January 24, 2017 1 month 3 weeks ago

OBITUARY: Former Teletoon chief Len Cochrane (updated)

“He never bragged, but always delivered”

OAKVILLE – Long time industry executive Len Cochrane, best known as the former president of Family Channel and Teletoon, died Tuesday morning at his home. He was 71.

Cochrane (pictured) had suffered from lung problems for many years and he died due to recent complications from respiratory failure.

A well known and respected executive, he was overseeing a total of five separate channels (Teletoon, Télétoon, Teletoon Retro, Télétoon Retro and Cartoon Network) at his retirement in 2014 when Corus Entertainment took 100% ownership of the brand valued at $500 million.

Born and raised in Paisley, Scotland, Cochrane worked on the railroad as a young man, shoveling coal, cleaning soot and dirt from inside train engines, all while scrimping and “saving his pennies” so that he could come to Canada and UBC business school, said his son Jesse Galal. “He was always the guy willing to work the longest hours to get things done.”

Prior to his Teletoon leadership, Cochrane was president and chief operating officer of Family Channel from November 1990 to September 2001. Prior to that, he was the western regional manager for Cancom and vice president and general manager for cable market services division in Toronto.

“A true visionary, Len conceived the idea of an animation service and played a key role in launching Teletoon, the first animation service to launch in Canada. He was also the driving force behind Teletoon Retro, and led the deal with Turner Broadcast Systems to launch Cartoon Network in Canada in July 2012,” wrote Corus CEO Doug Murphy in a note to staff on Tuesday.

One of Cochrane’s old bosses, former Astral Media CEO Ian Greenberg, remembered how his friend produced results, year after year, without fail. “He was a very patient guy and a friend, a loyal colleague over the years and in a very soft way, he got a lot accomplished. He was a visionary,” said Greenberg.

“He delivered on every objective he ever set forth… He never bragged but always delivered.”

When the company looked to consolidate all of the classic cartoons under separate Teletoon Retro and Télétoon Retro brands in 2007, Cochrane came up with a brand new launch plan which saw the two channels rocket to several million subscribers in record time.

“He revolutionized how to launch new channels when it came to Teletoon Retro in both English and French,” remembered Greenberg. Cartt.ca wrote about that successful launch back then here and here. (Teletoon Retro is now Cartoon Network.)

Running Teletoon, which was co-owned for a while by four companies and then later by just Astral and Corus, meant serving multiple bosses but Cochrane always balanced the interests of the brand’s stakeholders, said Greenberg. “There was never a feeling he took sides. He was there to be fair and honest to all sides and there was never an issue of him favouring one partner and making the others feel he wasn’t there to look after their interests – and that’s remarkable because it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Cochrane also envisioned and spearheaded the shift of Family Channel in 1997 from the much lower penetrated pay tier to the third big tier of cable services, a move which lifted the channel from a few hundred thousand subscribers to several million.

Quick-witted and modest, Cochrane rarely sought the spotlight for himself and was very giving to many.

“Len was one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry and was always most generous with that knowledge,” said Greg O’Brien, editor and publisher of Cartt.ca. “As a young reporter starting to cover this industry almost 20 years ago, Len helped me understand how this business works and I’ll always be indebted to him.”

Back in the early 1990s, John Riley was a young lawyer working for Family Channel but with aspirations to do more. That ambition never ruffled Cochrane’s feathers and he actively helped Riley (who would eventually ascend to president of Astral Television) learn and grow. “He shared with me all of the knowledge he acquired and all of the experiences that he had and he started including me in almost every meeting, so I got to be able to see first hand how he operated as a manager and he supported me to go to executive programs and so on,” said Riley. “I owe a huge debt to him for the career I had because he was extremely supportive.

“He didn’t want a lot of fanfare, he just quietly went about being successful,” he added.

Len is survived by his sons Jesse and Justin Galal, daughter Karen Cochrane and wife Marylin. As per his wishes, his memorial service is to be a private affair.