Jan Zika

Jan Zika

Jan Zika graduated from IES’s finance and banking program in 2007. He started his professional career in investment banking but soon switched to media. He has a varied background in television production having launched the Czech Republic’s first business news channel Z1 as Managing Editor and Head of Programming. In addition to programming strategy for the channel he also managed development of on-air graphics systems and data-driven financial graphics. At Czech Television, the Czech Republic’s national broadcaster, Jan oversaw graphics production for the Evening News, revived the on-air presentation style, and later served as news anchor and host of the morning news programs on the CT1 and CT24 channels. He has also consulted on the production and content management systems and user experience design. Due to his broad array of experience in television and product development he was hired by NBCUniversal, the world’s largest mass-media company, to support its growth in real-time graphics.

  You have devoted almost your whole career to media production. What was the most beneficial thing at the IES for you career path?

That’s a good question :-), because you probably would think there isn’t much of an overlap, but actually there is. Knowledge of finance and markets of course came in handy when I was a business news anchor, but the most important skill throughout the different positions I have held was the ability to understand and solve abstract problems.
When I first started in television, I found myself surrounded by journalists. They are amazing people and I admire their work, but they are mostly interested in the stories, and not the processes. And as much as the story is in the heart of all media production, you also need strategies, plans, workflows and systems that enable stories to be told and reach audiences.
That’s what I have been really good at thanks to IES. Whether it was programming strategy, systems design or graphics, I was able to understand the requirements, think systematically, suggest solutions and then lead others, often with very different backgrounds, in implementation of those solutions. That turned out to be quite valuable.

You have worked for private as well as national public television in the Czech Republic and now you work for a leading U.S. mass media group. How would you compare those different environments?

They are very different, not just in size, but also in their nature. My private sector experience was an ambitious start-up, where you couldn’t take anything for granted. If I wanted to perform, I had to learn how things worked end-to-end, and then often had to train people as everything was built from scratch. It was challenging, but it also gave me the freedom to create and quickly move from one area to another. In a start-up there’s always more work that there are people to do it, so you have more opportunities to choose what to do. The sky is the limit. I loved that.
I have to admit that Czech Television was initially a cultural shock for me. It’s the most trusted and established national brand, but it also seemed bureaucratic and not particularly welcoming, so I felt like an alien. Once I made friends and people accepted me, I had the best time and really a lot fun! Some of my former co-workers were like family, I miss them so much. I met top-tier professionals and just enjoyed being at the very center of whatever was happening. Some Czech TV celebrities are still my friends and we keep in touch although I am now thousands of miles away. You would be surprised that NBCUniversal, particularly at 30 Rock, actually feels in some aspects similar to Czech TV – it’s an iconic institution, part of history, and it’s also very structured. The main difference is the size of the market and the corresponding scope of the operations. Everything is a magnitude larger here. I mean Czech TV has some three thousand employees, so it’s not exactly a mom and pop shop, but NBCUniversal is ten times larger. It’s gigantic. To give you another example, the on-air graphics department that I am part of is the largest in the world, and frequently collects Emmy awards, which is rare in smaller markets.

You are working as a Real-Time Graphics Production Manager at NBCUniversal, can you describe the scope of your job?

Real-time graphics is an increasingly important part of today’s television. Thanks to platforms from companies like Vizrt, many of the graphical elements that you see on-air are rendered in real time based on programmed logic and various sources of data. For example social media posts, stock market data or weather forecasts can now be seamlessly integrated into interactive scenes that update automatically. Real-time graphics also enables very different production workflows compared to traditional approaches.
As a production manager, I oversee the creation and implementation of real-time graphics and manage our internal clients. On the development side my job includes determining system improvements, ensuring we meet operational objectives and creating resource allocation plans. Given the size of NBCUniversal’s operations this can be quite complex, because we serve many different groups, channels and shows.

You are living in New York, how would describe the life there? Is it more hectic than in Prague?

Yes, it can be (laughs), but I’ve learned there isn’t just one New York. What’s most interesting about it is the huge diversity – every ten blocks it changes. From an economic perspective, for example, once you live here you realize that New York is basically a working class city, but at the same time it’s a playground for the wealthy.
What is for sure is that New York has a unique energy that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It is almost impossible to stand out because there are so many influences and what’s hot today will be forgotten tomorrow. It’s also the most social place I have experienced. It is really easy to meet people with all kinds of backgrounds. The main challenge on the other hand is that there are simply too many options, choices and possibilities. As a result people tend to have short attention spans and sometimes they are not willing to make commitments.

What are you hobbies? What do you do to relax completely?

Let’s start with the hobbies I neglect but find extremely relaxing. I like drawing and painting, that’s one of the activities where I can reach a flow state. On the other hand I have been surprisingly disciplined at regular exercise. I enjoy going to the gym. I like movies and some television shows, mainly scripted ones.
New York also offers some great performances and cultural events in general. I especially like modern dance and ballet, and although musicals are not really my favorite genre, I have seen some outstanding Broadway shows recently. What’s great about New York in summer is that there are very nice beaches close by, especially on Long Island. Okay, let me stop here and get to the number one hobby for many New Yorkers, which is the nightlife :-).