Digital Power: Brand Builders

Creating next-gen household names

Erik Flannigan (Illustration by Christopher Hues)
Erik Flannigan
Executive vp digital media, MTV Networks Entertainment Group

Flannigan manages a broad portfolio of multiplatform brands, including the Web sites of cable networks Comedy Central, Spike TV and TV Land, as well as digital channels including, and Despite the breadth, he proudly micromanages, often fussing over metadata tags so that users easily can find a particular scene from "South Park." "Most companies would have this stuff farmed out, but I believe in doing it all internally," he says. The company delivered more than 100 million streams in March, enough to rank it No. 11 next to NBC Universal and CNN in viewership, according to Nielsen's Video Census.

Eric Berger
Senior vp digital networks, Sony Pictures Television

No TV network in the U.S.? No problem for Sony, which is building a next-generation version under the direction of Berger. In less than three years, Sony has done a 180-degree repositioning of its online entertainment strategy, taking 2006 acquisition Grouper from being a YouTube wannabe to Crackle, home to the most ambitious original programming strategy on the Internet. Formerly Sony's overseer of mobile, Berger took over all of Sony's digital brands in October. He's able to tap Sony biggies including Kevin James and Barry Sonnenfeld to contribute original material. "We can work with studio talent to make a digital home," he says.

Brett Bouttier
Senior vp digital, Warner Bros. TV Group

With well-established Warner Bros. brands from "Ellen" to "Extra" at his disposal, Bouttier probably could kick back and bask in the online spillover. But he's using them to help launch a slew of new digital brands. "We're packaging across brands to reach the right audiences and advertisers," he says. So don't be surprised if a mom-targeted brand like, launched last year, gets cross-promoted through "The Tyra Banks Show." Bouttier also has brands from celeb stalker TMZ to magazine offshoot, but his biggest breakout might be, a revival of the TV net that streams standbys like "Dawson's Creek" and originals like the Josh Schwartz production "Rockville, CA."

Craig Engler
Senior vp and GM, Sci Fi Digital

The brains behind the "Battlestar Galactica" webisodes and captain of all Sci Fi digital properties was promoted in March, just in time to celebrate 12 months of record-setting Web traffic and sales. In the past year the net has launched three offshoot sites and an acquisition portfolio, including a partnership with ZooKaZoo for the ages 6-12 demographic. By December the channel will be in 50 international territories, up from 15. Engler credits the recent expansion to unusually close ties between development and digital, and a willingness to experiment. "When we find out that no one's ever done it before, that's a great place to give something a try," he says.

Karin Gilford
Senior vp, Fancast and online entertainment, Comcast

The former Yahoo Entertainment GM doesn't lose sleep about so-called "cord cutters" like Hulu. That's because her new employer has big plans to bridge TV and PC. With 7 million unique visitors a month, Fancast in its current form might not be leading the pack in its category, but when Comcast adds its universal database, backend delivery and promotional venue via TV, it's poised for big growth. Plans to launch an on-demand service for Comcast's massive base of subscribers will certainly help that endeavor. "When you marry yourself to the cable platform, that's a very powerful equation," Gilford says.

Dick Glover
President and CEO, Or Die Networks

A tough economy is challenging for all upstart companies. But on the other hand, everyone could use a good laugh these days. Glover has brought the marketing savvy he developed as a top exec at NASCAR to his new company's range of humor-focused video Web sites. They now average more than 6 million unique visitors per month, and Glover credits giving creative talent (including everyone from Will Ferrell to Zach Galifianakis) wide license to do what they do best. "I don't tell people what's funny," he says. "That's irrelevant."

Craig Parks
Vp digital media, IFC

Since joining in 2007, Parks has helped to double IFC Network sponsorship revenue, and last year he saw the same results with That's in part a result of his Media Lab Studios, which calls for users to create branded content for an IFC advertising partner and offers development deals in return. In February, Parks completely revamped with a renewed focus on original Web series, including two series from indie up-and-comer Joe Swanberg. Between, IFC Free VOD, the company's syndicated digital content and a new push into the mobile space, Parks is moving especially quickly. "If anything, we wish we could do it even faster, but we're a tiny little network," he says.

Keith Richman
CEO, Break Media

Despite being a serial entrepreneur, Richman says he developed a mission statement for Break only recently, four years after its launch. The goal now is to be the ultimate online brand for men ages 18-34. Some might think the humor in such sites as Holy Taco, Screen Junkies and Cage Potato is a bit juvenile, but the site reaches more than 60 million uniques and revenue has doubled each year. Now studios including Lionsgate ("Crank"), which has a stake in the company, and Paramount ("Breakdance") come to Break looking to generate buzz among young men.

Ira Rubenstein
Executive vp, global digital media group, Marvel Entertainment

When Rubenstein joined Marvel, the comic book icon's Web site attracted
1 million visitors annually and was riddled with typos and broken images. "It was a company that had done some work in the digital world but not a lot," he says. A year later, Rubenstein has relaunched a beefed-up site that lands three times more visitors, created a top 100 channel on YouTube and closed a deal with Hulu. Marvel's editors are even Twittering.

Anthony Soohoo
Senior vp and GM, entertainment and lifestyle, CBS Interactive

The Harvard MBA grad has worked for Apple and Yahoo, started his own company and works in San Francisco. But as the face of CBS Interactive, he's Hollywood enough to be involved in adapting "Ghost Whisperer" and "Survivor" to the Web. But don't sell CBS Interactive short. "It's not the marketing arm of the network," Soohoo says. "A big part of how I'm evaluated is how we deliver financially." He also oversees such Web-only series as "Clark and Michael" and "Heckle U" as well as CBS Web properties including and And don't forget the rapidly growing, which is aggregating enough content to take a run at Hulu.

Paul Yanover
Executive vp and managing director, Disney Online

In 2007, Yanover commanded the ambitious overhaul of Last year he expanded the site with more video and interactivity for kids. This year he's going for moms and dads. In April, Disney announced its intention to acquire family-oriented Canadian media company Kaboose for $18.4 million. Yanover hopes the acquisition will help expand Disney's empire from entertainment to parenting. At the same time, he's working to seamlessly connect mobile and Web offerings to better target tweens using multiple screens to watch videos and play games, all while doing their homework.

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