TITLE: SVP, Distribution, A+E Networks
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Prior to joining Lifetime and then AEN, Rice was VP, Field Sales, at Disney and ESPN Media Networks; Director of Affiliate Sales and Marketing for TechTV; and her first job in cable was at an electronic-commerce venture connected with Time Warner Cable’s Full Service Network.
QUOTE: “Every deal seems to bring something new, so who knows what’s around the corner next.”
Jane Rice broke into the cable-network distribution business in 1997 at the Paul Allen-owned technology programmer ZDTV. “It was back in the day when it was very easy to get deals done,” she recalled.
You might remember those days. Cable operators had lots of new digital channel space to fi ll. Contracts might be a couple of pages long, as opposed to the thick binders required today. “You went out and you did a deal corporately, and then you had a hunting license to go to each of the divisions to get deals done,” Rice said.
“It was a lot different than it is today, that’s for sure.”
Clearly, it was a good start. Because today, after further learning her craft at The Walt Disney Co., Rice is a senior member of the distribution team at A+E Networks, managing a portfolio of 10 networks and a territory that includes both the United States and Canada.
Not bad for a lass from Northern Ireland who, after winning a green-card lottery at age 22, spent a year doing “ambulance chasing” personal-injury legal work in New York City because she needed to have a job lined up in the States.
Her escape hatch was in cable. She landed a receptionist’s job at Catalog 1, a venture of Time Warner Entertainment and Spiegel to sell Eddie Bauer and other retailers’ goods via Time Warner Cable’s Full Service Network. Because Rice had a law degree (from University College London, in England), she soon was asked to help out with talent contracts and other paralegal work.
When her job with TWE was winding down, a boss who had worked at HBO steered her toward ZDTV.
ZDTV (later called TechTV) was in San Francisco, but Rice worked from a sales office in Boston, because her then-fiancé (now husband, Mark McDermott) had landed a job in New England. They bought a home in Falmouth, on Cape Cod, which they still own, and commuted.
For the job at Disney, Rice moved back to New York. Then Disney merged the distribution squads for the Disney and ESPN channels. Rice’s job moved to ESPN’s hub in Bristol, Conn., and she and McDermott bought a home in Fairfield.
“I am not a sports person by any stretch,” Rice related. Americans like to talk about teams by name, and it was a bit baffling at first. “Like Redskins, to me, Red Sox, Bruins — I have no idea.”
The folks at ESPN “were so good to me,” she said. Someone suggested that if she read the sports section in USA Today and listened to ESPN Radio during her driving commute, she’d be able to keep up with most any conversation. “It was the best advice I’d ever gotten.”
At Disney, she worked with Lori Conkling. Conkling then recruited Rice over to Lifetime (as an SVP) when Conkling moved there. In yet another corporate switch, after three months, Lifetime merged into A+E Networks, and Rice has now been there for six years.
“Jane is the quintessential team player,” Conkling, who is now executive vice president of strategy and business development at NBCUniversal, said. She not only actively mentors younger team members but “also does a great job of realistically assessing talent and assessing situations and figuring out the right path so that there’s a win-win at the end of it.”
They worked on many deals together, Conkling said. “She does not let emotion drive a negotiation. She’s able to take a step back and look for creative ways to close issues.”
Even if Rice has to walk into a negotiation cold, without knowing the other players, “she can establish trust very quickly because she’s very true to her word.”
Bottom line, Conkling said: “She’s just fun. She’s just somebody you’d want to work with. And when you’re in deal rooms for five days straight, that’s a really important quality.”
Rice and fellow SVP Michelle Strong head up negotiations with distributors, their boss, A+E Networks distribution president David Zagin, said. Digital matters, such as TV-everywhere, are SVP Mark Garner’s domain. “It’s a very collaborative atmosphere,” Zagin said.
‘A REALLY GOOD LEADER’
In addition to her legal background, helpful with contracts, and the “incredible relationships” she’s forged over the years, Rice gets high marks for keeping her composure when negotiations get di_ cult, Zagin said. “She’s a really good leader” and, to her credit, always wants to learn more and contribute to all facets of the business.
“I think it’s a great, great trait that she’s not complacent with where she is in the organization,” Zagin said.
Asked which deals stand out for her, Rice mentioned the recent comprehensive renewal with Dish Network that includes over-the-top rights: Dish is launching an OTT service soon. Rice said she thinks such OTT services will prove to be “additive” to pay TV. Like A+E’s early embrace of authenticated TV-everywhere services, she said, it demonstrates the programmer’s commitment to reaching viewers however they want to get their content.
When they can, Rice, McDermott and their two daughters — Maddie, 13, and Cate, 7 — head to Cape Cod, where they have a small fishing boat they keep in the water from spring until after Thanksgiving. The girls are big swimmers, so there are many weekend meets to attend. And they’re busy restoring their new home, an 1854 Greek Colonial, also in Fairfield, that Rice calls the “money pit.”