Bill GoodwynPresident & CEO, Strategic Distribution and Discovery Education, Discovery Communications 10/28/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
It was a classic industry stare-down , an odd and fascinating
mid-1990s battle that felt like it was made for cable. Bill Goodwyn, Discovery
Communications’ master of distribution, who’d been at the company
since not long after its inception, sat in a Legal Sea Foods in Boston,
across the table from Jedd Palmer, the brilliant if cantankerous head
of programming for what was then the country’s largest cable company, Tele-
Communications Inc., with fellow TCI exec Allan Singer quietly witnessing.
“Bill was pitching the start of the network Animal Planet,” Singer recalls.
“At the time, we were starting to consider digital distribution, and the initial
thought was this network would be a great driver for new customers. But
Bill had decided that this should already be a channel, a tentpole for existing
customers on analog expanded-basic carriage.”
Goodwyn pitched with passion, impressing Singer with his savvy, smarts,
and commitment to making this work for both Discovery and TCI. But Palmer
wasn’t buying it—not yet anyway—and his reaction
was pure Animal Planet gamesmanship.
“Each time Bill pitched, Jedd would stare at
him and just say, ‘Quack, quack,’” Singer says.
This went on for 40 minutes: Goodwyn
pitching, Palmer quacking. Perhaps Palmer was
testing Goodwyn’s mettle to see if he’d crack.
He didn’t, and what struck Singer then as now
about Goodwyn, whom he calls one of the most
respected executives in the television industry—
and a figure even more greatly admired—was
his reserve and his cool under the duck call.
“Bill never let go of the proposition,” Singer
says. “And when Animal Planet launched, it
was with analog expanded-basic carriage. Even though he got quacked, he
was able to get it widely distributed.”
That is no surprise to the distribution and programming execs who have
worked with Goodwyn on either side of any negotiation during his tenure at
Discovery. It’s his leadership style that has propelled his career forward, earning
him B&C Hall of Fame recognition for his steady assurance and aplomb.
“Bill has a very unusual talent. He builds great relationships—he has the best
relationship with all the cable operators and distributors
out there,” says David Zaslav, president and CEO
of Discovery Communications. “What he is able to
do better than anybody is understand what [clients]
need. He puts together what their needs and hopes
are with what we need and builds deals that work for
both parties, which is really tough.”
For Goodwyn, the value of doing things right
comes from regarding the second half of the phrase
“distribution partner” as key. “It’s the trust, work
ethic and integrity that you demonstrate that allows
you to succeed,” he says. “Most of my best friends
are people I’ve grown up in this industry with, and
most sat on the other side of the table.”
The combined gifts of business savvy, a natural
talent for communication and dead-on determination
came to this son of a strict military father after
he graduated from the University of North Carolina
with a degree in journalism. He’d taken a bunch of
business courses and discovered a knack for sales that
eventually led him to an interview with Discovery
founder John Hendricks. The new company was
looking to build its distribution sales team, and it
turned out to be a career-shifting experience.
“I fell in love with his passion, the mission and
the purpose of the company,” Goodwyn says. “You
sincerely believed that television had the power to
entertain but also to enlighten, inspire and educate
at the same time.”
To understand Goodwyn’s successes, first in domestic
and then in global distribution at Discovery, one need only pick up
the nearest remote. Discovery’s record is extraordinary, with 14 networks—
including Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, OWN and HUB—that have attained
enviable carriage. “Eight years ago, we were a $6 billion company; we’re now
a $34 billion company, and a lot of that asset value, by pure analyst data,
comes from the fact that nine of our channels that used to be in 40 million
[U.S.] homes are now in between 65 million and 84 million homes,” Zaslav
says. “There’s only one person who made that happen, and that’s Bill.”
But Goodwyn, never content to rest on those laurels, took on a more personal
project in 2007 when Zaslav added Discovery Education to his purview.
Goodwyn has helped grow the department into a powerful financial and teaching
asset, creating myriad digital resources for K-12 classrooms, aiding teachers
in forming better strategies for engaging students, and introducing digital
textbooks and the right methods for using them.
“The way people consume content is with
technology, so why do we ask kids to power
down?” Goodwyn says. “We have to fill the
learning environment with rich content.”
The results: More than 650,000 students
across 42 states and provinces now have access
to Discovery Education’s Teachbook series.
“There’s nothing more satisfying in the world
than walking into these classrooms and seeing
you’ve helped support and create a new learning
initiative where the students are excited,”
he says. “You’re making a tangible impact.”
Then again, Goodwyn has spent a career
making a tangible impact on friends and colleagues,
executives and government officials, teachers and students. It’s part of
his long-standing philosophy of hearing people out, making your own voice
heard and staying at the table until everybody feels they’ve gained some value.
“I’ve gotten to see the creativity he puts into his work every day,” says
Singer, who’s now senior VP of programming at Charter Communications.
“When you’re working with him, you really see how bright he is. And how
much he cares.” —Robert Edelstein