Kay Koplovitz reached for the stars – literally – and helped change the way we watch television. Koplovitz is a pioneer in the cable television industry. In 1977, she became the first woman to head a TV network when she founded USA Networks (USAI), under the banner of Madison Square Garden Sports. Then, in 1992, she helped launch the Sci Fi Channel, now known as the Syfy Channel.
Her light bulb moment came in the mid ‘60s, when Koplovitz was a young student, backpacking through Europe. “I saw this poster for a lecture on satellites, and I thought, ‘Satellites? That will be interesting. …I think I’ll go in there and listen to that lecture.’ I did, and it changed my life,” she told Off The Cuff.
The lecturer was Arthur C. Clarke, the British futurist, science fiction writer and author of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Clarke had conceived of global communication through geosynchronous orbiting satellites – stationary satellites positioned 22,300 miles above Earth. He described a future in which there would be instant communication across Earth through these satellites, via phone, or television. It was a radical idea at the time, but one that became a reality in 1964, when NASA’s geosynchronous Syncom satellite transmitted live coverage of the Tokyo Olympics.
“I walked out of that lecture and that idea would never let me go,” said Koplovitz. “And I was determined from that time on to figure out how to use these satellites to get new programming to people here in the United States and around the world.”
She applied Clarke’s theories to her chosen profession – television - and created the first U.S. cable network delivered via satellite and cable – Madison Square Garden Sports, which became USA Networks. Koplovitz was the company’s chairwoman and CEO until it was sold for $4.5 billion in 1998. During her tenure, she helped USA Network gain the top ranking in primetime viewership among cable networks.
In 2000, Koplovitz created Springboard Enterprises, which raises venture capital for women entrepreneurs. She is also the co-founder of Boldcap Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in early and mid-stage technology, media and health sciences companies. She’s the author of, “Bold Women, Big Ideas,” in which she advises women navigating the world of venture capital.
She maintains that for women in business, change needs to come first from within. “We have to get women to understand to really own their own identity, to claim their own successes, to really come out to really promote themselves, which women are reluctant to do,” she said. “The characteristics that women are bringing to the marketplace are very suited to the way business is being done today,“ she continued. “It’s a flatter business, it’s not so vertical. People have to communicate. Women are very good in the area of bringing people together. I think things will improve. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think it will take, you know, another decade or so before parity is reached, but we’re on our way.”
Even in her private life, Koplovitz has a high appetite for risk. She enjoys hiking glaciers around the world with her husband. “I would choose doing things -- over having things -- any day. … I collect memories,” she said.