Silicon Beach Power 25: A Ranking of L.A.'s Top Digital Media Players

11:42 AM 5/28/2014

by THR Staff

Hollywood is transforming into a two-industry town fast as tech migrates south from the Valley (as in Silicon) to the Beach. The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural list breaks down the city’s top players.

Claudia Lucia
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    Ted Sarandos

    Chief content officer, Netflix

    Courtesy of Subject

    14: Primetime Emmy nominations in 2013, the first for a digital network

    Sarandos, 49, is rewriting the rules of television, turning Netflix -- once only an online DVD rental business -- into one of the most powerful buyers of original content. House of Cards (which Netflix nabbed, sight unseen, with a whopping $100 million two-season order) proved programming from the Internet could compete with premium cable channels (the company ended 2013 with 32 million U.S. subscribers, about 3 million more than HBO). His decision to release all at once the entire season of Cards and, later, Arrested Development and Orange Is the New Black was a gamble -- one that sparked the national trend of "binge viewing." And Beverly Hills-based Sarandos, who has not been shy about Netflix's ambitions (it had $4.4 billion in revenue in 2013 and is expanding in Europe, including France and Germany), is looking for ways to go even bigger. He has signed a deal with Marvel for four superhero series that will culminate in an epic miniseries crossover event, brought writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) onboard for a royal drama and landed Kyle Chandler and Sissy Spacek for a family thriller from the creators of Damages. Now other digital players, from Amazon to Xbox, are trying to play catch-up.

    Wishes someone would invent: "An Uber for everything."

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    Ynon Kreiz

    Executive chairman, Maker Studios

    Courtesy of Subject

    $950 MILLION: Maximum value of Disney's deal for his multichannel network

    Nearly a billion dollars is a lot of money for a company whose biggest star is a Swedish guy who makes funny noises while playing video games. But Disney must see untapped value in the YouTube multichannel network and its 50,000 creators (along with PewDiePie, the Swedish gamer, it works with such traditional talent as will.i.am, Morgan Spurlock and James Franco). "It sets the stage to bring some of the world's most popular media franchises to the shortform medium," says Kreiz, 49, perhaps hinting that a certain talking rodent soon could be vlogging on his network. Many digital insiders are scratching their heads over Disney's purchase in March, but that has not stopped a stampede of Maker-sized deal hunters looking for a similar property (see No. 12, Fullscreen). And Kreiz, a former Endemol CEO, could use the money to help pay for his next big move: transforming his Culver City-based company into a multimedia, multichannel juggernaut independent from YouTube (which takes nearly half of Maker's ad revenue).

    Binge watches: Kite-surfing videos

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    Evan Spiegel

    CEO, Snapchat

    Noah Webb

    $3 BILLION: Amount Facebook offered for his company -- which Spiegel turned down

    The photos and videos sent through Snapchat -- about 700 million a day -- disappear in 10 seconds or less. But Spiegel, 23, and his company appear to have staying power. On May 1, Snapchat unveiled its biggest update, adding text and video-chat capabilities that potentially turn the app into a broader hub for mobile messaging. And while he spurned Facebook's offer, he is finding plenty of others willing to invest, raising more than $120 million in funding since 2012. There have been snafus, including an ongoing lawsuit with an ousted co-founder and the unsavory emails from his college days that were leaked May 28. Spiegel released a statement apologizing for the offensive messages, noting that he was "obviously mortified and embarrassed that my idiotic emails during my fraternity days were made public." But the Stanford dropout is trying to grow up, filling his 70-person Venice offices with experienced players from Instagram and Google (plus, there's always his father, powerhouse L.A. attorney John Spiegel, who represented Warner Bros. in its tangles with Charlie Sheen).

    Wishes he'd invented: McDonald's

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    Mike Hopkins

    CEO, Hulu

    Courtesy of Subject

    $1 BILLION: Hulu's 2013 revenue

    Hulu might not yet have a House of Cards-style hit, but the first eight months of Hopkins' tenure have been the Santa Monica-based company's most stable since the early-2013 departure of CEO Jason Kilar. Flush with a $750 million investment from owners Fox, Disney and NBCUniversal, Hopkins, 45, has snapped up exclusive streaming rights to such hits as CBS' Elementary and ABC's Nashville. The former Fox Networks distribution chief also has put a premium on original content, hiring Warner Horizon's Craig Erwich to focus on big-budget scripted series that will help persuade some of the 40 million visitors to Hulu's free, ad-supported site to join the ranks of its 6 million paid subscribers.

    First job: Waiting tables at the Golden Egg Omelet House in Escondido, Calif.

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    Roy Price

    Director, Amazon Studios

    Courtesy of Subject

    10: Amazon pilots released in February

    After 10 years at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, the 46-year-old Beverly Hills native is coming home to ramp up the company's original-content production arm in Santa Monica. Amazon's TV initiative got a late start, in 2012, and has been playing catch-up with Netflix since. But Price managed to lure John Goodman to the political comedy Alpha House, and this year he plans to bring six new shows to Amazon, including a buzzed-about series from Six Feet Under's Jill Soloway and projects from Roman Coppola and The X-Files creator Chris Carter (not to mention 37 film projects in development). But Amazon, notoriously secretive about the number of subscribers to its Prime plan (the estimate is at least 20 million in the U.S.), has yet to prove its pilot process -- which allows wannabe screenwriters to submit scripts through the website and asks Amazon viewers to weigh in on which pilots make it to series -- can churn out cable-quality hits.

    First job: "Working on Fred Specktor's desk at CAA when I was 15. Richard Lovett was his No. 1 assistant, and I became his No. 2 assistant."

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    Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine

    Co-founders, Beats Electronics

    AP Images

    $3 BILLION: Price of Apple's offer for the company

    These music producers are Los Angeles' most-talked-about tech entrepreneurs thanks to Apple, which announced May 28 that it is poised to purchase their Beats Electronics for considerably more than a song. Andre Young, 49, who goes by Dr. Dre, and Iovine, 61, started out by turning stereo headphones into a must-have fashion accessory thanks to celebrity endorsements. Today, they helm a billion-dollar business on a 100,000-square-foot Culver City campus that includes a subscription streaming service (14 percent of which is owned by Universal Music Group, where Iovine will leave his role as chairman and CEO of the Interscope Geffen A&M unit). Look for the pair to make their first official appearance at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June -- and for them to take unspecified top jobs at Apple.

    Biggest accomplishment this year: Getting into the streaming business. Iovine recently told Time, "I personally have been thinking about streaming since 2000."

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    Sophia Amoruso

    CEO, Nasty Gal

    Claudia Lucia

    $100 MILLION-PLUS: Her company's estimated annual revenue

    Before Amoruso ruled an e-commerce empire, her only career experience was working at an art school, a job she took for the health-care benefits. The former shoplifting, dumpster-diving, self-described anti-capitalist got her start in fashion by selling edgy vintage pieces on eBay. Eight years later, she has turned that business into a thriving downtown L.A.-based company with more than 350 employees (Amoruso picked up the eye-catching domain name Nasty Gal for $8,000 from a former porn site). And she's not stopping with fashion: In May, she published novel/memoir/motivational guide #Girlboss, which quickly became a best-seller.

    Wishes someone would invent: A heated umbrella

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    Brian Robbins

    CEO, AwesomenessTV

    Courtesy of Subject

    $150 MILLION: Amount DreamWorks Animation offered for his company, including performance incentives

    Yep, he's the same Brian Robbins who played Eric on Head of the Class and directed 1999's Varsity Blues. In 2012, he launched a teen-themed YouTube network, and a year later he sold it to Jeffrey Katzenberg for more money than most former '80s sitcom actors see in a lifetime. Staying on as CEO, Robbins, 50, oversees more than 100 employees at his West L.A. headquarters, where AwesomenessTV also operates a YouTube network for Seventeen magazine. In April, he acquired the boutique network Big Frame for $15 million, and that same month he launched the digital animation channel DreamWorks TV.

    First job: Paperboy in his hometown of Brooklyn

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    Jesse Jacobs

    President, The Chernin Group

    Courtesy of Subject

    $500 MILLION: Size of fund created with AT&T in April to invest in, acquire and launch over-the-top video services

    Jacobs, 38, was brought into Peter Chernin's film and TV investment company to help push it to the front lines of new media -- and push he has. The former Goldman Sachs banker, who operates out of offices in Santa Monica, has brought such digital winners as Fullscreen (see No. 12), Pandora, Flipboard, Scopely, SoundCloud and Tumblr (which sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion in 2013) to Chernin's portfolio. Pushing even further, in December, Jacobs helped Chernin acquire a majority stake (reportedly worth nearly $100 million) in the Japanese anime streaming site Crunchyroll.

    Wish he'd invested in: The New York Times. "I have trouble starting a day without a physical copy -- not the digital version."

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    Sean Rad

    CEO, Tinder

    Courtesy of Subject

    NEARLY 2 BILLION: Matches his app has made

    The 28-year-old L.A. native is the brains behind Tinder, the super-hot mobile dating app that shows photos of potential matches and lets users swipe right if interested or left if not (users swipe about 850 million times a day). Rad has talked about moving beyond helping people hook up, but love connections remain the bottom line for his 2-year-old, 37-person West Hollywood-based company (said to be valued at about $500 million, with Barry Diller's IAC as the majority owner). "If you think about the real world," says Rad, explaining the psychology behind his app, "you walk into a room, and you're subconsciously making these quick, split-second decisions about the people around you."

    Binge watches: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

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    Nancy Tellem

    President, Xbox Entertainment Studios

    Courtesy of Subject

    48 MILLION: Xbox Live paid subscribers

    Microsoft made a bold statement about its original programming plans in 2012 when it hired the CBS veteran to build a Santa Monica studio to produce interactive content for the gaming demographic. There were reasons for high expectations, like her announcement that Xbox would develop a big-budget, live-action adaptation of Halo with Steven Spielberg executive producing. But nearly two years later, one of the only original series on which Xbox has delivered is Every Street United, an unscripted docuseries about international street soccer set to arrive on consoles and timed to the FIFA World Cup. To be fair to Tellem, 60, Hollywood would not be watching so closely if Xbox wasn't considered one of the platforms best positioned to challenge Netflix's dominance.

    Wishes she'd invested in: Trader Joe's and Peet's. "Both started in the Berkeley area when I was in college. I approached them about investing, but neither was ready."

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    George Strompolos

    CEO, Fullscreen

    Courtesy of Subject

    408 MILLION: Subscribers to his YouTube network

    Will he sell, or won't he? Strompolos, 34, has stayed mum, but Fullscreen, one of YouTube's largest networks, with more than 40,000 content creators (including the popular prankster FouseyTube), has its pick of suitors. Since Disney's purchase of Fullscreen's biggest competition, Maker Studios, at least five companies, including Relativity and NBCUniversal, are said to be circling Strompolos' Culver City firm. He acknowledges the appeal: "If you started Disney, Viacom or NBCUniversal today, you'd probably do it online, and you'd probably want to work with the next generation of content creators."

    First job: "Busing tables at my dad's diner, The Breakfast Prince, in Denver when I was 15 years old."

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    Gabriel Lewis

    Vice president, AOL Studios & AOL Originals

    Courtesy of Subject

    150 MILLION: Total views of its 2013 slate of AOL Originals

    AOL might not be producing buzzy, big-budget hits, but under Lewis, 38, the tech firm has struck on a formula that works. As one would expect from the co-founder of the news video network HuffPost Live, Beverly Hills-based Lewis' tastes run toward shortform video verite -- unscripted, celeb-driven episodic series like Steve Buscemi's Park Bench and Zoe Saldana's My Hero. He's already got one crossover: #CandidlyNicole, which will air on VH1 this summer. But like Netflix, Hulu and pretty much everybody else online these days, AOL is moving into original, long-form content, adapting an Israeli unscripted series called Connected, about the life of five New Yorkers, scheduled to air in 2015.

    First job: "I worked for a specialty prop shop in NYC that made props and puppets for Saturday Night Live and Letterman. I actually got to puppeteer on SNL occasionally."

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    Dana Settle

    Founding partner, Greycroft Partners

    Courtesy of Subject

    $175 MILLION: Size of the firm's most recent investment fund

    As head of Greycroft's West Coast office -- located in Santa Monica just below the Promenade -- the 41-year-old former Bay Area investor ensures that her early-stage venture capital firm finds startups with big potential. She's one of the few VCs in L.A. who can write a big check (from one of the largest funds in town). She found fledgling YouTube network Maker Studios in 2010 and helped it cobble together a small $1.5 million round -- an investment that paid off big when Disney offered up to $950 million for Maker in March (see No. 2).

    Binge watches: "I just finished [the Danish political drama] Borgen. Fabulous!"

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    Troy Carter

    CEO, Atom Factory

    Ye Rin Mok

    62: Investments to date (such as Warby Parker and Dropbox)

    He started as a music manager (launching Lady Gaga's career), but in the last few years he's become one of L.A.'s leading angel investors, helping finance such red-hot startups as Uber and Spotify, among others. Carter, 41, says his interest in the digital space was "born through a bit of desperation," explaining that when he couldn't get Gaga's songs played on traditional radio at the start of her career, he turned to social media to find her audience. Though he and Gaga parted ways in November, his management firm Atom Factory works with artists including John Mayer and John Legend. Meanwhile, AF Square, the Culver City company's investment arm, is where Carter is spending a big chunk of his time. "We keep the investment business separate from the management company," he says. "There are certain risks that we're willing to take on as a company, but we're not interested in our clients taking that same risk."

    Wishes he'd invested in: "Airbnb. My wife just learned about it two weeks ago, and she's an Airbnb addict now."

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    Dick Glover

    CEO, Funny or Die

    Courtesy of Subject

    20 MILLION PLUS: Unique monthly visitors

    When the president of the United States wants to talk to the youth of America, he goes to Funny or Die's Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis. Even without the president, the West Hollywood-based website that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay founded seven years ago remains the Internet's greatest incubator of viral comedy, generating 60 million video streams per month. "We live by the model of keeping the cost of content low and the cost of marketing very low -- often zero," says Glover, a former NASCAR executive who took the helm of Funny or Die in 2007 and has helped the company expand into TV with such projects as IFC miniseries Spoils of Babylon and Fuse TV talk show Billy on the Street. (Host Billy Eichner makes a cameo in Glover's selfie.)

    Wishes somebody would invent: Teleportation

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    Alex Carloss

    Head of entertainment, YouTube

    Courtesy of Subject

    120-PLUS: YouTube channels funded through the Original Channel Initiative

    Carloss, 45, joined YouTube in 2011 to help the Google-owned streaming platform link up with Hollywood. What resulted was YouTube's much-heralded $100 million Original Channel Initiative, which boasted such participants as Madonna, Vice and Lionsgate. The program fizzled after a year, but that doesn't mean Carloss' influence with content creators has dwindled (115 of the funded channels remain among the top 2 percent of most-subscribed on the platform). The British-born former Paramount exec works with many high-profile content creators and YouTube aces like Ellen DeGeneres to help them grow their audience.

    Favorite viral video: "The Slow Mo Guys -- a couple of Brits who have figured out how to take advantage of an HD camera to [film] the impact of a golf club on a golf ball."

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    Eric Berger

    General manager, Crackle

    Courtesy of Subject

    18 MILLION: Crackle users in the U.S. as of April

    Berger, 44, has found a hit for online streaming service Crackle with Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (recently renewed for four more seasons). Now the former Time Warner exec is looking to further raise the Culver City platform's profile by drawing top-tier talent such as Jeremy Renner, staring in cyber thriller film The Throwaways, and Bryan Cranston, producing comedy series Tightrope. Ad-supported Crackle started as a distributor of traditional movies and television shows but has expanded into original programming under Berger's watch in an effort to keep pace with competitors such as Hulu. The Sony-owned company has one leg up: access to the studio's global distribution channels.

    Favorite viral video: "The NFL: A Bad Lip Reading"

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    Sibyl Goldman

    Head of entertainment partnerships, Facebook

    Courtesy of Subject

    1.3 BILLION: Monthly active Facebook users

    While Facebook might wear the social media crown, Twitter is widely believed to have eclipsed the Mark Zuckerberg-led tech firm as the go-to place to talk about entertainment. That's where Goldman, 43, comes in. The former executive vp new media at Ryan Seacrest Productions was tapped in February to help strengthen the Menlo Park company's ties with Hollywood. Working with a small team out of Facebook's Playa Vista outpost, Goldman has been tasked with forging partnerships to make it the ideal destination to distribute content (not unlike when Beyonce announced her new album in December via Facebook-owned Instagram). Facebook's synergy with Hollywood has the potential to get even deeper; it announced in March the purchase of Oculus VR, maker of virtual reality headgear, signaling Facebook's interest in emerging content delivery platforms.

    Favorite viral video: "Conan, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart riding in a Lyft car."

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    Freddie Wong

    YouTube star

    Courtesy of Subject

    $898,000: Contributions pledged through Indiegogo to bankroll season three of web series Video Game High School

    Wong, 28, considers himself a writer-director-entrepreneur whose platform just happens to be the Internet. "At this point, there really is no difference," says the co-creator of Video Game High School,one of YouTube's most successful longform series. Launched on a budget that wouldn't cover a network sitcom's craft service bills, VGHS has audience numbers -- the first episode has drawn more than 10 million views -- that put most TV shows to shame. Lionsgate struck a deal with his Burbank-based company RocketJump in April to develop new projects with TV potential, but Wong still sees the value in web. "The length of our content is the same, and we get incredible production values off a fraction of TV budgets."

    First job: "I volunteered in the records room at the hospital in my neighborhood. Every finger had paper cuts."

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    Michael Heyward

    CEO, Whisper

    Christopher Patey

    6 BILLION PLUS: Number of Whisper posts viewed each month

    Heyward co-founded secret-sharing app Whisper in 2012 as a response to widespread sharing on social networks such as Facebook. "Web 1.0 was anonymous by default," the 26-year-old L.A. native tells THR. "But then we added this social layer on top of it." With Whisper, he wanted to bring the anonymity back, creating a place for people to express themselves without fear of discovery or reprisal. Whisper posts include "I'm tired of being unhappy in my marriage." Now, after raising a total of $60 million in venture capital, Heyward is looking to expand Whisper's reach. The 40-person Venice company released an update to the app in mid-May that makes it easier to search for posts by topic. He also recently hired Gawker viral content king Neetzan Zimmerman to establish editorial partnerships with publishers such as Buzzfeed and is experimenting with monetization through deals like the one struck with Universal to promote Endless Love. (Check THR.com on Friday for more about Whisper.)

    First job: A lemonade stand

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    Keith Richman

    President, Defy Media

    Courtesy of Subject

    500 MILLION: Monthly views on videos produced in-house

    Richman runs an expanding content production kingdom from L.A.'s Miracle Mile, servicing what's still the Internet's core demographic -- 14-year-old boys. Formed by the October merger of Break Media, where he was CEO, and Alloy Digital, Defy produces everything from teen-slanted sketch comedy (on sites like Smosh) to movie trailer spoofs (Honest Trailers) and elaborate practical jokes (Prank It Forward, which generated 20 million views in just one week with its April Fools prank fest). "We want to create more franchise-driven programming," Richman, 41, says, noting that the company spends nearly $2 million a month on original programming.

    Wishes he'd invented: "Uber -- I hate driving."

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    Beatriz Acevedo

    Co-founder and president, MiTu

    Courtesy of Subject

    5 BILLION: Total views across the network's more than 1,100 YouTube channels

    She runs the largest online distribution platform for Latino content creators, with a YouTube network that has more than 36 million subscribers for videos in English, Spanish and Portuguese on topics that range from beauty to education."Before MiTu, there were very few options on the Web where Latinos could find culturally relevant content," says Acevedo, 45, of her Culver City-based company. She began her media career at age 8 at a Mexican radio station.

    Wishes somebody would invent: "A cloning app for working moms that would allow us to be in multiple places at once."

    *This post has been updated to reflect current view and subscription numbers for MiTu.

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    Zach James and Rich Raddon

    Co-CEOs, Zefr

    Courtesy of Subjects

    $30 MILLION: Funding raised in February from Institutional Venture Partners

    Hollywood saw a threat when fans began uploading unauthorized movie and TV clips onto YouTube, but James, 32, and Raddon, 46, saw opportunity. In 2009 they co-founded MovieClips and were soon working with Paramount, Sony and other studios to create a network of licensed clips online. In the past five years, the Abbot Kinney-based company has evolved, changing its name to Zefr (a reference to Zephyrus, the Greek god of western wind) and refocusing on developing software that helps studios manage their copyrighted material (by letting them search when one of their clips gets illegally uploaded, for instance). They've also been shedding old assets: Last April, they sold Zefr's legacy MovieClips business, with its 25 channels and 45,000 clips, to Fandango.

    Raddon's favorite viral video: "The fan spoofs of Jean-Claude Van Damme's Volvo splits video."

    James wishes he'd invented: Shaved-ice machines

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    Grace Helbig

    Founder, it'sGrace

    Courtesy of Subject

    1.8 MILLION: Subscribers to her YouTube channel

    There's a zillion talented people on YouTube, but not many who've proved that they can hop channels and take most of their audience with them. When Helbig, 28, walked away from contract negotiations with My Damn Channel last year and instead started the independent channel it'sGrace, more than half of her 2.4 million subscribers followed. "It's important to own my content and to be completely independent," she says. Meanwhile, she's branching out, starring in February's online film Camp Takota and publishing her first digital book this fall.

    First job: "I worked in a fitting room at T.J. Maxx."

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