THE USA STORY
THE STORY BEHIND KAY’S VISIONARY APPROACH TO THE FIRST CABLE SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT NETWORK
Kay Koplovitz had her eye on satellites and their unique contribution to communications long before the technology was integrated into the cable television business. She was captivated by Arthur C Clarke and his passion for geosynchronous-orbiting satellites when she was a student at the University of Wisconsin in the late 60’s. She went on to write her master’s thesis on the impact programming delivered via satellite could have on governments, cultures and human rights around the world.
So it wasn’t surprising that she chose the cable television industry as the one that would introduce this technology. It was seven long years before her vision was realized. On September 30, 1975, HBO and UA-Columbia Cablevision, along with ATC, transmitted the Thrilla in Manila, the third matchup between Mohammed Ali and Joe Fraser, to cable systems in Vero Beach Florida and Jackson, Mississippi.
It was that night that her former boss at UA-Columbia, Bob Rosencrans, said her dream was about to come true. It was then that they decided to launch a cable television network delivered to systems via satellite. Joe Cohen, President of Madison Square Garden, had the 125 events from The Garden available for license. The Madison Square Garden national network was announced in 1976 and launched in September 1977.
The most significant contribution to the cable industry came in the form of the business model that was created. It reversed the payment model from the one created by the broadcast industry. Instead of the network paying the cable systems to carry the network programming, MSG instituted a fee that the cable systems would pay to the network. To that was added advertising revenue and the two revenue stream model was created and set the stage for other cable programmers to follow. With the launch, she also became the first women president of a cable network in television history.
The all sports network went on to license Major League Baseball, The National Basketball League and National Hockey League sports events and became a nightly live sports event network under Kay’s leadership as President and CEO. The network changed its name to USA Network in 1980 and began to program talk shows and children’s programming during the daytime hours.
USA was bought by Time, Inc, Universal and Paramount in November 1981. It the following years, USA achieved many firsts for the industry, including initiating live coverage of prestige sporting events such as the early round coverage of The Augusta National Golf Tournament and the US Open Tennis Tournament in 1982
By the mid 1980’s. Kay had convinced the television industry to license successful syndicated shows to USA Network. Among those early successes were Miami Vice and Murder She Wrote. These series and many that followed were the bench mark for cable competing with television syndication for the most popular TV series. They are responsible even today, for bringing significant viewership to cable and satellite homes across the nation.
USA also pioneered the Made for Television Movie series, having launched a slate of 24 original movies in 1987. Competition with the TV Networks was beginning to heat up, and USA, along with other cable networks were beginning to take significant audience away from TV Broadcast. USA also launched a number of original series in association with cable and broadcast networks around the globe, producing such important break-through originals such as La Femme Nikita and Highlander.
In 1992,USAlaunched The Sci -Fi Channel (now Syfy) to an initial 10 million homes, and in 1994, the company launched USA International, offering bothUSAand the Sci-fi Networks to distributors on several continents.
Under Kay’s stewardship of 21 years, USA became the leader in primetime viewership among cable networks, a distinction it held for the last 14 years of her leadership. Sci-fi had risen to be among the top 10 rated prime time networks. The combined networks have proven to be among the industries’ most valuable properties, having surpassed the value of broadcast networks by wide margins.