TV Guide Network's Ryan O'Hara, Consummate Media Executive
Ryan O'Hara takes the channel in a new direction
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/2/2008 7:00:00 PM
TV Guide Network/Broadband President Ryan O'Hara seems to be the consummate media executive—degrees from top schools on both coasts, experience abroad, leadership roles in both programming and distribution, and a demonstrated devotion to both traditional and new media.
All of this was the perfect prologue for his current assignment: O'Hara manages all aspects of TV Guide Network, the 84-million-home channel that in four years he's revamped from mainly a listings service to a home for Hollywood-based original programming, as well as its sister Web-based product TV Guide Broadband.
His career in TV started the year before he began his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, in a 1986 internship for the inaugural Goodwill Games, which took place in Moscow and were telecast on TBS. A high school and college volleyball player, O'Hara provided statistics for the coverage along with his father, an Olympic volleyball player.
After Stanford, O'Hara spent four years working in sales and brand management at Nestlé, for consumer-products stalwarts such as Carnation Evaporated Milk and Nestlé's Tollhouse Morsels. He also spent time on the night shift at the Butterfinger plant outside Chicago, managing ingredients and output.
He moved on to Harvard Business School, where he was active in media and entertainment. Two post-graduation years in entertainment-management consulting at Price Waterhouse honed his managerial skills and brought him closer to a job within a media company.
He finally got into the TV business working for Fox/Liberty and Fox Cable in 1999. As director of business development for the division, he helped launch Fox's regional sports networks. Among other duties, he analyzed spending on sports rights, assessed profitability of affiliate deals and coordinated special projects, such as regional newscasts.
After a year on the content side, O'Hara crossed the pond to work in distribution for London TV behemoth BSkyB. There, he gained an appreciation for TV's interactive capacities that would serve him in later positions back in the U.S. The satellite company was and is still known for its focus on interactive functions, like shopping or betting through the television, precursors to today's multiplatform TV network.
“While content may be king, distribution keeps customers happy and buying more product, so both sides are vital and add value to customers,” he says.
O'Hara returned to the U.S. after a few years for a senior business development role at Gemstar-TV Guide. He was responsible for corporate dealmaking, especially for the company's TV Guide Network. Gemstar had combined with News Corp.-owned TV Guide in a $14 billion deal in 2000, and News Corp. was placing renewed attention on the cable channel. O'Hara stepped in to help craft a business plan and cut new deals with EchoStar, TiVo and Pioneer.
In 2004, he moved within Gemstar to become president of horse-racing network TVG. The channel was a perfect outlet for his knowledge of interactive TV; in addition to its revenue stream from affiliate fees, TVG brings in money from online betting.
“It was and is a business that takes advantage of the power and reach of television, but also from data online, and that's a precursor to where everything's heading,” O'Hara says. “It was a way to communicate with customers through the television and the Internet to create a great experience and simplify their experience with us.”
O'Hara grew the network's revenue from $39 million to $52 million in two years, boosted its rights negotiations with track and online partners, and improved its long-term carriage deals.
“I can't say he has one specialty,” says Jeff Shell, President of Programming at Comcast. Shell was CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide until December 2004; he brought O'Hara to the company and calls him “one of the best executives who has ever worked for me or with me. He's good at numbers, strategy, marketing, positioning. He's a broad-based executive who doesn't have any blind spots. It's hard to find people in this business who are great at managing and operating a business, and Ryan is very adept at that.”
O'Hara moved to his current position in 2005, with the goal of reinventing TV Guide Network from a TV listings service whose business model faced formidable competition from cable operators' own interactive programming guides.
In his three years at the channel, he has grown distribution from 57 million to 83 million households and transformed it into a vibrant home for original shows. He spearheaded the building of a studio at Hollywood and Highland in L.A., from which the network produces 12 shows a week, up from just one three years ago. It's made hits out of American Idol companion Idol Tonight, as well as local-station reality show Making News, both back for new seasons this spring.
He's honed his interactive skills with TV Guide Broadband, the network's online companion of original programming. By building the site, the network has been able to bring on new advertisers, including Kraft and Procter & Gamble, both of which have sponsored online content, such as short-form celebrity interviews. Looking forward, O'Hara's focused on both growing ratings at the flagship network and monetizing the ad partners he's secured for the broadband site.
Managers and employees say that's no sweat for the executive, whose optimism and leadership skills they praise. “He's a terrific leader and somebody that people really look to for inspiration, and that people have a great deal of respect for at all levels of the company,” says Rich Battista, CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide International. “He's a great motivator and builder of teams, and he's proved that at this company over the last five years.”
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