NAME: Thea Ellis
TITLE: Head of Content Acquisition
COMPANY: Sony Interactive Entertainment, PlayStation Vue
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Helped manage recent PlayStation Vue deals with AMC Networks, Discovery, NBCUniversal and Turner. Part of the inaugural team at Dish Network to negotiate for the product now known as Sling TV.
QUOTABLE: “I’ve always come across really, really impressive women and really have felt that this space, at least for me, has presented a lot of great role models, which was exciting, but I don’t know if every single industry can say that.”
Playstation Vue’s content acquisition chief, Thea Ellis, always keeps the consumer in mind when approaching deals.
“Every single thing is very much grounded in what is best for the consumer, whether that be existing partnerships or new partnerships,” said Ellis, who was tapped as head of content acquisition, Sony Interactive Entertainment, PlayStation Vue in September 2018.
Since assuming her role, Ellis has overseen deals between Sony’s virtual multichannel video programming distributor and programmers including AMC Networks, Discovery, NBCUniversal and Turner, among others.
“What Thea does is she looks at a deal from both sides,” said Toby Berlin, a consultant for content acquisitions and strategic partnerships at PlayStation Vue. “If you think of a deal like an iceberg, 90% of it is in the details and under the water. And that part is very, very important, because you don’t want to take any risks. You want to ensure that you’ve thought of everything, that you know your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed.”
Berlin, who also is founder and president of consultant company School of Toby, first met Ellis in August of 2016, when Ellis joined PS Vue as senior manager of content acquisition.
“[Ellis is] very detail-oriented, so that is wonderful when she’s going through a deal,” Berlin said. “She also has that incredible Dish training, for lack of a better word, and you know they just were so tenacious.”
Ellis got her start in pay TV at Dish Network, which recruited her out of Northwestern University in 2012, where she earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.
“To me, Dish was just a great way for me to be around people who knew the business and were hungry to challenge the business,” Ellis said. While at Dish, she was part of the team that did the first deals for Dish’s over-the-top television service, Sling TV. She also was instrumental in negotiations for Sling with Viacom and Scripps Networks Interactive.
From Queens to Los Angeles
Ellis grew up in Jamaica, Queens (New York), the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica, West Indies.
It was during her childhood that Ellis discovered her love for education.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of school, of learning, and so I really worked on not only public school, but just going to school,” said Ellis, who spent summers attending educational programs to study topics such as cancer and biology.
After high school, she went to Dartmouth College, where she graduated with a degree in sociology but didn’t know what she wanted to do. She briefly worked at a law firm before deciding to move to Los Angeles to work for startup Fifteen Minutes Public Relations.
“I really was yearning for more decision-making from a business perspective,” Ellis said of her experience in PR. Berlin said that background helps Ellis look at deals from the consumer’s point of view.
PlayStation Vue, which launched more than four years ago, came into the picture when she received a cold email about opportunities at Sony. Early on, she had conversations with fellow Kellogg alum and PS Vue head of business Amit Nag, as well as PS Vue VP and head Dwayne Benefield.
“We were thinking a lot alike in terms of how the strategy and the industry was ever-changing,” Ellis said. “Between them, and just getting a sense of the culture and the vibe of PlayStation, it started to very quickly be a place that I could totally see myself contributing to.”
Ellis leads a “small and scrappy team” at PS Vue, consisting of herself and two others. Though she doesn’t have a typical day at the office, she said she always speaks to at least one or two executives from a major programmer.
“My intent, in terms of every single action, it really is about serving my stakeholders to best serve the product, and then my team knows that’s how I view things and I think the expectation is, that that’s their approach as well,” Ellis said.
What sets PS Vue apart from other vMVPDs on the market, Ellis said, is that the product has a consumer-friendly user interface and offers stable and reliable video quality. Among streaming offerings, PS Vue ranked No. 2 in 2019 for customer satisfaction, coming in a point behind Netflix, according to data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
“I think people are going to always go where the good stories are and if those stories can be conveyed in a way or in a product experience that is really compelling to the customer, those are going to be entities that win,” Ellis said.
While Ellis does not know where her story will end up, she does see herself continuing in the video space.
“I am excited about new products coming into the marketplace because I do think more competition typically results in more creativity and more solutions that you probably wouldn’t have had to think about without that,” she said. “And so I guess I am excited about more change. Also a little nervous about more change. But probably more excited than nervous, just because I think we’ll all be better for it.”