Founder and Former President, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication: Raymond Joslin - Broadcasting & Cable

Founder and Former President, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication: Raymond Joslin

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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.”

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