Kim Maki: An Agent of Change

Kim Maki is smack in the middle of the complicated science that makes digital television so extraordinary. She is executive director of the Society of MotionPicture and Television Engineers, a group that forges ingenuity into applications like digital television. She reached SMPTE through the stage, a burger joint, some serendipity and a glass thread.

“Certainly from the outset, I didn’t say, ‘I’m going to work with the technical folks,’” Maki said one recent summer morning from her home in Pennsylvania. “Having to communicate the technology that developed in the industry is where it started.”

Maki worked in the cable industry when fiber was first being deployed. She and her team won an award for creating a program to educate community leaders about fiber optics.

“I had to spend a lot of time with the engineers and at head-ends,” she said. “From an early point in my career, I had to learn about technology. I am not technological by any means.”

Then again, not everyone can discuss how uniform metadata simplifies file exchange between servers and storage media. Or what needs to be cognate throughout the digital cinema production and distribution chain. Or how SMPTE time code revolutionized the process of video editing.

Those are among the group’s current priorities, along with figuring out how to make 3D content work with cable, satellite, broadcast and Internet TV.


Maki’s television career started the way it does for a lot of folks—on stage in her home town of Negaunee, Mich., population 4,500. “I did a lot of community theater,” she said. “The most fun production was ‘Babes in Arms.’ I was very young at the time.”

She was also very young when her father died, leaving her mother to raise a 7-year-old daughter. “She did what she had to do,” Maki said.

“She did a lot of babysitting and cleaning houses... and never left us alone. My mom was always there for me.”

 Out of respect for her mother, Maki was itching for a paycheck at an early age.

“I pedaled my bike to the Beef-A-Roo at 16 to apply for a job,” she said. “I was elated when I got the job.”

Maki Beef-A-Rooed through high school and college, where she was also an athlete and a cheerleader. Ultimately, her drive and work ethic created opportunities. She landed a work-study job in the news bureau at Northern Michigan University. Later, there was an internship on Capitol Hill where Maki wrote TV spots for a member of Congress, and then a job with the university administration when she returned.

“I couldn’t pass the typing test, but they hired me for my organizing skills,” she said.

Her flair for organizing, connecting people and helping develop talent launched her on the path the eventually led to SMPTE.

“My job is to work with our board and help them to develop their strategic vision,” she said.

The rewards for Maki involve “being able to work with some of the highest level technical minds in the industry that are setting and charting the course for the future, and connecting that wealth of knowledge to other people throughout the globe. It’s being in an industry that is changing so rapidly.

“I’m not one of these people who are fearful of change,” she said. “I like being an agent of change.” —Deborah D. McAdams