Power doesn’t come easily in the digital content world.
Despite the buzz about the iPad or Foursquare, audiences and revenues generated by programming on PCs and wireless devices are still a pittance compared with such established media as film and TV. But, measured by the more intangible metric of influence, even the slightest innovation can portend big changes to come in the evolving media business.
Which makes the accomplishments of the 50 men and women highlighed in The Hollywood Reporter’s third annual Digital Power issue worth noting. To best reflect an industry sector that flouts tradition, Digital Power isn’t a traditional “power” list.
No amorphous quantifications of clout here; these simply are the people you need to watch if you want to stay abreast of how the content business is being revolutionized.
That guiding principle applies to execs at white-hot success stories like Twitter and turnaround specialists trying to work their magic on beleaguered assets like MySpace.
If there’s one quality that epitomizes all of these people, it’s ambition. Look no further than this year’s Digital Power Player honoree, David Eun, who left Google in March to head content efforts at AOL, a company that has reprioritized to make content its true focus.
If taking a business once known as the Internet’s gateway and remaking it into a Time Inc. for the 21st century doesn’t represent a power play, nothing does.
Better known as “Fred,” 16-year-old Cruikshank’s YouTube videos have been viewed more than 470 million times, making his one of the most subscribed channels on the site. Portraying Fred as a high-pitched 6-year-old with anger-management issues, Cruikshank now rakes in six figures yearly on YouTube revenue-sharing alone.
This year, Nickelodeon announced it had licensed his self-made picture, “Fred: The Movie,” to run on TV, redefining Cruikshank as one of the first true Web-to-TV crossover stars. “I’m so happy that my success on YouTube has allowed me to do traditional media,” Cruikshank writes in an e-mail.
“I’ve always just had fun with everything and been true to my vision.” That vision included a Christmas album he produced late last year that sold more than 60,000 units digitally, according to his reps at the Collective.
It all started with a 300-page iPhone bill. That prompted Ezarik to make a video that shot her to Web stardom back in 2007. Since then, she’s amassed a powerful following online, primarily via YouTube and iJustine.com, as iJustine, with her quirky videos devoted to pop culture and tech.
The self-described Apple “fan girl,” 26, writes, shoots, edits and posts her own videos. She also does her own business deals, landing Nikon, GE, Intel and Mozy. But she admits to challenges convincing brands of the dollar value of Web videos. “Some don’t necessarily have the budget to pay what they should be paying content producers for integrated ad campaigns,” she complains.
David Eun has made a career out of working the diametric poles of the media business. He got his start doing creative work at NBC a decade before transforming into the consummate dealmaker at content-phobic Google. While it might seem his new gig as content czar at AOL represents a return to programming, Eun is actually reconciling the extremes between which he’s always been bouncing. “This job is a nice blend of these different experiences,” he says. “Ultimately, AOL is a media company that leverages technology.”
Eun is responsible for a paradigm-shifting paradox: One half of his business is overseeing a suite of more than 80 websites, where news and information are crafted by veteran journalists and producers; the other is the combination of SEED and StudioNow, two entities that will utilize thousands of freelance amateurs to churn out text and video determined in part by algorithms identifying traffic-targeted topics.
This commingling of art and science has generated its share of excitement, judging by the influx of executive talent coming into AOL, but also skepticism. Eun understands that being part of a brigade of Google alums brought in by new CEO Tim Armstrong can fuel the misconception that AOL will turn into RoboCo. “People increasingly understand that we’re not out to make AOL into a me-too YouTube-type of company,” he says. “That is not what I’m doing, and I’m sure many people before I came were concerned that I might try to do something like that.”
It’s helped that Eun is no AOL newbie: He worked with AOL after he left NBC and joined Don Logan’s team at Time Warner, which oversaw AOL. For a company that has struggled to define its mission both before and after it broke free, Eun’s roots are beneficial. “It is sort of like a homecoming,” he says. “I see how different companies do things, and maybe we can craft a new way as we go forward.”
Antonellis loves to do triathlons with Warner Bros. colleagues. “We have so many injuries, we should get group discounts (on orthopedic surgeons),” she jokes. That’s good practice for a demanding job driving the studio’s technology policies, including Antonellis’ oversight of worldwide antipiracy operations, a role she performed even before becoming president in 2008.
More recently, she restructured her division to make good on her global oversight, not to mention reintegrating Warner Bros. Entertainment’s digital and physical businesses. Considering she’s also charged with making deals with emerging platforms like YouTube, triathlons begin to look easy.
It’s been a wild year for Perrette, streaming NBC shows online and on mobile phones, building part-owned TV site Hulu, making deals with Amazon.com and iTunes, and helping lead NBC Uni’s involvement in the “TV Everywhere” initiative.
Then there’s mobile: Just a business blip a year ago, smart phone apps and streaming mobile video are suddenly a big business for NBC Uni which, with 11 other broadcasters, has announced plans for a mobile broadcasting service. Navigating all of this, Perrette observes, is like “treading water, doing crawl and backstroke all at the same time.” Keep swimming: He and his wife just adopted a baby from Ethiopia.
With Crackle.com embarking on its second year as an Internet-only network under Berger’s direction, there are benchmarks worth noting. Unique viewers are up 50%, total streams have tripled, time on-site has grown tenfold, and best of all, the 18-34 male audience it targets is 2.5 times bigger, year-over-year.
Kudos are coming as well for the original shortform series that is a specialty at Crackle, which triumphed at this year’s Streamy Awards, winning four of its 13 nominations. Another slate of 10 originals will roll out throughout 2010.
Bringing talent to the table “changes people’s perspective on working in digital,” Berger says. International rollout will further develop a virtual ad network Berger has built by seeding branded video players on AOL, Break, Dailymotion and Bebo.
If the business of branded entertainment online is about aligning creators, advertisers and distributors, all three of these factions are well-represented in Goodman’s Rolodex. He’s best known for engineering 2009’s most high-profile union in the space, “Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Comedy,” with Google and Burger King.
Now he and William Masterson have left Media Rights Capital, where they led the digital division, for their own shop, and are intent on striking gold again. Talent comes first, and Goodman says celebrities have taken note of his experiments with MacFarlane, Sacha Baron Cohen and Second City.
“They’re all interested in a direct line to their audiences,” he says. In time he’ll be able to roll out projects that flip the typical branded-entertainment format — building creative around the advertiser who bankrolls it — to financing these endeavors and matching creative ideas with the right marketers.
Alloy has already made its mark in Hollywood with such hits as “Gossip Girl” and “The Vampire Diaries.” Now the company is aiming to win over teen girls and the advertisers who want to woo them on the Web. Bank launched Alloy’s first digital series in the fall with “Private,” based on a best-selling book, as most of Alloy’s properties are.
The Web show, sponsored by Neutrogena and others, generated 14 million views and served as a proof-of-concept for how Alloy wants to tackle digital entertainment. Bank expects to license the show to several countries in international formatting deals, with China likely one of the first. “There is a lot of upside when you think about all the ways you can monetize these beyond the brand dollars,” he says.
Facebook is not only the fourth-largest website in the U.S., but it might also have the most tentacles. In addition to its 400 million-plus users, Facebook counts more than 250,000 website partners that have integrated with the social network, including such media companies as CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and MTV.
Facebook’s platform lets other websites integrate Facebook capabilities, such as sharing and liking, into another site, and Beard is the point person for deals with Hollywood partners. About two-thirds of the top 100 comScore websites are integrated with Facebook, the company says. With TV Guide, for example, the Facebook integration lets users see what their friends are watching on TV. However, privacy advocates have expressed concern about how Facebook shares information, an issue that could hurt Beard’s relationships with partners.
Mobile programming is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the content business, and Qualcomm’s Flo TV wants to capture some of that demand. To do so, last year it launched a direct-to-consumer business for its mobile TV services — and that requires content, which is where Barzilay comes in.
He’s lined up a strong stable of content providers via deals with Disney, ABC, Fox News, Adult Swim, CNN and Sony’s Crackle. They join ESPN, CBS, NBC, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and others on the service. The result: Flo TV says usage is up 30% from a year ago to about 30 minutes of viewing per day among the installed base.
“As people move toward a mobile lifestyle, the ability to watch their favorite TV shows and stay connected is critical to them,” he says.
Mobile video has been a notoriously difficult market to penetrate in the U.S., but when News Corp. tries to break into it, attention must be paid. Bitbop is Fox Mobile Group’s new application that launched in late spring on the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry with a versatile mix of consumption options; TV episodes from many networks and studios can be downloaded or streamed via 3G or WiFi.
“There are really powerful devices out there just being used for SMS and e-mail,” Bilman says. This being a News Corp. production, Bitbop certainly won’t be free: a $10 monthly subscription fee allows all-you-can-eat content, though freeloaders can graze excerpts gratis. But the real challenge, Bilman concedes, is signing up major carriers to offer their billing services and marketing resources. “It’s not essential to our success, but it would catapult the product forward,” he notes.
No one has yet come close to melding the PC and the TV. But a handful of players are gaining traction, and Roku leads this short list. It has won rave reviews for ease of use and for inking deals with Amazon and Netflix that let users stream content from those services directly on the TV.
Roku also completed deals in 2009 to carry MLB games on its service and shows from Internet TV studios like Revision3. Funk talks to content owners and distributors large and small about bringing their content to Roku. “With each partner, we are working closely to deliver a viable solution for their content on our platform,” he says.
Distributing video across connected devices has long been a sore subject at Sony, but the conglomerate has slowly been catching up with the likes of Apple TV and Xbox. Aragon is putting video back on the map there and building a distribution hub where studios are seeing growth.
“We’re finally getting into that top echelon of who the studios consider their top digital providers,” says Aragon, who oversees content, marketing and operations. Sony achieved a milestone of sorts in March when its backend system began servicing Bravia, its line of Internet-connected TVs, as well as Blu-ray.
No single figure looms larger over the digital entertainment landscape than Steve Jobs, but his lieutenant Cue casts an increasingly large shadow in his own right. Cue presides over iTunes, the App Store, iBookstore and MobileMe. It has been a quiet time for iTunes of late, but probably not for long: the service is likely to get a makeover as a cloud-based storefront, thanks to Apple acquisition Lala.
Plus, Cue is said to be intent on getting the TV studios to agree to a reduction in the per-episode pricing on iTunes. But the absence of 99-cent offerings doesn’t seem to be hurting the new iPad, where ABC is seeing strong uptake of its media player, as are Netflix, Fandango and IMDb.com. iPads are also driving growth at the App Store, and no self-respecting Hollywood release doesn’t allocate some budget toward a marketing tie-in these days.
DeBevoise sits atop a Starz digital business he created from scratch, one that is profitable and doubling every year.
Ad revenue and licensing fees are big contributors, thanks to original online shows like “How It Should Have Ended” and “30-Second Bunnies Theater” that have drawn millions of viewers online and won awards; he resells them as interstitials to TV networks like Australia’s MovieNet.
New hits like “Spartacus” come equipped with their own online “moving” comics and games, reinforcing the TV product. “It’s a new way to reach audiences with our brand,” he says.
By his own account, Estenson was “probably the person least likely to be hired by CNN” two years ago. He was coming off seven years at Disney, helping push “Hannah Montana,” “High School Musical” and other marquee brands into digital media.
But now he’s extending CNN’s brand, launching new blogs on such topics as food, religion, entertainment and technology. “There’s no shortage of hard news in those areas,” he says. With 3,000 writers at his disposal, he relies mainly on CNN content, avoiding the wire services favored by many news sites.
All that separates Flannigan, 44, from his core 18-34 demographic is “the color of my hair.” He waxes rhapsodic about iPhone apps like Spike’s Deadliest Warrior (“You can be the pirate, I’ll be the Centurion, and I’ll kick your ass with this shield”), Spike TV’s UltimateFighter.com (“I’ve definitely taken to the sport”) or Daniel Tosh, host of Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0” (“A brilliantly funny comedian”). And why not? The businesses are generating millions in revenue.
Video is at the heart of the strategy, with employees pouring their time into annotating clips and creating the back stories that pull visitors deeper into the sites. With DVD in decline, Flannigan suggests “digital may begin to offset.”
Fancast has essentially evolved into two sites under one URL. While it’s still the same hub for TV viewing online as it was when it launched in 2008, parent Comcast has also made it the go-to source for its own subscribers to access exclusive on-demand content, sync-ed up with their DVRs.
That may make Gilford’s job a bit tricky, but she likes where she’s sitting, given that premium video isn’t bound to become more freely available than it already is. “Ultimately everything will converge, and that’s where Fancast is ahead of the game,” she says.
You can thank Showtime for its newest competitor — first, because the impetus to create Epix came when MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate failed to reach agreement on a movie-licensing deal with Showtime, and second, because Showtime saw one of its top execs, 17-year veteran Greenberg, leave to run the new company.
But Epix isn’t a premium cable service the way Showtime or HBO defines it. Greenberg is coupling whatever carriage deals he can get with EpixHD.com, a site where 400 movies are available via VOD. “Generating the next users is about building platforms for the way they want to watch it, as opposed to the way we tell them to watch it,” he says.
Being MTV’s official gadget geek has paid off: 30 iPhone apps, including some best-sellers, have rolled off MTV’s assembly line, and a coloring app based on Nickelodeon’s “Dora” is a hit on the iPad.
“Over the last year, the ecosystem for various devices and accessing content has matured a lot,” he says. Case in point: Mobile donations via texting for MTV’s Hope for Haiti telethon “broke records across the board,” contributing to the campaign’s $70 million gross.
In his first year at News Corp., Miller has shaken things up, making good on Rupert Murdoch’s mandate to extract meaningful revenues from digital content by setting up subscription plans for the Wall Street Journal’s iPad app — and Hulu is likely next.
“Since we’re willing to take certain stands and positions, we’re having a material impact on the terms of trade for ourselves and others,” he says.
Miller is making waves just as big within News Corp., which during the past year has restructured its digital-minded management, sold off acquisitions deemed “noncore,” like Rotten Tomatoes and Photobucket, and repositioned remaining assets including MySpace, IGN and Fox Mobile Group. But he’s also adding to the mix, with Irata Labs probably just the first of many buys.
Back when Kliavkoff was chief digital officer at NBC Universal, he managed the media company’s existing digital properties and helped incubate new ones. Since moving to Hearst in March 2009, he’s largely dropped the “managing” part.
He has overseen the launch of dozens of specialized iPhone applications for everything from the New York Yankees to pop star Rihanna; he helped launch Hearst’s Skiff venture, which is developing e-reader software and hardware.
Then there’s the stuff he can’t talk about: the stealth project, led by former Yahoo and EchoStar execs, that he’ll soon unveil. “It’s a challenge at any media company to start new ventures,” he says. “You have to have a great deal of vision and a strong stomach.”
Once head of Paramount’s home entertainment division, Lesinski is firmly ensconced in the studio’s future, overseeing distribution of its filmed properties on next-generation platforms like PCs, the Internet, mobile and video game consoles, as well as developing made-for-the-Web programming.
Today, Paramount distributes its movies online through 125 partners in 58 countries in 31 languages. Lesinski is also seeding digital platforms with extensions, including nine video games for iTunes, the first movie app on the iPad (a “Top Gun” game), and “Transformers” and its sequel on HTC mobile phones from T-Mobile.
A business of few hits and many misses, content is considered risky by venture capitalists. But don’t tell Levinsohn. The former News Corp. digital chief is pursuing content investments, along with those in advertising, video, publishing and technology.
Fuse has bet on digital studios like Next New Networks, which counts more than 40 million views per month, and Generate, which landed a production deal with Fox and has won branded dollars from Ford, Johnson & Johnson and others for its Web shows. “While distribution is now ubiquitous, good content is not,” Levinsohn says. “I believe premium content is critical to push both platforms and business models.”
The statute of limitations on Ben Silverman jokes elapsed in November, when the former NBC Entertainment chief reappeared with $125 million of IAC money to launch Electus, which bills itself a next-generation studio determined to create content across all platforms. Big content deals came quickly, including partnerships with Yahoo and MTV.
The hiring of former YouTube content chief Jordan Hoffner signaled the company is serious about mastering online distribution. “I’m the one who makes sure the content appears in all the right places, gets the right audience and return on our investment,” Hoffner says.
Among media agencies, Publicis-owned Digitas has been one of the most aggressive placing clients in digital projects. Case in point: This spring Digitas inked a deal for Kraft’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese to be integrated into Food Network star Paula Deen’s new digital initiative that stretches across social media, video and user-generated content.
McCarus has shepherded Kraft, Mars, Walgreens, financial services firms and other brands into Web content, often linking talent like Deen with the marketers that have the dough to support and distribute the content. “Storytelling remains important, but alone it’s not enough,” he says.
“We want to figure out how to measure the value of content investment, and we are working on new measurement tools to understand it.”
The digital world is really just a means to an end for Albie Hecht, whose company uses everything from Flash games to virtual worlds as an incubator for intellectual property that can live on in the more lucrative worlds he knows well: TV and movies.
“We’re not creating one-off products; this is true transmedia,” says the former Viacom exec. Now he’s working on video/gaming combos including “Dr. What,” a joint venture with Syfy announced in February, and “Bigby,” which launched in January as an iPhone app.
It should come as no surprise that these are aimed at the kid market; Hecht was instrumental in the launch of Nickelodeon icons including “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
With $90 million in venture capital financing and 70 million uniques a month, Ustream is amassing audiences online for live broadcasts with the kind of power that could make even TV networks nervous.
But at this stage in the site’s growth, Ustream is actually proving to be of benefit to its would-be competition. Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and Dick Clark Prods.’ “American Music Awards” on ABC are just two of the shows that recently relied on Ustream to create Web companion experiences credited with driving significant ratings increases.
“Traditional media sees they can leverage us and the power of live engagement in a pretty interesting way,” says Hunstable, who launched Ustream in 2006 with fellow Army veteran John Ham (now CEO) as a way for soldiers in Iraq to interact with their families back home.
The ascendance of Facebook and waves of management turmoil have made MySpace a headache for owner News Corp. But there are still 120 million members, and Hirschhorn is determined to capitalize.
Together with co-president Mike Jones, he’s jumpstarting the site with a content-first strategy. “We’ve always had this pedigree in fun and entertainment and showbiz,” Hirschhorn says. Before coming over from Sling Media, Hirschhorn led digital efforts at MTV Networks, where he championed Viacom’s attempt to acquire MySpace as far back as 2004.
When Comcast announced plans to acquire NBC Universal, it was widely thought that Hulu might become a lame-duck service. But Hulu is still chugging along and, thanks to Kilar, has become synonymous with online viewing of TV shows.
It will likely exceed the $100 million-plus it earned in revenue for 2009 by midsummer. Now there’s noise that Hulu may test a subscription offering. Whichever direction it goes, Hulu is second only to YouTube in video views, delivering 1.1 billion a month, comScore says.
This year Moore has overseen a transformation of MSN, which is second only to Yahoo among portals in traffic, with about 100 million users each month in the U.S. In March, MSN revamped its homepage to decrease clutter and increase engagement.
“Now that we relaunched the homepage, we will go through the rest of the site and reinvigorate other areas,” Moore says.
He joined MSN last year from Yahoo, where he developed Web shows based on what users were searching for. Employing that same strategy, MSN recently launched “The Surf Report,” which delves into popular Internet searches and topics.
With more than 100 million video views per month in the U.S., Dailymotion is big, but pales in comparison to YouTube’s 13 billion views a month. Rather than compete in volume, Marcus is fine-tuning a programming mix based on what Dailymotion’s users like best.
No surprise: music videos lead the way. “We have such a strong base of music lovers on the site, and a significant portion of our views are for music,” she says. She has nabbed rights to videos from three of the four major music labels (Universal Music Group, Warner and EMI), the latter two inked this year.
The site has also doubled ad revenue in the past year thanks in part to inroads with consumer packaged goods brands at Procter & Gamble.
Vudu made a big strategic shift in February to phase out standalone boxes in favor of embedding its technology in dozens of other devices, including Visio’s $99 Blu-ray player. Vudu threw the marketplace for a second loop that same month when Walmart announced it was acquiring the company.
One constant amid all this flux is Lichty, one of three Vudu founders who becomes its top executive now that chairman Alain Rosson isn’t staying. As the man responsible for managing the studio relationships that give Vudu its content, he has already seen a change in the tenor of negotiations, with his newfound clout. “Since we closed, the discussion with the content partners is definitely more strategic,” he says.
To borrow a bit of sports slang, “the hot hand” of first-quarter 2010 belongs to Kint and CBSSports.com. The combination of March Madness, On Demand, Tiger Woods’ return to the Masters and the CBS-hosted Super Bowl triggered a 20% traffic jump year-over-year.
CBS Corp. says MMOD took in 20% more revenue than the $32 million that came in 2009. And 2011 will be a game-changer for Kint, with Turner coming on board to share both TV and digital rights.
Kint can say this much about expanding the field to 68 teams: “The more games are on during the day when everyone is at the office, the bigger the audience will be.”
Acquisitions big and small have been key to establishing Sonic as a quiet giant in the budding over-the-top TV category. The $300 million purchase of DivX, announced last week, will allow consumers to watch Internet-delivered movies on many devices that weren’t in Sonic’s footprint.
Enabling the transactions to secure those movies in the first place was ensured in 2008 when Sonic bought CinemaNow for just $3 million. Habiger always saw the potential for Cinemanow not as its own online destination, but as the technology powering VOD capabilities for devices manufactured or sold by TiVo, Blockbuster, HP, Dell and Best Buy.
“The day we bought that company, we needed to get out of the destination business,” says Habiger, a 17-year veteran of Sonic. “There’s no way I can outsell Best Buy.”
Apple gets the buzz for its devices enabling content consumption, but DivX is no slouch. Not only does the format have an installed base of more than 300 million devices worldwide; it has also eschewed Apple’s walled-garden approach to DRM.
That explains why Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount, Lionsgate and Starz have all approved DRM from DivX. Milne’s division manages those relationships as well as its links with more than 70 distributors, including CinemaNow and FilmFresh.
“DivX has been around for 10 years, which gives us a massive headstart in establishing a footprint for digital devices,” he says. Though DivX has long been associated for providing playback on DVD, it's moving fast to diversify to other devices as its core competence slips into decline.
An increasing array of digital televisions, mobile phones, gaming systems and multimedia storage devices carry DivX. First up though is a Blu-ray player from LG that will have DivX TV embedded inside later this year.
Vuguru has come into its own this year after being spun off from Michael Eisner’s Tornante portfolio, thanks to major funding from Canadian cable powerhouse Rogers Media.
Former LivePlanet CEO Tanz has been in the driver’s seat since December, building a big slate of programming with help from ex-Miramax production exec Kristin Jones as chief creative officer. “We have the talent relationships and can be a magnet for talent because we have the financing,” Tanz says.
More than 50 million tweets per day fly across the microblogging service. Some of this massive traffic comes from the awareness that partnerships with media companies like CNN, Oxygen, MTV and NBC Olympics have brought to Twitter. Sladden spearheads those deals; she was also instrumental in linking up with Google and Yahoo this year to surface tweets in their real-time search results.
In addition, many TV networks are now “curating” tweets to create content related to their programming, as NBC did during the Vancouver Games. Says Sladden, “They even showed tweets on air such as when Lindsey Vonn and another skier were having a ‘Twitter-off.’ ”
Richman quickly turned Break into more than a home for clips of dudes tumbling down stairs in shopping carts. Break Media is now a vertically integrated media business that owns eight sites reaching more than 100 million Web users each month.
Operating on multiple fronts gives Break more leverage to win ad dollars because it can push out those branded videos to ensure they’re seen. “There are three components to being a new media business,” he says. “There is content, distribution and technology. We want to be in all three.”
Once upon a time, Yahoo had Lloyd Braun and Terry Semel calling the shots. In their stead, Pitaro is leading Yahoo’s programming approach with a style more attuned to Internet search engine data than gut-centric Hollywood.
“Our users are telling us what they want and don’t want when they click on certain things and don’t click on others,” he says. Yahoo recently launched entertainment show “Daytime in No Time” and sports show “Out of Bounds,” based on search queries related to those topics.
There’s a similar strategy for its newsy tidbits show “Who Knew?” produced by Reveille and sponsored by Toyota. Yahoo’s original fare lured 18.5 million viewers in March, about double a year ago.
A year ago, Singer focused on his leadership of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a cross-industry consortium designing ways to outfox pirates by enabling consumers to acquire and play content across a wide range of services and devices.
Now he’s seeing the fruits of his work: In the months ahead, DECE will roll out a “rights locker” that will let you, say, buy a download of “Spider-Man” from Netflix on your computer but access it through your Comcast-linked TV. “You ought to be buying an experience, not a platform,” he says.
“We are going to achieve that.” All this is the culmination of years spent studying disruptive technologies and why the music industry got caught flat-footed. “I’ve been one of those executives screaming that the sky is falling for a long time,” he observes. “I wanted to get ahead of the curve.”
Boxee used to be for geeks only. It’s definitely still geeky, but Ronen is finding himself slowly dragged into the mainstream now that he has more then 1 million users and more than $10 million in funding.
He also enjoyed some unexpected free marketing, courtesy of Congress during its Comcast-NBC Universal merger hearings, when representatives questioned NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker about Hulu’s decision to pull its content from Boxee last year.
In the next few months, Boxee will launch a payments platform to help content owners make money with the service. “We’ll begin to expand the notion of Boxee as a platform,” Ronen says.
As the company’s liaison to the studios, Sarandos signed Netflix to a pivotal deal with Warner Bros. this year that gives the DVD subscription rental firm more movies to offer for streaming, in exchange for waiting 28 days after the DVD release to rent those flicks. In April, Netflix signed a similar deal with Fox.
Sarandos believes the 28-day delay will likely become the norm because it funds the streaming business, which is the future of the company. “I can get cheaper discs by waiting 28 days,” he says. “We can invest that money in streaming and get more content for streaming.”
With the pending acquisition of Marvel by Disney, the global aspect of Rubenstein’s title is taking on a whole new emphasis. While he and one other employee previously did their best to capitalize on the clout of their superhero stable, Rubenstein now has Disney’s massive distribution network at his disposal.
“It’s nice to have people in every market pitching Marvel content,” he says. Expect a wave of international digital deals with mobile and IPTV companies to complement Marvel’s strengths in film and merchandising; that might not mean much in the U.S., but there are bigger markets abroad.
That could mean new delivery opportunities for Marvel’s buzzed-about motion comics including “Iron Man: Extremis,” which have attracted attention from buyers who want to put them into action on TV and DVD, not just the Internet.
Wadsworth united Disney’s far-flung digital operations under one umbrella, intermingling video games, mobile and online. So it should come as little surprise these platforms have been converging in a way that lets fans explore connected experiences.
Look no further than Disney’s “Fairies” or “Club Penguin” brands, where virtual currency earned on their Nintendo DS games can be spent in their respective virtual worlds or iPad apps. Even Disney’s biggest upcoming video game release, “Tron,” will precede the film in November in order to provide a prequel experience of sorts. Says Wadsworth, “We’ve seen a nice bit of traction in the last year and we’ll do more around key franchises.”
Now five years into its controversial existence, YouTube is all about monetization. And that’s where Yen comes in. He oversees relationships with key content constituents, including homegrown stars like Ryan Higa and SxePhil; next-generation content shops like Next New Networks and Machinima.com, and more recently, the digital-minded arms of establishment players from Sony to Endemol.
Yen swears he’s more focused on improving revenue for content partners than his own employer. “YouTube is finding its footing financially, but our partners aren’t quite there yet,” he says. But content partners reaped three times more revenue in 2009 than the previous year.
While most startups gorge on venture capital, R.J. Williams has grown his business all on his own. Amassing traffic to a destination site is how most build their brand, but instead he’s let his dot-com take a backseat and provided content to a who’s who of partners including Hulu, Yahoo and People.com.
But the biggest way Williams goes against the grain is in the style of the content, which avoids gossip-mongering. He’d rather hang out on camera with Lady Gaga on her tour bus or chill with “Glee” star Cory Monteith at home. Young Hollywood even makes time for the occasional oldster like Dustin Hoffman. As Williams notes, “It’s not about age, it’s about attitude.”
Under Wayne’s direction, this premium video provider has gotten in touch with its feminine side. That may come as a surprise, considering the most recognizable faces on its programming slate are Web celeb dudes like Diggnation’s Alex Albrecht, who moonlights for DECA’s “Project Lore,” or the comedic duo behind YouTube-bred sensation “Smosh.”
But Wayne began steering the company toward female-friendly programming 18 months ago, hot on the heels of DECA’s first breakout hit, “Momversation.” “‘Momversation’ was a real paradigm shift for us,” says Wayne, a former Sony exec who launched DECA three years ago with venture capital financing. “We had to capitalize on that hit.”
Foursquare’s growth is attracting both Madison Avenue and Hollywood to the location-based social networking startup. The New York-centered, 16-employee company counts partnerships with HBO, Warner Bros., MTV, VH1, History Channel, Bravo and other networks.
Foursquare users can unlock prizes and info from network colleagues like tips from “Top Chef” participants on hot new restaurants. Walker services all these partners while still studying for his MBA at Stanford.
The company expects to make money via licensing deals and leveraging its user habits data. “Once you layer location onto things, there are so many interesting uses for brands, celebrities, networks, politicians,” he says.
It wasn’t that long ago that NBC Universal treated such social networks as Facebook and Twitter like barbarians at the gate. Now they’ve been friended, notes Zigler, citing the example of OxygenLive.com, which tees up real-time community interaction outside its properties. “Once upon a time social networks were held at arms length,” Zigler says.
“Now we invite them in, where they drive traffic to viewing.” That hasn’t been the only adjustment she has made to NBC Uni’s sites, led by NBC.com, which bested all broadcast competitors in the first quarter with 9 million unique visitors.