciting. I’d never want to do a job that’s always the same old, same old. I always want to be at the forefront of what’s happening.”
After graduating from Rollins, Norman got a master’s in screenwriting from the University of Miami and moved to Los Angeles shortly after. As luck would have it, a buddy from Rollins, Drew Stepek ’94, was working at ESPN and helped the soon-to-be media guru land a contract editing position at EXPN.com, precursor to the X Games’ website. One thing led to another and, just like the movies, Norman was on his way.
“That allowed me to get my foot in the door, and it was my first internet job too,” says Norman, who went by Todd while at Rollins. “I’m naturally curious, and my time at EXPN allowed me to understand how the web works.”
Stops as a producer at ABC.com and interactive marketing agencies followed. Then it was on to director of programming at AOL Television before working his way up to senior vice president of digital media for Warner Brothers’ CWTV.com.
In his current role, Norman launched and leads CW Seed, which reaches millions of online users with free original series. He’s also responsible for a supply chain that includes web development, social media, creative, branded entertainment, monetization, operations, and emerging platforms.
“I’ve been at the crossroads of television and technology for a long time,” says Norman. “In the early years, it was all about using the internet to promote shows on TV. Then an inflection point happened a decade or so ago where you were able to watch the shows on the internet … and now we shrink them down to 4½-inch screens so you can watch them on your phone.”
As for career advice, Norman’s been in the digital game long enough to know that specializing in one technical area isn’t the best long-term solution.
“You need to be a high-functioning generalist, and that’s what a liberal arts education requires you to be,” he explains. “To have a narrow focus of expertise doesn’t serve you well in the workforce. I’m looking for people who can solve problems I don’t even know exist yet. You need to be able to dip into something and figure it out. I’m really proud of the time I spent at Rollins and the things I learned there. I use them every day.”
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