For someone who spends more than half the year travelling, it is no wonder Steve Marcopoto has his trolley suitcase in tow when we meet for a drink at Mumbai’s Four Seasons Hotel. After the meeting, he’ll be heading to the airport to catch a flight to Hong Kong.
The impeccably mannered and soft-spoken Marcopoto—occasional musician and one-time stand-up comedian—sets himself a gruelling pace in his role as head of the Asia-Pacific operations of Turner Broadcasting System, the media group which owns CNN, Cartoon Network and TCM. He brushes off talk of jet lag as “mind over matter” and explains, over a glass of lime soda, how technology has helped him use his time more effectively while on the road. Peppering his speech with industry jargon, he says he has a fascination with gadgets, and inventions such as the iPod have helped to increase his “media consumption” by making it more flexible.
Small beginnings: Marcopoto got his first taste of the business by working as a newspaper delivery boy. Jayachandran / Mint
“It really is about ‘I want it when I want it where I want it’,” says Marcopoto, referring to the freedom to watch movies and television shows on his iPod at airport boarding lounges, while waiting to catch flights. “This is all late-adopting for me, but for my kids, this is all they have known. They watch what they want, how they want it and on whatever device they want. So within this, I think, are lessons for all of us who are content producers and network operators.”
Marcopoto, 53, a native of New Jersey, US, who has spent almost his entire professional life based out of Hong Kong, has been absorbing the dynamics of the relationship between consumers and the media ever since he got his first taste of the industry as a 10-year-old newspaper boy. Before setting off on his delivery round, he would pore over newspapers and magazines, especially Sports Illustrated. It marked the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the media industry; an interest that his musician and photographer father helped cultivate.
“Sports crazy”, he began his career as part of the press corps for the New York Yankees baseball team in 1977 after graduating from university with a degree in journalism and mass communications. He cut his teeth on the business side of the industry at the now-defunct SoHo News magazine in New York before moving to Asia in 1981 to work with various media companies. A decade later, Marcopoto was named managing director of Fortune Asia; a year later, he took up the top job at Time Inc. Asia. Following the merger of Time Warner and Turner in the mid-1990s, he became the regional head of Turner Broadcasting System.
“It is hard to believe that back then globalization was a very new concept,” reflects Marcopoto, recalling his early days in Asia. “It was a great place to be in and it was a wonderful place to work with all the different cultures; working in Japan one month, India the next and being part of the early emergence of China.” He proudly remembers “growing up with the industry in India”.
“The cable and satellite industry in 2009 is a big headline-grabbing global story but I remember (the) 1990s, when it wasn’t one. Everyone and their uncles weren’t filing in here and there weren’t 300 channels. It was the early stages of something that was just growing up,” Marcopoto says.
Today the picture has changed somewhat. Marcopoto had a much tougher economic climate to battle against as Turner’s WB, a Hollywood movies channel, launched in India in March, in conjunction with Warner Brothers. It’s now set for a “high-decibel” marketing campaign in June. The launch came soon after the company launched Real, a Hindi general entertainment channel with Alva Brothers Entertainment.
“We didn’t wait for the market to be in the position it is in now, and say ‘we think we will launch this channel’,” says Marcopoto, on the timing of the launches. “After nearly 20 years in the market, we’re certainly people who take a long-term view.”
The company’s approach to Real is also long term, says Marcopoto, explaining that the channel wants to carve out a “different” demographic with the objective of doing things differently from everyone else in a saturated category. On the launch, he adds that “some things worked better than others”. Some things will be tweaked in the coming months, and new projects are in the pipeline.
Marcopoto, who played the piano, trumpet and various percussion instruments in his school and university days, now plays with jazz groups in Hong Kong when he can make the time. He describes his children—a 14-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son—as his “very own media lab” in understanding how the Internet and technology have changed the way children use and access media.
“These kids are here smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation and I have watched how, as media transformed, their consumption has changed along the way. What they read, they largely read off the Web more than printed. It is really at the centre of how they consume.”
He adds: “I think the thing that has very much been a force for change in the market (since he joined the industry) has been the Web and Web properties and Web consumption.”
While Marcopoto is enthusiastic about embracing the opportunities presented by developments in technology—such as Internet radio, which allows him to listen to the jazz show on his hometown radio station while shaving in the morning in Hong Kong— he is also careful to note that “the story is far from over”.
“Technology is marching on,” says Marcopoto, “but our vision is that we remain a content-focused company, because no matter how technology moves, the Internet is never going to replace human creativity. So that is what we are focusing on and that is what we aim to exploit.”
Curriculum Vitae | Steve Marcopoto
Born: 19 September 1955
Education: BA in journalism and mass communications, Seton Hall University, New Jersey
Current Designation: President, Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), Asia-Pacific
Work Profile: Marcopoto moved to Asia in 1981 before eventually becoming managing director of ‘Fortune Asia’ in 1992. He then went to Time Asia, as publisher and then president, before taking over as president of TBS Asia-Pacific in 1998
Holy Revenge: Marcopoto is known for his sense of humour. In response to Sinead O’Connor’s 1992 performance of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ on ‘Saturday Night Live’—midway through the song, she tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II and threw the pieces at the camera—Marcopoto emerged on stage one evening at an office event, dressed as the Pope. He produced a picture of O’Connor and returned the favour