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Smooth Sailing for Ikeda

Nothing excites Megumi Ikeda like a new challenge. She has taken on some big ones during her relatively short career—including book publishing, financial reporting, even sailing—and now aims to take NBC Universal's cable properties to the next level.

“It's not easy to jump around, and there's definitely a learning curve,” says the 35-year-old VP of strategic initiatives and new media. “But it keeps me engaged.”

Ikeda oversees cable-related investments and strategy for NBC Universal, covering the likes of Sundance Channel, pay-per-view, high-definition television and video-on-demand. She was recently involved in the VOD launch of Telemundo's Laura, the first Spanish-language series to be offered on-demand. Like many, she has wrestled with which model works best for the network and for advertisers.

“Free VOD makes sense, but it's hard to sell advertisers another package,” she says. “Having Nielsen measure VOD viewers [next year] will help, but that doesn't change the fact that ad-skipping technology is there.”

She's also plugging away on the high-definition front, trying to get carriage deals and working out rights issues for NBC Universal HD. She helped launch the Dew Action Sports Tour, an all-HD extreme-sports tour with year-one revenues projected at $17 million. And she was involved in the due diligence and valuation of a TV library comprising 25,000 episodes, as well as the third-largest movie library, as part of the NBC-Universal merger.

Melding the corporate cultures was a major challenge, too, but it needed doing for the merger to work. “We were sensitive to the feelings of employees and wanted to make sure they felt comfortable,” Ikeda says. “And our universe grew so much.”

International Childhood

Ikeda's childhood trained her well for tackling new endeavors. Born in Vermont, she grew up in St. Louis and spent summers with her grandparents in Japan, two hours west of Kyoto.

She says those summers presented some cultural challenges, but she nonetheless headed to Japan after graduating from Columbia University and joined Kodansha International, an English-language arm of Japan's largest publishing house. After getting a taste of the book world, she joined Dow Jones & Co., working as a financial correspondent in Tokyo, where she helped establish a wire service that now provides the most extensive coverage of Japan's IPO market. She then headed back to the States to become international business manager for Wired magazine and Wired Digital, handling relationships with international broadcast partners like NHK in Japan and Globo Brazil.

“It gave me exposure to the international media marketplace and helped me learn how to marry technology with business,” she says.

Recognizing her knack (and passion) for business, Ikeda spent two years earning an MBA at UCLA's Anderson School, getting an introduction to domestic television as a summer associate for the Office of the CFO at CNN. That connection led to Fast Forward, a media startup launched by former CNN employees. The company's goal was to deliver news about technology for radio, print and television, but its tenure was short. “It was great fun, although we were a little too late in the Internet bubble period,” she says. “I don't want to say we were ahead of our time, but the industry is just now getting to the point where we were then.”

In 2001, she made the jump to NBC, which proved to be an ideal fit for her personality. “I find the cable industry's business model to be hugely dynamic,” she says, “and there's the instant gratification of overnight ratings.”

The Hispanic Market

There's also the satisfaction of launching products, as well as negotiating carriage deals with operators.

NBC Universal is taking an aggressive approach to the Hispanic market, with Ikeda serving as project manager on the launch of Telemundo Puerto Rico, the first of what could be several Spanish-language networks catering to specific Hispanic markets. Having lived in a foreign country, Ikeda knows how offering access to that kind of content drives viewer loyalty. She developed the business model and led weekly calls on the project with the Telemundo and NBC TV-station groups.

“Telemundo Puerto Rico isn't just one or two programs,” Ikeda points out. “We're bringing the news from Puerto Rico up to the New York area.”

David Zaslav, president of cable distribution, NBC Universal, gives her high marks. “When we were figuring out how to grow Telemundo, Megumi raised her hand and said, 'Why not bring the No. 1 station in Puerto Rico into the U.S. and market it to Puerto Ricans?'” he says. “Now that channel is finding some real success.”

Ikeda's strengths, he adds, include a strategic mind and unique understanding of technology: “She understands the traditional business but is focused on new ways that content can be distributed to consumers.”

Not all of Ikeda's challenges are business-related; she's also tackling the not-so-high seas around Manhattan in pursuit of some R&R. She attended sailing school for three years and puts those lessons to use cruising around New York Harbor with the iconic Lower Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.

It's an ideal setting for considering her next challenge, and for simply unwinding. Says Ikeda, “It's calm, beautiful and relaxing.”