Profiles / Women in STEM

Mary Spio

The Age of “Me”dia: Inside the Little Red Box


Mary Spio
Founder & President of Next Galaxy Media

It is interesting to know that within the next 15 minutes, there will be about 250 million emails sent, about 300 hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube and about 10 people would have proposed online. And yet this is only a snapshot of what is happening today.

The Web has created a new world where anyone basically can change the world and how we live. This is not slowing down. The question is: are we ready?

We’ve gone from three networks, ABC, NBC and CBS feeding 100% of all households, to where we are today with some 30 billion videos being viewed online monthly. There are some 187 million domain names being registered and each of those is, for all intensive purposes, its own network because they feed us information and news. Today anyone can create videos or create content and it goes out to the rest of the world. One of the top videos on YouTube actually is “Charlie Bit My Finger,” which has had 173 million. I have a feeling that with that level of exposure we’ll be seeing the sequel soon “Charlie Bites Again.”

Gone are the days of being forced into cookie-cutter tastes, news, drama or comedy by the networks. Today anyone can have whatever they want and lots of it. You can find everything from breaking news to how to floss your dog safely. So whatever you’re looking for, you can find it online.

This media evolution has had such an enormous impact on how we live, how we play and also how we connect with each other. It is tremendous. It touches the far reaches of our planet and it has helped us grow exponentially. I think in order for us to understand why all of this stuff fascinates me, you must first understand how media has impacted my own life. And how what is happening echoes a metaphor in my own life called “me”dia.

I grew up in Africa and we did not have much. What we did have was a little red television. It was a small black and white television set, which came on at 6 p.m. and went off at midnight with the playing of the national anthem. We did not have “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” or any of that. It was just one single channel. In 1981 a new government came to power by coup d’état. There was a lot of craziness going on and people I knew were being shot to death by firing squads. There were soldiers running around the streets with guns. There was a curfew. You could not go out after 6 p.m. And yet, with this little red box you could escape, night after night. People would gather around this little red box and we could escape.

This is really what got the fires burning inside of me, the fires of hope inside of me. Soon I developed the urgency to find out more about the life that I had seen inside this little red box. So when I turned 16, I begged my parents to send me to America in search of this life. I actually arrived here in September 29 1989 at Charlotte International Airport. It was late at night and to me it looked like I was in Las Vegas. It was incredible. I truly understand what Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, said ‘I see the earth and it is beautiful.’ This is how I truly felt, seeing the lights and being here. And this was just in Charlotte.

The people that I was staying with were in their 80’s and they were not feeling well. So they wanted me to go back after I completed high school. I spent one year here and there was absolutely no way that I was returning. So I packed my belongings and left for New York. When I got there I got a job at McDonald’s at the Fulton Street location in Brooklyn. I started on fries and soon made my way up to cashier.

But as each day that passed, I wanted more. I wanted to do more, I wanted to do more not just for myself but also for the people that had taken a chance on me and for others that lived back home. One day I heard this commercial that said, “We do more by 5 a.m. than most people do in their lifetime.” It was a commercial for the Army. So I went down to the Army recruiter’s office to join the Army. However, I ended up joining the Air Force. The Air Force recruiter was much cuter. So that’s how I ended up in the Air Force.

It was in the Air Force that I actually learned the inner workings of media. I worked as a satellite technician, setting-up communications in different places before the troops would come in. So we would set-up television, radio and any other means of sending data. It taught me the inner workings of media.

From there I returned to college and studied engineering with a focus in deep space science. My early jobs right after college included designing, creating and designing satellites. I got a chance to work on orbital design for Iridium (which is 77 satellite constellation). I also had a chance to work on SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) sending heat probes out to space in search for intelligence life forms…I didn’t find anything.

Then I worked with ABC, then Disney and on to Showtime. The Boeing Company then came calling. I was hand-selected to work with two other engineers to create what is now digital cinema – digital delivery of movies to theaters. I believe that this massive accomplishment in digital cinema is what really secured my view at the front of what was happening with media. They showed me this enormous growth, which also parallels this trajectory in my own life, and all these opportunities were just a matter of how media was evolving and how media was growing.

For instance, look what is happening now to the record store. Stuff like the iPhone, YouTube, Facebook and iTunes – and newer things are on the way – are eroding the notion of the record store. By the end of the year approximately 25 percent of Blockbuster’s will be gone. I really don’t believe that Blockbuster’s will be around much longer. But these tremendous things that are impacting our lives were not around very long ago. And we’re in the midst of something seismic when you think about all of this stuff. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. I just happen to be one.

Another example is the journey of our President Barack Obama into the White House and how he used the Web to mobilize and coordinate fundraisers to make his way into the White House. This is a great example of the power of the Web when used properly.

The way I look at all of this is that if the Web were born in the 90’s, then in terms of its capabilities, it’s still a toddler. It’s just learning to walk, to run and even do cartwheels. It’s going to have enormous capabilities that we have yet to begin to imagine yet. So what is next? What can we expect in the next five years? Who gets to set the standards of how we transmit and receive media? I believe the answer to that question is in a story that I heard once told about a little boy drawing a picture in his kindergarten class. His teacher asked him what was doing? He said that he is drawing a picture of God. His teacher kind of laughed and said but no one knows what he looks like. And in his innocence he looks up and says they will when I’m done with my picture.

We all get to define. We all get to create that future today. We all have access to the tools to create that future today. You are the ME in “ME”DIA. You have a chance to define the place – the ways and the time in which media is transmitted and the way in which it is absorbed.

So what picture are you going to paint for the world? What is going to be revealed in your picture? Five percent of the global electricity powers the Web. How are we going to illuminate the rest of the world? Most importantly, how are we going to influence the life of that little girl five miles away, maybe 10,000 miles away now watching her little red box?

Note: Mary Spio’s presentation – The Age of “Me”dia: Inside the Little Red Box – was at a recent TEDx Greenville Event

Best Advice

The best advice I ever received was from my dad. He always told me to find the place where I could be of the most service to others, that is what we are placed here to do – make the world a better place than we found it. You don’t belong everywhere, you belong somewhere – go or stay where you are celebrated not where you are tolerated or worst yet hated. When you are where your skills are valued you will continue to grow in excellence.

My Mentors and Why

I have a couple of mentors and continuously looking for more. A true mentor is someone who is genuinely interested in your success and brings relevant experience and guidance/counsel to help you navigate your life’s journey. You can never have too many. Seek them out, they will help shortcut your path to success.

Quotes I Live By

Small hinges swing big doors, tiny keys open bank vaults. No contribution is trivial. Your passions, talents and skills could make the difference in the next big innovation.

Invent One Thing

I’m always coming up with innovations that make my clients’ life easier, so it will have to be additional features for my Online Video Platform. It services over 200 radio stations and has clients such as Coke, Clear Channel, Toyota, Tribune News Company and much more. I’m always looking ahead of the market and meeting those demands.

More About

What is the best part of your job?
I’m doing what I love. It encompasses using every aspect of who I am i.e. my creative, technical and communicative sides.

Describe a day in the life of a President of a Technology-Based Media Company
On a day-to-day basis, I devote a large portion of my time to business development for Next Galaxy Media; and advising companies large and small on implementing effective strategies that leverage Next Galaxy Media’s assets including an online video platform for social media integration, video delivery and monetization, reaching millions of customers and creating ROI-based branded content. So that means a lot of time spent in meetings, on the phone and doing presentations. On occasion I go out with the production crew to shoot video.

How do you use Science, Technology, Engineering and Math every day?
We are a technology company at our core, so I stay at the forefront of the latest innovation and how we can leverage that in making our services better and even more affordable. A fundamental understanding and lifelong learning is imperative especially in today’s highly technological business environment.

As far as math, that’s also integrated into every aspect of business and everyday life …from counting your change at lunch to understanding profit and loss statements, and coming up with statistical models for demographic targeting.

What is a quote that you can leave us with?
Small hinges swing big doors, tiny keys open bank vaults. No contribution is trivial. Your passions, talents and skills could make the difference in the next big innovation.