Sept. 12, 2006
By Mary Reed
Arriving late for his presentation due to a weather-delayed flight, E.W. Scripps president and CEO Kenneth W. Lowe turned the situation into a teachable moment. "Expect the unexpected," he told the near-capacity crowd in the Elizabeth Baker Theater Tuesday who had come to hear him talk about how to start a media business.
This lessons-learned attitude has driven the success of Lowe, from his college days working at an AM radio station to the creation of the hugely popular HGTV network to the president's chair at the E.W. Scripps Company.
Lowe was in Athens for the Scripps College of Communication dedication and celebration. This year, a 40-year partnership between the Scripps Howard Foundation, The E.W. Scripps Company and Ohio University culminated in a $15 million gift to the newly named Scripps College of Communication.
Tailoring his remarks to the mostly student audience, Lowe advised, "you have to be a student of life." In retrospect, Lowe said, he believes his whole life prepared him to launch HGTV, from helping his uncle build a house to purchasing and renovating his own homes as he moved around the country from job to job.
"Find a hole and fill it," Lowe said in regard to starting a media business. The hole he aimed to fill -- establishing a home and garden cable network -- took him 15 years. "Do not be intimidated about your idea and be passionate about it," he said, adding "don't be afraid to take risks."
Lowe said that media in general has been trending toward more fragmentation and more consumer control and he predicted this trend will continue. The successful response by media companies, he maintained, is to embrace this fragmentation and consumer control. In other words, there are niches -- or holes -- to fill in an ever-specializing media market. He pointed to products such as TiVo and iPods as well as Web sites such as www.youtube.com and www.myspace.com as examples of consumers taking more control over their own media diet.
Noting that "nothing stays the same," Lowe concluded by pointing out that the future of media businesses lies in the hands of today's college students. Quoting management consultant Peter Drucker, Lowe told the students in attendance "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
"I felt inspired to reexamine my own life and figure out 'what can I do,'" said Shaylyn Cochran, a senior journalism and political science major who attended the presentation. "People think that a huge idea will fall out of the sky, but it may be sitting on the coffee table."
Cochran got a chance to interact more closely with Lowe throughout the day as she served as a student ambassador for the Scripps dedication and celebration. "He was very cool," she said. "I was telling him how much my mother appreciated HGTV. He seemed to react to that -- here's this woman in Ohio (and) he showed appreciation for my mother's viewership. He's not so far off that you can't touch him."
Mary Reed is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.