Derek Chang: Plotting a Direct Course
At the programming helm, Derek Chang steers DirecTV's strategy
By Jonathan Hemingway -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/11/2007 7:00:00 PM
It should come as no surprise that DirecTV's charismatic programming chief Derek Chang was a coxswain for his rowing team in college. “He's the guy who sits in the back of boat and yells at everyone,” Chang jokes.
Chang is often the most vocal articulator of DirecTV's objectives, but as executive vice president of content strategy and development, he is also responsible for achieving them.
As DirecTV embarked on its campaign to offer 100 high-definition (HD) channels before the end of 2007, Chang put the company's strategy into action. He dealt with programmers to get 72 new HD channels on DirecTV's service as of November.
Chang joined DirecTV in March 2006 as senior vice president of strategy and development, working under former chief, David Hill. And though he would become more active in developing and executing the company's strategy, his initial role was not clear cut. “I was brought on for bench strength,” he says.
But Hill, now at Fox Sports, saw the immediate impact of Chang's vast industry knowledge. “There virtually wasn't an area that came up in which he didn't know the players or have the understanding of the [situation],” Hill says.
Indeed, Chang's resume is a primer on the modern day media industry, having worked in cable at TCI and Charter, in programming at the Yes Network, as well as in the Internet space.
Chang's love of San Francisco helped shape his career choices. While completing his MBA at Stanford University, Chang decided he wanted to stay in the Bay Area and began putting out feelers for a job.
A friend introduced him to Leo Hindery, who was running InterMedia Partners at the time. Doing his due diligence, Chang's social network included cable pioneer Irving Grousbeck, a Stanford professor who launched Continental Cablevision in the early 1960s with Amos Hostetter.
While he didn't know him personally, Grousbeck was of the opinion that Hindery seemed like a guy that would always be around where the action is. That piqued Chang's interest. And he did not want to return to the banking sector where he had spent time after graduating from Yale University.
Hindery, who is also a Stanford grad, says the school connection was a big reason why he interviewed Chang in the first place. But he knew within minutes of meeting Chang that he wanted him working for InterMedia.
“He is obviously very bright, but you can see that on paper,” Hindery remembers of his first meeting with Chang, “[There is] an intellectual timbre that really comes across. We saw early on he could be an asset and an ally.”
InterMedia would also prove to be beneficial for Chang, not only as a learning experience but for the relationships he forged. Chang got hands-on experience in financing and executing cable deals, but when Hindery left to head-up TCI, he took Chang with him.
At TCI Chang would serve as assistant to the president, which exposed him to all facets of the operating company, before moving into corporate development, which he would eventually head.
It was through this experience that Chang began to rub elbows with the cable elite as he began making deals. TCI was off-loading assets into partnerships with many of the industry's heavyweights, such as Bill Bresnan and Mark Nathanson.
He was mentored by some of the best in the business. “A lot of the pioneers of the industry are really good people,” Chang says, noting that he still maintains many of those friendships.
“He looked so young,” says Bresnan Communications CEO Bill Bresnan on his first meeting with Chang, “Yet he had so much wisdom at a young age. He has very good judgment in dealing with people and understanding situations.”
Following the TCI/AT&T merger Chang continued to find opportunities working for Hindery. He became CFO of GlobalCenter, a Web-hosting subsidiary of telecommunications business Global Crossing. at the bursting point of the dot-com bubble. He moved on when Global Center was sold off. They'd meet again when Hindery moved on to build the YES network, the cable channel that telecasts the New York Yankees and other sports.
Hindery contends the network start-up was not where Chang belonged, noting that in his short career “he had touched the very tops of organizations.”
The team of Chang and Hindery had reached the end of the line. “Leo put me in some pretty significant positions early on,” Chang says, “and really gave me some terrific opportunities.”
Chang landed back in cable at Charter Communications after trying to strike a deal for some cable systems with CEO Carl Vogel. Charter was in trouble, swimming in debt and in need of help. Chang came on as co-CFO at a time the company was restructuring $10 billion in debt.
“It wasn't easy dealing with the banks and bondholders but it was certainly challenging and a great learning experience for me,” Chang says.
When Vogel left, Chang followed and was soon talking to DirecTV's Chase Carey.
In his new role, Chang is channeling his broad industry experience from the programming and distributor sides, but he is also acting as the coxswain and steering DirecTV's strategy.
This isn't surprising to those who know him well. Chang is part of the next generation of leaders, Hindery says, comparing him to the newly-ascended Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes and Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav. “He will certainly be remembered as one of the good ones.”
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