Kay Koplovitz

Satellite Cable Television Entrepreneur

Geosynchronous orbiting satellites.

In 1966, satellites were the stuff of science fiction. But to Kay Smith Koplovitz BS 1967, they were a good place to start.

Visiting London during a summer break, Koplovitz heard Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, deliver a talk about satellite technology. She immediately thought about how such celestial tools could be used to communicate across global borders.

Kay Koplovitz delivering the commencement address at the UW.

Photo courtesy of University Communications.

“Thinking, and the power to think, can set people free,” the south Milwaukee native has said.

Koplovitz’s thinking that day in London inspired her pioneering role a decade later, when she would become the first female president of a U.S. cable television network — powered, of course, by satellite.

In 1977, she co-founded the all-sports Madison Square Garden Channel. Under her leadership, it was the first commercial network to secure broadcast rights to professional baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and tennis. It was also the first to generate revenue through licensing and advertising.

Over the next 21 years, Koplovitz led the cable giant that would become USA Network, creating original programming, launching the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy), and adding USA Networks International in 1994. When she stepped down as chair and CEO in 1998, the conglomerate sold for $4.5 billion.

Invited by President Bill Clinton to serve as chair of the National Women’s Business Council, Koplovitz was compelled to act when she saw that women entrepreneurs weren’t gaining investments at the same rate as firms led by men.

She co-founded Springboard Enterprises, supporting women entrepreneurs with venture capital and a global network of 5,000 volunteer mentors. To date, with Koplovitz as chairman and managing director, Springboard has invested nearly $7.5 billion in 630 companies across six continents.

She’s also chairman and CEO of her own media and investment advisory firm, Koplovitz & Company, and she’s published two books. She’s still thinking about new global technologies, and she serves on numerous boards, including those of CA Technologies, Time Inc., ION Media Networks, and the College of Letters & Science at UW–Madison.

Koplovitz ascribes her business success to the “precision of science and the art of communication” that she mastered at the UW. She majored in radio, TV and film, but she nurtured her love of science. Her study spot was Science Hall’s cartography lab; her favorite UW course was Introduction to the History of Science.

“I owe much of this love of the unknown, the freethinking, and the acceptance of serendipitous meetings to my experience at the University of Wisconsin,” she said in 2012, accepting WAA’s Distinguished Alumni Award. “It’s the DNA of who I am today, and hopefully always will be.”