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Interview - Jan Koeppen

Related Expertise Media & Entertainment

Tuned In to the Big Picture

An Interview with Jan Koeppen

August 25, 2014

Until not so very long ago, viewers across the United States consumed the bulk of their television content at home, at scheduled hours, and from the menus of just three major networks. Viewers in the U.K. and in most other parts of the world were on a similarly strict diet and starved for TV options.

Fast-forward just one generation, and already those days seem like ancient history.

Rapid evolution has brought us cable, satellite, digital video recorders, high-definition picture quality, and Internet streaming. All this and more, married with seemingly limitless on-demand content, means today’s viewers are spoiled for choice.

“Gone are the days when you’d sit in front of your television and bemoan the fact that there was nothing worth watching. Television is better and more fun than it has ever been in my lifetime,” said Jan Koeppen.

Jan (Munich, Madrid, London, 1994-2009) is chief operating officer for Europe and Asia at 21st Century Fox, Inc. (created from the 2013 split of News Corporation), a global portfolio of film and television studios, cable and broadcasting networks, and content providers. He is in charge of free-to-air and pay television stations, pay-TV platforms, and digital assets with responsibility for, among other things, finance, business development, operational changes and joint ventures. The depth of involvement with 21st Century Fox operating companies varies from fully reporting into Jan to influencing JV through board positions.

The 20th Century Fox movie studio is one of the most successful in Hollywood, producing films such as Avatar, Life of Pi, Ice Age,Titanic, and Slumdog Millionaire.

21st Century Fox Television’s portfolio includes Fox Broad Cast Network, FX, Fox Sports, BSkyB, Sky Italia, Sky Deutschland, National Geographic Channels, and STAR India, to name just a few, and is a company that prides itself on having been a disruptive upstart in the broadcast space in the early 1980s. It has grown since to create such iconic shows as The Simpsons, The X-Files, and 24.

In the 1990s, the company turned its attention to Europe and, confident that there was an audience looking for more choice in its viewing experience, created the British Sky Broadcasting Group—better known as BSkyB—bringing satellite, broadband and telephony services to the UK and Ireland. Following the success of BSkyB, the company went on to create Sky services in Germany, Italy, and India.

As Jan describes it, the Sky business model would be akin to combining, for example, Direct TV with ESPN and HBO in the U.S. “There are variations of this across the different countries we’re involved in," he noted, "but in its essential form, it’s a large pay-TV platform that owns a significant number of channels.”

Today, Jan is a supervisory board member of Sky Deutschland AG, a board member of Tata Sky—an Indian direct-to-home platform—and chairman of the board of Fox Turkey—a Turkish free-to-air TV channel. His responsibilities also include the company’s STAR India business, which operates 34 channels in seven languages for more than 400 million viewers across India and Asia.

When Jan reflects on what first piqued his interest in media and what continues to drive his passion for the work he’s doing, he readily boils it down to one word—“emotion.”

“People tend to equate emotion primarily with movies, but I think it goes much farther than that," he said. "The concept of emotion can mean different things to different people. Live sports events—soccer, cricket, rugby, baseball—can grip entire nations, but a game show or a reality show can also be emotional, as can a talent contest or a crime series.”

By the way, as a big fan of drama series, Jan enjoys getting caught up himself in shows such as The Americans, 24, and Damages.

Professionally, he was drawn to the media and entertainment industry 15 years ago when staffed on a BCG client project for a Spanish television company. “The first time I worked in this industry I realized this is what I want to do. I’ve never looked back,” he said.

However, when he arrived at BCG London in 2003 there was no media practice and it was not clear whether the media and entertainment business there was a good fit for BCG.

Jan set out to build a strong media practice in London and went on to become worldwide co-lead of the firm’s overall media practice, working on issues related to pay-to-view television, broadcast television, magazines, newspapers, radio, professional publishing, and online video games and music. “Many BCGers came to realize that media and entertainment can be an interesting and lucrative field,” he said.

Jan is proud both of his accomplishments at BCG and of what he learned at the firm. “It is a company," he said, "that teaches you to look first for the right answer: don’t fashion your solutions around what’s easily doable and what the politics of a particular situation will allow you to get away with; look for what’s right.

“The vast majority of the people I worked with at BCG were of very high integrity. I spent 15 years there, and so I like to think that not only is the work I’m doing in media and entertainment today a natural progression of my time there, but that some of that BCG DNA has transitioned with me.”

As 21st Century Fox’s vast and varied menu of programming has grown to a point where it reaches more than 1.5 billion people daily in more than 100 languages, the industry’s evolution continues at a gallop. As such, Jan is discreet in speculating about what the next few years of innovation will bring.

“The most I would risk predicting is that our viewing experience will continue to become ever-more personal," he said. "We’ve come a long way in 30-some years. Our viewing habits are less and less defined by traditional TV schedules, and given the huge choice available, it will be ever more important to provide content that people connect with.”

He should know—in a job that keeps him traveling regularly from one corner of the globe to the other, time, he says, is a precious commodity. Hence the importance of being able to catch up, whenever it’s convenient for him to do so, on the latest episode of, well, whatever he feels like watching.

Tuned In to the Big Picture
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