SVG Sit-Down: Christy King To Join Levels Beyond as COO

Christy King recently announced that she is joining Levels Beyond as chief operating officer. Previously, she served as VP of Technology R&D for Zuffa (parent company of the UFC), where she researched, tested, and implemented new and emerging methods to share content information among media partners across multiple platforms. SVG sat down with King to discuss her new position at Levels Beyond, her thoughts on what it means to be a woman in a high-ranking technology role, and her advice to those wishing to pursue a similar career path.

Christy King

Christy King

Why was now the right time to join Levels Beyond?
I kind of laugh because I think I’m the only person in the sports industry that does not have a horror story to tell about our MAM [media-asset–management] integration. We’ve all heard everybody else’s horror stories 15 times, and I’m always the funny one at the back of the room that goes, “I don’t know, my stuff works great!” So I had the benefit of hearing and learning from everyone else in the sports industry about the last 10 years of trying to figure out how to get into the digital space. I just happened to get very lucky and had a great, very technically minded editor four or so years ago who found Levels Beyond at a folding table in the back corner of NAB. We ran into these guys, and they had all kinds of awesome ideas. The UFC has been a huge fan of theirs and benefited mightily from their technology for several years now.

I think this is a really good time for me to go help that effort, because there’s massive change happening in the sports industry, specifically where technology touches workflow. We’ve all talked a lot about digital files and how you distribute them and how you distribute to multiple places. Everybody needs that content quickly after an event is over, or, really, most people would like to have access to content as it’s happening live. And it’s not just content; it’s metadata, and it’s concepts like big data: understanding what’s successful, what’s popular, who’s watching things, where are they doing it. All of those kinds of objectives are now very much part of the distribution puzzle, and Levels Beyond is focused on those kinds of concept.

I joined Levels Beyond to help them figure out how to make products and services that the sports and entertainment world needs, and, obviously, with my background, I kind of know what they need [laughs].

What will your new role be?
In Levels Beyond, the COO position is very much a strategy position. The concept is, we’ve got to have technology people in place to build these services and products, but there really has to be a clear understanding of what the media industry, the sports industry needs to be successful. What tools do they need and how do they need to work in order to transition from how the media industry works today to how it’s going to work two years from now to how it’s going to work five years from now? It’s just all changing so incredibly fast that a vendor who’s going to supply tools for the sports industry has to understand the industry.

Because I come from that world and I worked for the UFC for almost nine years and, before that, I was working in news and freelancing with sports production, I have a pretty good grasp on how that industry works from the content-provider side. I think it’s very smart of Levels Beyond to want to have a leader come in to help form the strategy of the kinds of products and services that are made to make sure that they’re addressing the problems that the sports industry has today and the problems they see they’re going to have as consumers keep using more and different kinds of technology that aren’t traditional methods of consumption.

We as an industry need to have better analysis tools to look at all of these platforms to which we’re sending this content and be able to measure clearly and accurately what’s working and what isn’t — not only because you maybe would choose not to put certain kinds of content in certain places but, more important, give creative people an understanding of how and what consumers like. It’s not going to be the same on television as it is on a phone, as it is on an Xbox platform. The creative folks need that kind of information about viewership and what’s going on so they can make the best possible experience for their fans. Those are the kinds of tools that we’re going to be focused on at Levels Beyond to build some pretty cool tools to help people make those decisions as time goes on.

Shifting gears, it’s not often we see a woman in such a high-ranking technology role. Does that present any challenges for you?
It’s absolutely a challenge, but the funny part is, I think it’s more of a challenge for me in my own head than it’s actually an external challenge. And that’s kind of tough to admit at some level. You’re in sports and you’re in technology; it’s about competition and moving fast and being smart, and, a lot of times in sports and tech, it’s about being first. You have to kind of inherently be a little bit competitive and a little bit brave and take a risk and try something before anybody else does. That’s really common in this industry, and, yeah, I fit that mold, and I’m happy to be there, but I have hesitated to take action probably more than a lot of men would. I do think that has more to do with being female than any lack of competency on my part.

You, I’m sure, read the articles and the comments as much as I have: women feel like they have to be invited to participate typically, whereas men just assume that they’re supposed to participate. It sounds cliché, but it is true and, I would say, especially for someone of my generation. I think a lot of us feel very strongly that we don’t want to set the movement backwards, if that makes sense. If I look bad or I do something [wrong], there’s only one of me, so that makes it that much harder for these young women that come behind me, that somehow I set a precedent. Again, I think it’s more a self-induced kind of fear and pressure to try; you almost sometimes hesitate to risk because you don’t want to cause problems for people coming behind you.

We’ve all got to take a deep breath and realize that, all by myself, I don’t dictate the success or failure of women in the sports and technology industry. I am one of a few still, but I see more and more women behind me, not less. I think what that says is, I do just have to put myself out there — if I can borrow [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg’s line — make sure I lean in and make sure I participate and don’t be afraid to participate, that’s really our jobs. Companies hire us to give our opinions and bring our information and our experience to the table. If we hesitate and we don’t put ourselves and our information out there, then we’re not benefiting the companies we’re supposed to be working for.

What advice would you give to women you see coming up in the industry?
The thing that concerns me about people coming behind me — both men and women — is that they oftentimes isolate themselves into a particular category. They’ll say, I am an editor or I am a producer or I do distribution or I am in advertising, and I personally believe they’re shorting themselves and their companies by not thinking more expansively and thinking outside of their job labels. And, as fast as technology is changing and the different ways technology is changing how people do their work, I think it would behoove everyone to be much more expansive and open-minded and actually seek out work experience that doesn’t necessarily fit a box that could be checked.

The concept of a mentor was something I didn’t even know about until I was in my 30s. However, I did happen to work for people who were very generous with their time. I did not have formal training for any job I ever had. I learned everything on the job and was fairly self-taught. I think it is really important for people to try to find mentors. Had I done that early on and thought more expansively about my career path early on, I think I might have taken on more interesting challenges earlier in my career and not allowed myself to kind of step back and be a little hesitant.

If you can pick the brain of people in other parts of your organization who are doing something very well, that information will inform your ability to do your job better. All of that stuff is very much a cycle, and people should seek each other out — not just in your department, not just your boss, not just your boss’s boss, but people who are doing interesting things across an entire organization. [That] will inform you to make your career better.

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