Interview Date: Monday July 30, 2001
Interview Location: New York, NY
Interviewer: Joel Fleming
Collection: Hauser Collection
FLEMING: I’m Joel Fleming. I’m speaking to you on the 30th day of July in the year of 2001. I am speaking to you from a location in Central Park West, the home of Kay Koplovitz. I am here to interview to Kay for the audio video library at The Cable Center out in Denver. In some research I did, back in 1991, Kay was profiled in The New York Times and in the profile one of her associates said she was in the right place at the right time. Not fair. Kay put herself in right places at right times. Kay was one of the true pioneers in the cable TV business and became one of few equals in the pantheon of modern business. Kay’s bright, athletic, energetic, hardworking and she did much for cable during its infancy. But rather than me talk, I’d rather ask Kay some questions. Kay, where were you born?
KOPLOVITZ: I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You know, the suburb north of Chicago.
FLEMING: Right, right. And your parents still live there?
KOPLOVITZ: Yes, they do. Same house.
FLEMING: Is that right?
FLEMING: That’s amazing.
KOPLOVITZ: Yes, it is.
FLEMING: Now, where did you go to school?
KOPLOVITZ: I went to the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wisconsin, as an undergraduate and then I got a graduate degree from Michigan State and I wound up there in sort of a serendipitous way because…
FLEMING: What was your major in undergrad?
KOPLOVITZ: I was a science major, biological sciences, and then I became enamored, as an undergraduate, with satellite technology and the reason I became enamored of it is really kind of an interesting story. I was traveling around Europe between my junior and senior year in college and I worked my way through college producing television shows, actually, at WHA in Madison, Wisconsin as one of my jobs. So, I was familiar with television and I’d always liked the media; I was just studying sciences and I heard a lecture by a gentleman who we all know as a science fiction writer here in the United States, but he indeed is a knighted space scientist as well, his name is Arthur C. Clarke, and he was talking about geosynchronous orbiting satellites. You’d say, “Oh, well, how sexy is that to a 20 year old student?” I just thought it was going to change the world. I thought that communications were going to change the way we perceived, the way we got information, it could change governments, it could change societies. I thought it was going to have a major, major impact on society and I decided to write a master’s thesis on satellite technology and its impact on governments and cultural society and I had a very hard time finding anyone who would take that subject back in the mid-’60s or late ’60s, when I was going to go to graduate school and I talked to a number of professors at different colleges and universities. I so desperately wanted to go to Stanford; I just had it in my mind that I wanted to go to Stanford. I couldn’t find a professor at Stanford who would take the topic because it was so prescient actually. There’s a wonderful gentleman at Michigan State, Walter Emory, and he was a professor of international law and he just had a wonderful curiosity and he said, “Kay, I don’t know a thing about satellites,” he said, “but I do know about international law and if what you tell me is going to happen indeed happens it’s going to have a major impact on international law and the protection of intellectual property. So I, in fact, would love to have you come to school here if you don’t mind if I study along with you.” So, I got a National Merit Scholarship to Michigan State and went into a special program of other people studying international subjects; there were 10 of us and it was really quite an interesting group. There were people in agriculture, economics, sciences, philosophy and it was a very interesting program, actually, and I enjoyed it and I wrote my master’s thesis on that subject.
FLEMING: For the purposes of the neophytes, how would you describe or define geosynchronous…?
KOPLOVITZ: Geosynchronous orbiting satellites? Well, they’re satellites that are orbiting the Earth at a certain height – 22,300 miles – and they’re traveling at a speed that has them always over the same point of the Earth, so they’re traveling faster than the Earth because they’re out further in space than the surface of the Earth, but they’re in geosynchronous orbit, synchronous with the geographic location at which they’re placed. So, they’re continually over the same point on Earth; they’re fixed rather than traveling around the Earth as the lower orbiting satellites often are.
FLEMING: When you were in college, were you a member of a fraternity or sorority?
KOPLOVITZ: I was a member of neither.
FLEMING: But you were Phi Beta Kappa?
KOPLOVITZ: Yes, but I think you were talking about sort of a social sorority and no, I wasn’t a member. I did not have a lot of free cash when I was a student. I had to work; I had three jobs when I was going through school, most of the time. So I was working and going to school. The University of Wisconsin was a great place to be an undergraduate. I loved it; it was fun, it was exciting, we had wonderful professors but I in fact did have to work a lot.
FLEMING: How would you describe yourself, perhaps in one word, when you were in college?
KOPLOVITZ: Free spirit.
FLEMING: Alright, how would you describe yourself now?
KOPLOVITZ: Free spirit.
FLEMING: That’s pretty good! At least you’re consistent through the years. What jobs did you work in college?
KOPLOVITZ: I worked as a television producer at the educational station; I worked as a waitress, which was the best paying job because if you know how to do it right you can get big tips; I worked in a lab. I worked in a research lab at the medical school.
FLEMING: When you got out of college, what was your first job?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, in between undergraduate and graduate school, I worked at WTMJ in Milwaukee as a producer, so I worked as a television producer at the NBC affiliated station in Milwaukee and then I went to graduate school. After graduate school, my first job actually was at the Federal Communications Commission. I worked there in the educational broadcasting division for about six months. I was determined to work at ComSat, the Communications Satellite Corporation. After all, I had just written a master’s thesis on it. I was an evangelist for the technology and what it was going to do and I was certain that they would fall all over me when I arrived in Washington. Of course, they did when I was a student but when I arrived for a job, it was a different thing, which is oftentimes what you find out – as a student you can have access to anyone, when you’re looking for a job, not necessarily. So, it took about 8 months to get a job there and I did go to work at the Communications Satellite Corporation then.
FLEMING: And then your entry into cable, operational cable, what was that?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, that’s an interesting story also. My husband and I had, in 1971, moved out to Medford, Oregon and Bill was running television stations, a group of small market television stations and I was precluded from doing that, even though that was my background, because the man who owned the stations didn’t want me to work for the station and didn’t want me to work for the competition. Not too surprising, being a woman, he selected me as the one who shouldn’t be working, so I worked as a freelance writer/producer there and then we decided, both of us decided, that it would be fascinating to go into the cable television business because it was really just the backwater, it was just kind of a cable antenna system…
FLEMING: What year was that?
KOPLOVITZ: 1973, and we came back East and I immediately set up my own business in Washington D.C. I had a communications consultant business and so I called on some of my former clients and people I’d worked with and so forth and picked up some client accounts and Bill went to interview with Bob Rosencrans.
FLEMING: Who was?
KOPLOVITZ: Who was then the head of UA Columbia Cablevision, and so he went up to, I guess, Greenwich, Connecticut and he came back and he said, “You’re not going to believe this guy.” He said, “You are not going to believe this guy is in the cable business.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, he’s urbane, he has a wonderful personality, he has a very fast, quick smile. He just seems too urbane for the cable business (at that point in time.” And I said, “Well, that sounds very nice. What did he have to say to you?” He said, “Well, I have good news and I have bad news.” I said, “Well, give me the bad news.” He said, “If we take the offer, we’ll be moving to New Jersey.”
FLEMING: Poor New Jersey.
KOPLOVITZ: Poor New Jersey. My husband went to Princeton; he didn’t feel that way about New Jersey, but he knew that about all I knew of New Jersey was the New Jersey Turnpike. So, I said, “Well, what’s the good news?” He said, “The good news is that he wants to hire both of us.”
FLEMING: Is that right?
KOPLOVITZ: So, actually, Bob hired me sight unseen.
FLEMING: And I think most of the industry would agree that Bob is not only urbane but a nice person.
KOPLOVITZ: Oh, wonderful! I mean, he’s one of the most wonderful people you could meet. His whole family is – Margie, everybody; they’re just first class people.
FLEMING: That’s a good sign in the cable business.
KOPLOVITZ: And I feel that there was a group of people – Bob, Amos Hostetter, Ralph Roberts – come to mind, they were sort of like the statesmen of the industry at the time. I really feel that’s true.
FLEMING: So you worked in – where was it? Oakland, New Jersey?
KOPLOVITZ: Oakland, New Jersey.
FLEMING: How many people were on the staff then?
KOPLOVITZ: Oh, very small. UA Columbia had a cable system there, so there was a cable system, but Bill and I were doing the franchising. So, we did, night after night, franchise hearings and we franchised all of northern New Jersey, Westchester, and a little bit on Long Island and then, I don’t know, we must have competed in seventy-some franchises, were very successful. Bob, at one point, said, “Stop! I’ve got too many of these.” But there were also others like Shreveport, Louisiana that we went to, San Antonio, Texas, there were other places where we franchised and that’s what we did for a couple of years.
FLEMING: Did you enjoy getting up before those wonderful boards and bringing ponies and dogs and that sort of thing?
KOPLOVITZ: I thought it was very easy to do. I didn’t mind that; I’ve never minded speaking in public or anything like that, and making presentations. I was very young looking and I think New Jersey is populated in local politics by a lot of, well, whatever the local community is. So if it’s an Italian community or if it’s a Slavic community or if it’s a German community or if it’s a Portuguese community, there are all kinds of different communities in New Jersey. I think generally people looked at me like, “what is this teenager doing here?” Sort of like “why are we listening to her?” And we were very, very successful in getting the franchises and we split up a lot and a lot of evenings we were doing like five franchise hearings. There are people around the industry today, very successful, who we competed against: Chuck Dolan and his whole crew, and Mike Willner, from Vision Cable at the time; Suburban Cable, Bob Bilodeau. It was really quite a crew, Nickolai Hunter. It was fun. I’m a competitor, so I thought it was a lot of fun except that after about a year and a half I said to my husband, “I’ve done this. This is enough for me. I really think that I want to get back into programming because that’s really what I want to do and figure out how to really bring programming to the cable industry.” And Bob knew that that’s what I wanted to do because I talked to him about it a number of times and when he actually stopped down the franchise process. I left and some of the other people that worked there left; Bill stayed on because he was a lawyer and he was doing a lot of other things for them. I was fortunate enough really to be in the right place and have gotten the right experience at the time. It wasn’t just luck; I wanted to work for a cable company because I really saw satellites as a tool being introduced into the cable industry and not the broadcast industry from which I came, because why would they? They had all the telephone lines hooking them into the television stations around the country. It was too expensive for the cable industry, for a young industry at the time, to even buy that kind of distribution even if they could get it and of course you must remember that yourself. It was not really possible to do it, or it wasn’t probably that they would because they had really an umbilical cord to every television station in the country. Why would they cut it? So it was going to be the cable industry – my gamble was that it was going to be the cable industry that was going to introduce this and I was really fortunate to have at that time, again, I went out again into my consultant business where I had a number of different companies that I was consulting for – not all in the cable industry. I had Continental Can and companies that were in food distribution and other things, but Home Box Office became one of my clients, back when Nick Nicholas was president of Home Box Office and the introduction of satellite technology on September 30th, 1975, The Thrilla from Manila, was really the turning point for the industry.
FLEMING: That’s right. I’d forgotten about that.
KOPLOVITZ: And they were my client then. I was fortunate to be down in Vero Beach, Florida, which was a system that UA Columbia owned and Bob and Ken Gunter were there and it was such an exciting night. It was what I’d written about in my master’s thesis. It was what I had envisioned could happen, bringing a live event from 90,000 miles of satellite signal up and down from around the world, from Manila, and it’s really what launched the whole concept of the programming business. It made it possible because with satellites we could now distribute the programming inexpensively to all the cable systems that were scattered throughout the country.
FLEMING: At first it was distributed by microwave, wasn’t it? For instance, HBO distributed by microwave.
KOPLOVITZ: Yes. Bicycled tapes, Channel 100, do you remember that?
KOPLOVITZ: I mean, people bicycled tapes around, but there wasn’t really a business in bicycling tapes.
FLEMING: And the first show on HBO was, as I recall, The Polka Festival from Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, or something like that.
KOPLOVITZ: Something like that.
FLEMING: What led you then to Madison Square Garden? Was that the next step?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, that’s an interesting story too. Actually, at that night of the Thrilla from Manila, Bob said to me, “Kay, this is so fantastic.” UA Columbia was one of the first operators to put satellite dishes in after that and also Monty Rifkin at ATC; they are the first two that really put in the satellite dishes and started moving the industry in that direction and he said, “Kay, this is so fantastic and we have 12 channels that we can get on the satellite dishes.” Remember the 10-meter dishes, the huge old dishes, and you could have 12 channels and at that time it was just going to be HBO and so he said, “Well, what goes with movies?” Well, it wasn’t exactly rocket science to know that it would be sports and Home Box Office had a contract with Madison Square Garden, but Joe Cohen had come to Bob and said, “HBO may not want this contract anymore because it’s regional and they need national sports and they may not take it up.” So we started talking about it and Bob said to me, “Kay, this would be a great thing, having a sports network on a national basis. If HBO doesn’t pick up their option, we should pick it up.” And he said, “Of course I’m only going to do it if you do it because it’s what you really want to do and you know what you’re doing.” By that point, I’d done my work on satellite communications, I was a television producer and now I had worked in the cable industry, so I had all the pieces and Bob was generous in seeing that I really wanted to do it and giving me the opportunity to start it.
FLEMING: Someone listening to this tape would say, “That sounds so simple, so primitive.” But no one else had done it before!
KOPLOVITZ: It really was something I wrote about in my 1968 thesis and it was really prescient. I had the occasion to go back and look at it, I don’t know, five years ago I want to say. Someone called me, a press person called me, and I had to pull it out and look up something in it and I started reading it and I said, “Oh my God, no wonder people thought I was slightly batty at the time,” because so many things in it were just happening, they were just happening in the military, they were just happening and they really weren’t well known or well documented outside of that realm at the time, even though the technology or the expertise to have these geosynchronous orbiting satellites existed since World War II.
FLEMING: In those days, in the basic days of cable and satellite distribution, what was the most difficult thing for you?
KOPLOVITZ: It was so much fun I don’t know if any of it was difficult. It was a lot of fun putting the sports deals together. I’m an athlete myself; I don’t think that’s a prerequisite. You don’t have to know that stats of all the players in all the leagues, that’s not a prerequisite either. My husband was always somewhat jealous of the fact that I was doing it because he knew all the stats of all the players and all the leagues; he loved sports and he still does. But, it was really to have the vision of what you could do with it and take the basic 125 events from Madison Square Garden and mix the Rangers, boxing, wrestling, some of the other… Melrose, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which has become a very, very popular event after all these years, and take those events and then mix them in, be able to go out and negotiate the deal to other major league sports. The first one I did was baseball. Of course I did the New York Yankees.
FLEMING: And who was running the New York Yankees at that time?
KOPLOVITZ: George! George Steinbrenner! That same old George.
FLEMING: Yes, and you had a wonderful, warm relationship with him.
KOPLOVITZ: You know, the funny thing is is that he was not difficult to deal with and I think the reason is, when I reflect on it, though I didn’t actually realize it at the time is that George knew full well that he didn’t really have the rights to sell the Yankees to me because teams only have the right to televise within a certain territory outside their home city – 75 miles – and they could only go into other areas if there’s no team that blankets that area. So it was then called “white areas”, areas that didn’t have a team, but he sold me the rights to televise the Yankees. Now, I was so fascinated with the Yankees, because when I grew up in Milwaukee we had the Milwaukee Braves and I was a big baseball fan and I loved Henry Aaron. I was in love with Henry Aaron. Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Andy Pafco, Del Crandall, they were like my guys. I hated the Yankees, so I said to myself, “Well, the Yankees are the big time, there’s no question about that.” Except for 1957 they always would beat us out for the National Championship or the World Series and I said, “Well, people love the Yankees and people hate the Yankees, but they’re going to watch the Yankees.” That was my underlying premise and so I signed this contract with George Steinbrenner to televise the games and in the spring of 1979, we televised our first game. I was thrilled to death, it went into extra innings and it was won by the Yankees who played in Boston against the Red Sox and it was running extra innings when Roy White hit a home run and I thought it was just a stellar beginning to this Thursday night baseball league. The next morning I got a call. The call was from Bowie Kuhn, who was then the commissioner of baseball, and said, “Ms. KOPLOVITZ:, you televised the Yankee game last night.” And I said, “Yes, it was a very exciting game, wasn’t it?” I was thrilled. I said, “Did you see it.” Of course there were only about 2 million cable subscribers at that time, so not a lot of people saw it.
FLEMING: That was in what year?
FLEMING: Keep in mind, only 2 million.
KOPLOVITZ: Well, thank God for the satellite.
FLEMING: That you got that.
KOPLOVITZ: Well, there was actually a little bit more than that by 1979, probably 4 million, maybe. And he said, “Yes. I know you televised the game, but you didn’t have the right to do it.” I said, “What do you mean I don’t have the right to do it? I have a contract with the Yankees signed by George Steinbrenner.” And he said, “Well, that’s my point. He didn’t have the right to sell it to you.” I said, “Oh my God.” Now I have just represented to the entire industry that they’re going to have a baseball game of the week and they’re going to see… Well, at that point it wasn’t the game of the week, it was the Yankees and they were going to have the Yankee games, so they’d be on different nights of the week and this was actually the predecessor to Thursday night baseball but the first game was not on Thursday. It was earlier in the week. And I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve represented and sold this to the cable industry.” I was getting ten, eleven cents per subscriber per month from the industry and I said you’re going to have baseball. Well, I called up my husband, or I went down – he was in the same office building and I went down to see him and I said, “Geez, I just got this call from Bowie Kuhn and he said I don’t have the right. He’s going to get a restraining order to stop us from televising these games. Do you think he could get a restraining order?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know what the contracts are, but if you’re in violation of major league baseball contract and Steinbrenner really didn’t have the right to sell to you, if that’s true, then he probably can and he probably will.” So I thought about it and went back to my office and I called him back. I said, “Oh, Mr. Kuhn, I just love having these Yankee games.” I said, “You know, I just thought the audience would really love seeing the Yankees play around the country and I don’t really know if you could stop us from televising them or not, but I’ll make a deal with you.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I’ll trade you.” He said, “What do you mean you’ll trade me? Trade me what?” And I said, “I’ll trade you this Yankee contract for a major league baseball contract. I’ll televise all the games, all the teams.”
FLEMING: And he said, “Yeah, absolutely”?
KOPLOVITZ: He said, “I’ll see you in my office tomorrow morning.”
FLEMING: Is that right?
KOPLOVITZ: And I went in, I met with him and then he introduced me to Tommy Valenti, who was the head of broadcast at Major League Baseball, and Tommy and I forged the deal. It became Thursday Night Major League Baseball.
FLEMING: For anyone watching the tape to consider that you had to struggle so hard to get baseball on television when now we’re…
FLEMING: Inundated is the right word.
KOPLOVITZ: But it was a new distribution, people didn’t know what it would be, didn’t know what to expect of it, didn’t know what kind of money they were going to make, it started off modestly. The next sport that we did was the NBA and that was negotiated… Larry O’Brien was then the commissioner of NBA, David Stern was the general counsel and that was negotiated with David Stern and that was for the ’79-’80 season of the NBA and David loves to remind me that I paid him the measly sum of $400,000 in the first year and I say, “Yes, and you’ve made billions of dollars on it ever since.”
FLEMING: How old were you then?
KOPLOVITZ: How old was I?
FLEMING: Let’s say when you negotiated with Steinbrenner.
KOPLOVITZ: Thirty…yeah, early thirties.
FLEMING: And did you find that your being young was a benefit or a problem in negotiating these deals?
KOPLOVITZ: Neither. I found it to be neither. It was just two people doing business.
FLEMING: That’s a good way to look at it.
KOPLOVITZ: Yes, I found it to be neither.
FLEMING: I don’t mean to demean, but was it difficult as a woman?
KOPLOVITZ: I think I was an anomaly. I think there was a curiosity maybe. I didn’t think of it that way at the time. I had lived with this brain my entire life. I think it’s as good or better than a lot of other brains and I never really thought about it that way. I never thought that people would think it would have lesser quality or something. I think it’s a wrong way for people to be thinking, but if they were thinking that then it was to my advantage.
FLEMING: I read somewhere where you said, “I’m a competitor.”
KOPLOVITZ: I am a competitor, as you know.
FLEMING: So you went in there as a competitor.
KOPLOVITZ: I’ll compete in almost anything.
FLEMING: Well, that’s not a bad trait for someone.
KOPLOVITZ: Oh, I don’t know, my husband says, “You really don’t have to compete for the toothpaste in the morning, Kay. It’s not that necessary.”
FLEMING: How do I put this? What was the most difficult thing you had, during the burgeoning years of your career and cable?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, it was almost like the Wild West in those early days and I will say that unlike today for a programmer to try to get distribution with some new idea today is Herculean feat if not impossible, but in those days, the industry was captivated by the idea that they could bring this fresh new programming to subscribers and that there in fact would be an industry. It came at a time when the industry had nowhere to go; it was really basically an antenna system bringing in television signals until programming came down the pike that you could offer something different to subscribers and people would start to see the value. If they didn’t need the antenna, what were you going to sell them? It was great to have the antenna systems in the hilly countryside outside of major cities and whatever, but today you need them inside major cities like New York, because with all the high buildings, the signals are unclear from the television stations unless you do have some sort of other transportation for that signal like cable. So, now it’s accepted and now over 80 million homes get their programming from cable or satellite or MMDS or some alternate means, so it’s less than 20% of the people who still don’t have it and it’s accepted today but in those early days nobody, except the few of us who were laboring in the industry and believed in it fervently, people didn’t know that it was going to be such a big business that was going to be so important in their lives, that was going to bring them so many choices. So it wasn’t hard to convince cable operators, especially sports was certainly not hard to convince cable operators to take, and it was just a matter of how rich you could make the program offering, how interesting it could be, and I had all the major league sports except NFL, which came much later. So they were very exciting times.
FLEMING: I’m sure you remember, in those times when people would say, “When am I going to get cable?” Now they say, “You know the problem with my cable?”
KOPLOVITZ: It’s a very different point of view. Well, people have a right to it. I think the most difficult thing in the early years was getting advertising because the advertising industry didn’t necessarily believe in the value of these “smaller audiences” or today they want to say “niche audiences”. As you know, cable audiences today are not all niche audiences. Some of them, like USA, that grow up to be an entertainment network, is general entertainment and really competes with the major networks for viewership of adults 18-49 or 18-54, so that’s a sort of general audience in our profile, but many cable networks are more defined and more narrow in the scope of their programming and therefore are niche, so today you have this rich palette of programming.
FLEMING: In other words, the advertisers or the agencies were not convinced that cable had an audience.
KOPLOVITZ: Right, and I think in the early days, the most difficult challenge we had was really bringing in the advertising dollars into the industry. In the first year, we had a $200,000 for the year contract with YNR, that Bill Donnelly, who was a wild gentleman, for his attitude; he was a former priest, a sort of a social activist and also an advertising executive. He was really quite an unusual combination, a philosopher, all these different things. He believed that the agency should at least be in cable, find out more about it and we were fortunate to have a few believers around like Bill, who were willing to take a risk and early on, Marvin Koslow at Bristol Meyers came in and backed some programming and so forth and then later on when ESPN launched and so forth, Anheuser Busch came in. There were some very large contracts that started to move the industry, but it really wasn’t until about 1984-1985 that advertisers started to get seriously interested in cable.
FLEMING: But you really changed the complexion of USA Network by introducing more than sports.
FLEMING: For instance, Murder She Wrote, etc.
KOPLOVITZ: In the later ’80s, yeah. In late 1981, the company, five years old, was sold to Time Inc., Paramount and MCA and the Hollywood studios were more interested in entertainment programming than they were in sports and so therefore, they were desirous of exiting the sports, at least to some degree, to accommodate some entertainment programming because frankly they saw it as a defensive move, a place where they could play off some of the series that they developed for television and went into syndication and wanted to have another place to play those types of series and you mentioned Murder She Wrote, and Miami Vice were the two biggest that broke open those windows for cable. But I, at the time, really wanted to keep the separate sports network because we had such a terrific business going on sports and even though we knew that the rights fees would continue to escalate and that we’d have to continue raising the prices for the network, I just thought it was too rich a palette to let go of and I didn’t really want to, but in any event, the partners of the company, the owners of the company, really wanted that transition to take place and so it was hard to make transition. There was very little entertainment programming of quality that was available to us because the contracts for distribution for all the television series when they went into syndication had renewal options. So they played on network television or they were in syndication or they went from network television to syndication and so now six years later there was an option and they could roll over their option and keep the programs for another four years. So there was no place for us to get into the cycle of distribution early on and it wasn’t until 1987, when we were successful for making our bid for Miami Vice and Murder She Wrote, that a large audience series came to cable even though I had series before that. I had series like Rip Tide and gee, Dragnet. I mean, how old was Dragnet at that time, but I had to start way back in the cycle and work our way up. And that’s another reason why we started producing original movies before we started really producing original series for USA we started producing 24 original movies a year because we needed to get fresh programming into the cycle.
FLEMING: Again, I think put in context of time, it’s the year 2001, you’re talking about only 15 years ago you introduced this.
FLEMING: And again, as people would not understand that there was a paucity of sports, that they wouldn’t understand the limited number of “entertainment” shows that were on. Now we’re up to The Sopranos.
KOPLOVITZ: You know the one thing though, Joel, as I travel around the world I look at how in most countries, the distribution and the creation of cable and satellite distribution has come into play and how we expect instantaneous and live reporting on everything we want to know about in the world and we expect to see it instantly and we expect to know what is happening everywhere, which has had a major impact, I think, on – I certainly won’t say it’s the only reason – but I think it had a major impact on the fall of the Berlin Wall, on Tiananmen Square, on the people’s quest for freedom of thought and indeed, in most cases, democracy. And I think it’s had a big political impact as I’d envisioned it would in the late ’60s. I really think you can’t do things today – despotic governments – cannot do things today and have them not be known by people. You can’t hide any longer and I think that that has had a major impact on the cultural expectations and the political arena and I look at it and I say, “It’s great to have all the sports you want; it’s great to have all the news you want; it’s great to have all the music you want; it’s great to have all the documentaries you want; it’s great to have all these program choices.” Sometimes you feel like there are 557 channels and nothing on, but I don’t feel that way. I feel that there is plenty of high value, plenty of education, plenty of news and I think it has had a major impact, the communications, that and the faxes and cell phones and the Internet, all of that has had a major impact on the expectations and we do indeed live in a smaller world today because of it. People know. People know a lot more than they used to know about what is going on.
FLEMING: What are the next steps? Now we have every home having a dish and they can get whatever they want from the satellite.
KOPLOVITZ: Well, it’s going to continue. We’ve all been in this industry long enough to know that technological innovations are always introduced. To me, they always take longer than I want them to to really be widely distributed, but broadband someday will be widely distributed. It’s going to be slower than was predicted.
FLEMING: What’s broadband?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, broadband is enough capacity into the home to be able to really have high-speed cable connections, modems, that can bring a picture quality rich enough to computers or television sets that you can have all these different channels and you can change what you… It can be data, it can be pictures, you can get a streaming picture on your computer that is as good as the television and of course you can today in a few homes that have broadband on a selected basis. We have broadband here and it’s a different quality at different times. It depends how many kids are playing video games on the same system how fast or slow it goes. So, it’s imperfect today, but these things will begin to change and at some point in time, people will look back and not realize that there was a point in time that they couldn’t have a visual picture of anything that they wanted to have a visual picture of instantaneously. They’ll think that’s how it always was. It’s just like people before the telephone did not perhaps envision that they would be able to pick up the telephone and dial a few numbers and get somebody on the other line in some other city and there they are, instead of sending them a letter or sending them a telegraph.
FLEMING: I think one of the Comcast systems in New Jersey, as a matter of fact, was experimenting in reading your meter. Telephone bills directly sent.
KOPLOVITZ: That’s what we premised back in the early ’70s when we franchised. Pay your bank bills, reading your meters, gee, all this exciting stuff. But I do think the appliances that are based on… a lot of computer chips in appliances of course, the dumb appliance is going to be able to be controlled remotely. All these sorts of things are going to come into our lives. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved science fiction because I really think that most of science fiction actually comes true.
FLEMING: Are you satisfied with what you’ve done in communications?
KOPLOVITZ: I’m not a person that looks back that much; I’m more of a future, forward looking person and am I satisfied? I am. I think I’ve contributed significantly.
FLEMING: I think the industry agrees with you.
KOPLOVITZ: Well, thank you. I think I have contributed significantly, but am I done? No. I have other ideas and other things I want to do.
FLEMING: If you were to choose a profession other than the profession you’ve followed, what would you choose?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, I really was originally looking to be, considering being a neurosurgeon. I think it’s a good thing that I’m not. I think I made a better choice for me because I like to interact with people and I like science. I read a lot of history of science; I love sciences and learning about them. That’s one of the things I love about the raising of venture capital that I do for women entrepreneurs now, under Springboard brand.
FLEMING: So you left USA in ’98, as I recall.
KOPLOVITZ: The summer of ’98, yeah.
FLEMING: And what have you done since that time?
KOPLOVITZ: Well, I’ve done a lot of different things actually. I got a presidential appointment as chair of the National Women’s Business Council, which one could take those… I’ve done lots of pro bono work… but you could take that and sort of go through the motions and make your reports to Congress and the President. I decided if I were going to do it, that I wanted to do something significant to change the opportunity for women in the equity markets because I don’t think women get their fair share of equity in these business and so I started looking into venture capital, which was of course very hot in the summer of ’98 and I saw that from the previous year of 1997, of all the venture capital money that was invested in this country, only 1.5% of it went to women. I said, “Well, why are women getting so little money in the venture capital markets?” No one could say that they were being discriminated against, that might sound like an easy answer, but I didn’t really think that could possibly be the only answer; there has to be other answers. I started looking into it and what I found out by going around the country and interviewing people was that there really was a disconnect. Women didn’t really understand, had no experience in venture capital by and large. Didn’t understand what kind of returns venture capitalists wanted on their investment, what kinds of companies were backable by venture capitalists at the time. So I started an organization called Springboard, which is a series of forums, venture capital forums, that present new companies, with your proverbial 15 minutes on stage, in our case 12 minutes on stage, to present your case to a room filled with venture capitalists and to pitch your company to them. We do all kinds of training, we select the companies, they compete very heavily to be a Springboard presenter. In each of the six that we have done so far, there have been over 300 applicants in each of the regions where we have had the venture capital forums. About on the average 25 are selected to present and then we put them through a real tough program we call boot camp, really to teach them to toughen up their business play, teach them what is expected by venture capitalists, how to talk to them, what’s the vocabulary, what’s the expectation from them, what’s your exit plan, all the kinds of things that you have to know to really talk to a venture capitalist in the way they want to be talked to and in the language they understand for their investments. And in the year and a half since January 2000 that we’ve done this, and we’ve presented close to 170 companies, over 70 of them have gotten financing, probably closer to 80. 550 million dollars has been invested in these companies and now we’re opening the gates, we’re opening the doors for creating networks of people supporting women entrepreneurs and getting them into the cycle. We’re creating human capital. We’re connecting women to venture capitalists, to accountants, to attorneys in the field and now we’re up to about 5% of the venture capital money invested in the country. That’s very exciting. So, that’s going along very well. I feel of all the things I’ve done it’s among the things I feel most proud of because I think it’s changing the landscape for women entrepreneurs dramatically.
FLEMING: Going back to when you got in the cable business, you were somewhat of a lion cub in a room full of Daniels, I’d say, but today there are a number of women who are very successful in cable.
KOPLOVITZ: Yes, there are. There are a number of women heading companies, especially program companies. So I think the landscape has changed there and I think these things take time to evolve and to get used to a cultural change and I serve on a number of corporate boards and I see in the boardroom the same sort of assumptions and one has to rethink those assumptions. Are they correct? Because having women be CEOs of fortune 1000 companies, for example, is going to take the board of directors saying, “That’s the best person I could choose.”
FLEMING: Yes. And you serve on an incredible amount of boards – Liz Claiborne and boards in the city of New York and a number of boards involved in cable. It must take a tremendous amount of discipline.
KOPLOVITZ: It takes a lot of discipline, a lot of organization, and a very good support staff and you have to want to do it. It eats into your personal time; there’s no question about that.
KOPLOVITZ: You pay back because the time you spend there you’ve still got to do all the other things you do. Among the other things I’ve done since I left USA, I’m the chairman of Broadway Television Network, which is a new endeavor to bring live Broadway shows to pay-per-view and digital cinema and very exciting high-definition technology. It looks fantastic on the big movie screen, looks very enriched on the home television set and so it’s an exciting endeavor. I’ve always felt that we’ve never really had the benefit of performing arts, especially theater, the way it could be seen in the United States. It’s not really been valued in the same way because I think people feel it’s more of a two-dimensional look on television. This is really an enhanced look that goes back to my sports training and sports days. A lot of up close and personal shots during the shows, you really get to know the characters, you feel like you’re right… In some ways it’s different than being in the theater. It won’t replace being in the theater but it’s an enhanced view, as you could say it’s great to go to an NFL football game, but it’s great to watch it on television because you get the replays and you never miss a play. So, there are differences. If we could lift Broadway out of the 19th century and into the 21st century and give it the electronic face it deserves, with all that talent, I think this would be something that I would really love to do. So, as I said, I’m working on that, as I said, I am chairman of that. I have been running a company, Working Woman, a publishing company, with magazines Working Woman and Working Mother, which are business publications and really doing some work in the women’s business marketplace is a very vibrant market and a very exciting and dynamic one. I’m just now turning my focus more heavily back on television, which I do love.
FLEMING: You’ve gotten many awards, but the one that impressed me most, and I think it was from Sara Lee, it was an award for “women who run the world”.
KOPLOVITZ: The title impressed you the most? I was a baby then. That was the first or second, first year, I think, that they gave those awards out.
FLEMING: Is that right?
KOPLOVITZ: Yes, and they have kept up with that. That probably goes back to the late ’80s, early ’90s and Sara Lee has kept up with that award and made it even more important and supported it continually with more publicity of the women that they are selecting that have really been high achievers and I credit them with that. They have stuck with that program a long time.
FLEMING: I think we could talk for a long time, but I’d just like to say that we’ve been talking to Kay KOPLOVITZ:. Kay got involved in the communications business right out of junior high, as I see.
KOPLOVITZ: When I was a puppy.
FLEMING: And went on to massive achievements, starting in Madison Square Garden, founding the USA Network, and on and on and on.
KOPLOVITZ: And the Sci-Fi Channel.
FLEMING: And the Sci-Fi Channel!
KOPLOVITZ: My beloved Sci-Fi Channel, which I take great pride in. I just love that. We launched that in 1992.
FLEMING: That’s right. But you’ve had so many accomplishments, I’m sure you have a sense of great satisfaction in choosing cable over brain surgery.
KOPLOVITZ: And there are a lot of brains that are very grateful that I did, believe me.
FLEMING: I want to thank you. You’re a true pioneer in the field of cable television.
KOPLOVITZ: I like to think of myself as a visionary actually. I like to look at what isn’t there and imagine what could be there. Well, it’s great to be a pioneer but I think that for those of us who are out on the edge, we don’t think of ourselves as pioneers. We think of ourselves as futurists, because that’s what attracts us. It seduces us; it seduces me. What doesn’t exist seduces me. Some people are more comfortable in a world that they know and yes, I’m comfortable with what I know, but I’m also uncomfortable if that’s all there is. I have to have part of the unknown right in front of me because that is what really seduces me to go on and that’s one of the reasons I love sci-fi and I love the Sci-Fi Channel, because you can think about ideas and they don’t have to be limited by what you know you can do today. Like, one of the series, one of the first big ticket series we commissioned over at the Sci-Fi Channel, had as its first premise in the first full script, a spaceship and there was a team of people out in space with it, sort of typically lost out in space and they were fighting an unknown enemy, so they were out in space trying to find their way back to their home base and the spaceship, which is their battleground with their enemies in space is pregnant and the spaceship gives birth to a baby spaceship. I thought, “This is so fantastic. We have to do this series, Farscape.” The concept that you could take an inanimate object, although it has molecules and all the other things that we’re made of, but it doesn’t have reproductive capability and give it that capability was just so fascinating to me. So, it’s the unknown. It’s the unknown that attracts me.
FLEMING: Kay Koplovitz: – visionary and free spirit. Thank you very much.
KOPLOVITZ: Thank you.