Kay Koplovitz, the eventual founder of USA Networks, says she “wouldn’t give up” the push to use satellite commercially
This story is part of “Ceiling Smashers,” a series in which successful women across industries tell Moneyish how they broke down professional barriers.
Kay Koplovitz pursued her dream by channeling a science pioneer.
The eventual founder of USA Networks and first woman TV network CEO grew transfixed by satellites as a University of Wisconsin student after attending a 1966 London lecture by “2001: A Space Odyssey” author Arthur C. Clarke. The famed sci-fi writer and futurist’s talk on geosynchronous orbiting satellites inspired Koplovitz, who grew up in the era of Sputnik and the Cold War, to envision satellite’s possibilities.
“It really was compelling to me about the power of these satellites and how they could actually change communications,” Koplovitz, 72, told Moneyish. “And that was really my motivation for going on to graduate school, writing a master’s thesis on satellite technology and its potential impact on communications and perhaps a wider scope in geopolitical terms — how we could reach people behind these walls.”
Koplovitz spent the next several years in the cable, satellite and television businesses, working toward obtaining approval to use satellite for commercial business. “I could’ve given up any time along those seven years,” she said. “I wouldn’t give up … The dream never let me go.” It finally happened Sept. 30, 1975, when her then-client HBO beamed the legendary “Thrilla in Manila” heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. “It was really just a fantastic lift-off for the idea of launching television via satellite,” she said.
From there, she launched the sports-centric Madison Square Garden Network — a precursor to USA Networks — where she introduced a dual revenue stream of licensing fees and advertising. She now serves as chairman of Springboard Enterprises, which facilitates capital for high-growth, women-led companies.
Koplovitz, who came up when women were barred from golf clubs and dealt with her share of nasty comments, says she “negotiated around” obstacles. “I didn’t let them inhibit me, nor did I do business with them if I didn’t want to anymore,” she said. “At that time … that was the best course of action.” But “today’s a different period of time,” she added, with many more women in positions of power.
“They just aren’t going to put up with it anymore, and I think they’re right,” Koplovitz said. “We should never have had to put up with it, really.”
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