Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 35
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Koplovitz had hand in BET, C-SPAN, Syfy, many others

Kay Koplovitz’s mark on the cable industry still can be seen today, as she had a hand in launching several channels that remain an important part of cable’s programming lineup.

 

While she is best known for launching USA Network, which remains one of the top-three distributed networks, Koplovitz’s fingerprints are on several other channel launches.

Koplovitz, shown in 1982, established several cable networks during her career.
Photo: courtesy of kay koplovitz

Two channels — BET and C-SPAN — got their starts as programming blocks on USA Network under Koplovitz’s direction. BET had a block of programming on Friday nights and C-SPAN had a block for a few hours in the afternoon, Koplovitz said.

As the cable industry started looking for niche channels, Koplovitz rolled out Sci-Fi, now known as Syfy, in 1992.

“If you look back at the best 25 rated movies in any year, about half of them will be in this broader scope of what I call science fiction,” she said. “People loved them, and I knew there would be movies coming every year.”

But the channel launch she remembers best is the one that never came to be. In the late 1980s, Koplovitz negotiated a deal to buy the small and poorly distributed Financial News Network, which she wanted to turn into a full-fledged global network. Koplovitz negotiated a deal to partner with The Wall Street Journal on FNN to give her vision of the channel added credibility.

Trying to convince executives of what channels would work could drive Koplovitz crazy.
Photo: courtesy of kay koplovitz

“I realized that trading was going to be global 24 hours a day,” she said. “I also realized, unlike CNN or the news networks, you didn’t have to send people into conflict areas or anything, you just have a desk in New York, London, Tokyo. It was cost effective.”

The deal blew up, though, minutes before Koplovitz was going to sign it. She was sitting in a conference room at Paramount Chairman Martin Davis’ New York office at Columbus Circle when Universal President Sidney Sheinberg called from Los Angeles and said he wasn’t going to sign and backed out of the deal.

“I said, half-jokingly, ‘He is alive today because he’s 3,000 miles away,’” Koplovitz said. “Subsequently, I said to Bob Wright — who was running NBC at the time — I said, ‘Just follow me around and pick up the networks that I’m not able to commensurate.’ And he did. He bought FNN, which became CNBC, which is a very profitable network today.”