From Barriers Broken to “Characters Welcome”: How USA Network Founder Kay Koplovitz Raised the Bar For Cable Television
Next time you turn on the TV (or your laptop or mobile device) to watch your favorite cable TV show, think about one person whose vision who made it all possible…..
The iconic science fiction writer’s musings on satellite technology have captivated countless readers over the years, including a University of Wisconsin college student who had her own vision, that satellite technology could be used to change governments and cultures from around the world.
So with those teachings under her belt, Kay Koplovitz set out to see her vision through, starting in one arena which truly had global appeal: sports. Springboarding off the initial success of the satellite-based presentation of the legendary third installment of the Muhammad Ali/Joe Frazier boxing trilogy (a.k.a. the “Thrilla in Manila”), Koplovitz led a team that worked with the management of Madison Square Garden in New York City to transmit 125 annual live sporting events from the famed venue, encompassing basketball, hockey, boxing, professional wrestling, and more, to the rest of the country. (It had previously been available only on a regional basis.)
More than just bringing the Knicks and Rangers into living rooms throughout the country, the national MSG Network presented two consequences of greater significance: first, it flipped the revenue model for cable television, as cable providers were now paying the network for the right to carry the station, rather than the other way around, which had been the norm up until that point.
Second, it enabled Kay Koplovitz to become the first woman president of a national cable network in the history of television.
And she was just getting started. Sensing the appeal for New York-centric programming was limited in pretty much every other state in the country, Koplovitz struck licensing deals with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League to carry their games every night, filling the daytime programming with children’s shows and talk shows.
With the expansion came a name change, to the USA Network, and with the name change came the evolution of the network to become cable television’s catch-all for all things entertainment, Soon, live coverage of major tennis and golf tournaments followed, along with syndicated episodes of popular television shows, and original, made-for-TV movies. Eventually, USA Network launched a spinoff channel that has also enjoyed a degree of success on its own: The Sci-Fi Channel.
All under the leadership of Kay Koplovitz.
Since stepping down in 1998, after 21 years of the helm of USA Network, Koplovitz has emerged as a driving force for entrepreneurship for both men AND women. In addition to serving on the boards of companies such as Nabisco and Oracle, Kay has launched Springboard Enterprises, a multi-billion dollar venture fund geared to supporting women-owned, technology-driven companies, fostering the next wave of Kay Koplovitzes, in a sense. And she continues to motivate entrepreneurs of both genders through her exhaustive speaking and presentation schedule all the while.
On this edition of The Raja Show, Kay checks into the show to talk with Raja about her remarkable story, and the lessons she has learned about entrepreneurship and managing growth and success along the way.