Raymond E. Joslin – Founder and Former President, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication
Raymond Joslin's HOF Speech
Perhaps Raymond Joslin's greatest talent is his ability to see potential. Joslin, 73, got his start in the cable industry nearly 40 years ago, when he drove around to city council meetings in Ohio-and later other states-and convinced council members to award franchise licenses to the company where he served as co-founder and vice president. That was the start of Continental Cablevision, founded by Amos Hostetter, which later became Media One and then AT&T, and is now part of Comcast.
At that time, cable was a way to deliver over-the-air television to remote markets. The notion that it would evolve into hundreds of distinct programming networks, among other things, was only a bare glimmer in the minds of even the most visionary, though Joslin saw reason to remain committed and confident.
"In 1960, there were about 2 million cable subscribers," says Joslin. "These were all rural subscribers, and just the promise of bringing this service into the cities was a huge opportunity. No one had a crystal ball that could predict what would happen, but we all knew that it was good, that it was going to grow, that we were going to grow with it and that it was a great place to be in the world."
To continue growing Continental Cablevision's systems, Joslin moved his young family out to Stockton, Calif., to secure cable franchises there. He remained with Continental until 1979, then spent about a year working on his own, trying to acquire and build California cable franchises. In January 1980, Hearst called.
"Their objectives were, first, to start a new division of Hearst that would buy and build cable systems, which I had already been doing for nearly 20 years. The second was to take Hearst's magazines into television. And the third was to develop a strategy and a business plan around what we then called electronic publishing," said Joslin, who was hired as president, cable communications group.
Joslin worked on all three of those objectives, but his main focus was creating cable networks. Early in Joslin's tenure, Hearst CEO Frank Bennack-who worked closely with ABC's founding chairman, Leonard Goldenson-introduced Joslin to ABC's Herb Granath. Granath, like Joslin, had been hired to develop cable networks.
Luckily for both companies, Joslin and Granath immediately hit it off. The pair formed a joint venture between ABC and Hearst in January 1981. The initial idea was to launch an arts network to air events that didn't compete with the broadcast networks and didn't threaten ABC's owned stations or affiliates.
"Announcing to our affiliates that we were getting into the cable business wasn't going to be greeted with cheers," recalls Granath, now co-chairman of Crown Media and vice chairman of Central European Media. "The least threatening approach was an arts network. We also believed that cable was going to be a series of specialty networks.
"Later, we found out that people who loved arts programming were not TV viewers," Granath says wryly.
To get their network on the air, Joslin and Granath leased time on the same satellite transponders that carried kids' network Nickelodeon. The pair figured Nick's audience went to bed at 8 p.m., leaving room for their network. They got the first year for free, the second for $1 million and the third for $2 million.
When they went back to renew for year four, they had had enough success that the fees had increased exponentially. That drove them to look for another solution.
"That was the best thing that could have happened to us," says Joslin. "We knew that Hearst and ABC had to get serious about being in this business. We had to step up to the plate and lease a full-time transponder."
Meanwhile, NBC, then owned by RCA, was looking to unload its own struggling Entertainment Network. A new entity, the Arts and Entertainment Network, was born, mostly filled with inexpensive arts programming acquired by Granath from overseas. Later, that name was shortened to A&E.
Joslin and Granath did something similar with Lifetime, which launched as Daytime, another network that aired on leased transponder space. Lifetime tried to make the most of content from Hearst's magazines.
"In both of those cases, our best-case scenario financial projection was to break even in three years," says Joslin. "The worst-case was five years. In both cases, it took over seven years."
"Our enemy was time, because the thing that would make our investments pay off was the growth of cable subscribers," says Granath. "That was happening, [but] we both would have liked to see it happen more quickly. As Tom Murphy, who took over ABC when Cap Cities bought ABC in the mid-'80s, said, ‘You guys are losing money, but you are trending well.'"
Vision, patience and confidence eventually paid off. "The combination of these networks has been spectacular, " says Joslin, who along the way spearheaded the acquisition of a 20% interest in ESPN and added The Biography Channel, The History Channel and other nets to A&E's stable. "Today, we are looking at well over $10 billion in revenue and more than $4 billion in pretax profits."
A&E CEO Abbe Raven calls Joslin a "renaissance man," a term more than one person has used to describe him. "Ray had a vision that there was great potential in the cable television business, both on the distribution side and later on the programming side," Raven says.
Joslin is as talented at seeing the potential in people as he is in business. One of the things he's proudest of is his contribution to education, particularly a scholarship fund he set up in his family's name at his alma mater, Connecticut's Trinity College. Each year, he has breakfast with the Joslin Family scholars, who are able to attend Trinity due to his contributions.
Joslin himself attended Trinity on a scholarship-after being raised in foster homes-and he loves few things more than to give back to the institution that allowed him to rise past his early hardships. When it comes to recognizing a person's potential, the phrase "it takes one to know one" applies to the man himself.
"Ray Joslin is the closest thing to a modern-day Horatio Alger figure that I've ever known in my whole life," says Dr. James F. Jones Jr., Trinity's president. "However great Ray Joslin's business career has been, it pales in comparison to the unbelievable good he's done as a philanthropist and as a living example of how philanthropy and scholarship can transform someone's life."--Paige Albiniak