His first job? Training local operators how to sell HBO to their customers. It gave him a street-level understanding of what subscribers wanted most for their $8 a month: hit movies.
“We sold the novelty aspect of being able to have all these movies in your home,” recalls Greenberg, who is being inducted into the Variety Home Entertainment & Digital Hall of Fame on Dec. 6.
That early experience at HBO laid the foundation for a career revolving around expanding consumer choices for high-end content in the home. In 2008 he partnered with Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount Pictures to launch Epix, a premium service that was ahead of the curve in envisioning the public’s appetite for on-demand streaming content. Epix typically offers subscribers a streaming menu of 2,000 titles at any given time.
“When we launched Epix we knew that linear TV was just one platform,” Greenberg says. “Digital was a way of giving people more choice and more convenience. It’s not that different from the old days of going to a Blockbuster store. We’ve just put it in the cloud.”
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In the 1980s, the state of the art for consumer marketing of pay TV service was direct mail advertising. HBO sent out some 100 million direct-response pitches during Greenberg’s eight years in affiliate sales and marketing. “I was responsible for killing a lot of trees,” Greenberg recalls. “But that’s how you drove cable penetration.”
A native of New Haven, Conn., Greenberg earned his undergraduate degree in political science at Providence College. After a stint working for the city of Boston, he moved to New York and became a financial analyst for a Wall Street firm. But it wasn’t long before he was miserable. His roommate worked as an auditor at HBO and constantly touted it as “the coolest company ever.” It took him nine months and 26 interviews, but he finally landed a job at HBO.
“HBO was a very special place in those days,” he says. Greenberg earned an MBA from Columbia during his tenure at HBO. In 1989, he was brought over to Showtime by marketing executive Nora Ryan, who works for Greenberg today at Epix.
In his 17 years at Showtime, Greenberg did everything from marketing and affiliate sales to business development to running its pay-per-view sports and event business. “Nobody else wanted to manage Mike Tyson and Don King,” he says of the famed fighter and boxing promoter.
After leaving Showtime in 2006, Greenberg spent time working as a consultant to Blockbuster Video. His insight into Blockbuster’s operations taught him that the brick-and-mortar video store business was dying even as demand for access to movies in the home was stronger than ever. When he couldn’t convince Blockbuster to move boldly into the digital future, he recruited Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount to become the joint owners of Epix.
Over his nearly 35 years in the pay TV industry, Greenberg has never once felt the restlessness he did while toiling as a financial analyst.
“There are never two days alike in this business,” he says. “You’re recreating it every day. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”