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Funny or Die CEO Explains Business Model: 'Be Nothing Like Kevin Costner'

Dick Glover, FoD president and CEO
Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover

Humor site executive Dick Glover spoke at TEDxHollywood, an event at UCLA that brought together producers, musicians and new-media pioneers to chat about the future of entertainment.

In Hollywood circa 2007, as Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover described it, the cost of creating content was rising and social media was just starting to gain a foothold among consumers. In stepped a humor site that counted Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as founders. Their new model, Glover said, was built in three ways.  

"Put talent first. Enable great creative people. Second, marry the best of two very disparate cultures -- Hollywood and Silicon Valley. And, then, third, be nothing like Kevin Costner," Glover elaborated in a talk at a TEDxHollywood event on Wednesday. 

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He invoked Costner's Field of Dreams -- where the actor hears a voice saying, "If you build it, he will come" and builds a baseball field -- to explain the reference. That model, Glover said, "resonates very, very well in the Hollywood system, where millions and millions and millions of dollars are spent on projects that may never even come into existence."

But for Funny or Die, the CEO elaborated, the famous quote is reversed to: "If they come, we will build it." He says, "We don’t spend money on development; we don’t spend money that we won’t see immediate return."

Glover was one of several speakers at TedxHollywood, an event held on Wednesday at UCLA's Freud Playhouse featuring talks, live music and sessions that grouped together contributors under themes like "Succeeding Outside the System." The event was hosted by organizer Ken Hertz, an attorney at Hertz & Lichtenstein media law, one of the sponsors of the event. 

The event also counted DC 3 Music Group, Rogers & Cowan, Colony Capital, Coca-Cola and Miramax among its sponsors and Adweek, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter as its media partners. As Glover's anecdote conveys, speakers at the event told stories of navigating the new-media landscape and parlaying expertise into becoming a personal brand. 

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Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of luxury brand Burberry, spoke about how the power of positive human energy can change corporate culture. Moj Mahdara, co-founder of consulting agency Made With Elastic, elaborated about making appealing marketing content for the "like us generation," mentioning the importance of connection, creation, community and curation. 

Jared Gutstadt, the CEO of creative music agency Jingle Punks, boiled down his advice about following in the viral-stunt footsteps of pop music satire artist Weird Al Yankovic to this catch phrase: "What would Weird Al Do?" Rachel Shechtman, the founder of STORY, a Manhattan retail space that creates themed shopping experiences, talked about the ways online trends and analytics can support the offline world. 

Singer-songwriter Kina Grannis shared her story of winning Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest, getting her music video placed in the 2008 football game and earning an Interscope Records deal. Grannis, who garnered a sizeable social-media following (currently 245,000 Facebook fans), explained why she ditched the major label deal in favor of striking out on her own. 

"At some point, I started realizing these people are supporting me because I’m me and because I’m making the music I want to make, not the music some label is telling me I should be making. And so, eventually, it gave me the confidence to think maybe I can do this on my own," she said. 

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Although the theme of operating independently of media gatekeepers was echoed by several speakers -- after all, "Everyone Is A Media Company" was the title of one of the sessions -- Funny or Die's Glover conceded that the new-media humor site still operates in an old-media world. 

"With all of that, though, I don’t kid myself," he said at the conclusion of his remarks. "We actually rely on the system. We rely on the networks and the studios and the ad agencies to buy our TV shows and buy our movies and buy our media. But I think that what we demonstrated is that if you do enable people to live out their passions in the environment in which they’re comfortable, you’ll succeed both inside and outside the system."

Email: erik.hayden@thr.com