Fishman is betting that young women who used to watch the CW or MTV will demand those sorts of shows from YouTube, too.
On the latest episode of Recode Media, Brat co-founder Rob Fishman joined Recode’s Peter Kafka in the studio to talk about how his LA-based digital video studio is making TV for the internet’s young women — primarily teens and tweens who were once the target demo of channels like the CW and MTV.
“A lot of people are making videos, but I think that there’s a big distinction between taking a clip of Donald Trump and putting some text over it versus producing a TV show,” Fishman said. “And TV shows can live in different places today. And in our case, they’re on YouTube and Amazon, but I don’t think that there are a lot of people making programming or videos for this generation.”
Brat is his third company; his second, an ad broker for influencers called Niche, sold to Twitter for about $55 million in 2015. On the new podcast, Fishman said he no longer has any Twitter stock or an inside line on what’s going on with his former acquirer, but he called for the company to directly address issues around harassment on its platform that were starting to get noticed when he was there.
“The abuse and harassment, and just the tribalism that I think is growing there, and continues to grow, is disturbing to see from the outside,” he said. “Again, I don’t have any privileged insight in, but I think that tackling those issues is fundamental, not just for them. You’re seeing that at Facebook and frankly at YouTube where there are brand safety concerns around comments and hate. I think that the large platforms, Twitter included, really need to do some introspective thinking before they figure out what to build around that service.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Peter’s conversation with Rob.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka, that is me, I am part of the Vox Media Podcast Network. Back here in New York City, sitting here with New York’s … You’re not a New York City native, right? Adjacent?
Rob Fishman: I grew up in the suburbs.
It says on Wikipedia.
Exactly. I do all my Wikipedia research now. It’s great.
Very accurate, I’m sure. You’re Don Hewitt’s …?
Great-nephew. Don Hewitt was?
The executive producer of 60 Minutes.
Okay, now I got that out of the way. Because now, every podcast guest I have on, Wikipedia tells me is related to someone famous.
Someone got somewhere somehow, right?
Rob Fishman, you’re famous for your own exploits in digital media.
Yeah. I’ve been trying to pave my own path.
Yeah, this is my third company.
We’ll talk about what Brat is, we’ll talk about your last company, we’ll talk about your first company, we’ll talk about why you started making companies on your own. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.
I’ve written about you a bunch.
I will say the Wikipedia thing did give me pause, because it says you’re 32?
I’ll be 33 in two weeks, so…
Ah, man … so when I first met you when you were in Chinatown … that’s like 2012, 2013 …?
I was 14.
You were 14. You were running your second company.
Ah, all right. I gotta pick up the pace. Let’s talk about what Brat is first, and then we can go backwards. So, here’s how I would describe Brat. You tell me where I’m wrong. Because, normally, I ask the guest, “You tell me what the company is,” and then I tell them why they’re making it up with an explanation. We’ll reverse it. You want to make media for young people, teens, tweens, primarily young girls?
Young women, yep.
Young women. Low-cost video. You’ve got a studio out in LA. You have an advantage, you think, over competitors, because you understand the influencer world and you can make video efficiently. I want to say that instead of “cheap.”
Yeah, I mean, that’s …
Full stop, right?
You should come work for us.
Yeah. You’re looking for a PR guy.
Exactly. No, I mean, we are in some ways a TV network. I grew up watching the WB, and every night I’d watch Dawson’s Creek or Buffy or Roswell, and our biggest observation was that was missing from the market, and for whatever reason there’s still $60 billion or $70 billion being spent on television advertising.
You aspire to have a brand that is the next WB?
These are all touchstones for us.
But there are a million people making video and other content aimed at this market, right?
Yes and no.
There have been for decades, right? So, you’re not the only one there, you’re not the only one who said, “Hey, I bet 12-year-old girls would be a good market for me to target.” So, what’s your secret sauce?
There’s a few things. First of all, I actually think we are one of a very few people making programming for this generation. A lot of people are making videos, but I think that there’s a big distinction between taking a clip of Donald Trump and putting some text over it versus producing a TV show.
And TV shows can live in different places today. And in our case, they’re on YouTube and Amazon, but I don’t think that there are a lot of people making programming or videos for this generation. I think there’s a white space, but we can talk about that, or I can answer your second question.
Yeah, no, I’m just thinking. So, I went and saw your facilities in December and I thought, “Oh, this is familiar. This looks like BuzzFeed at one point, this looks like Maker Studios at one point.” I’m sure if I’d gone back 10 years earlier and seen someone else targeting …
Cheapish video. And again, it’s a 10,000-square-foot studio, which sounds really grand, but really, it’s a warehouse cordoned off into a couple different sections. You’ve got your own little construction part so you can make sets. You’ve got some dresses.
It’s sort of standard stuff, and allows you to make video efficiently and cheaply. But that alone isn’t enough to make this work?
Totally. I mean, I think there’s a few important points there. And most of all is that we’re an IP company, not a video company, and so, our fans are religiously tuning into shows like Chicken Girls and Total Eclipse, and our newest hit show is Zoe Valentine. We have a new show called On the Ropes With Ryan Garcia, who’s a popular real-life boxer who just fought at Madison Square Garden. We have our spring break movie coming out in five minutes, called Spring Breakaway.
And, to touch on some of the points you mentioned, those shows do feature Gen Z talent with huge audiences. They come into those pieces of programming. We do film efficiently, to borrow your word. That still involves 20-, 30-person crews and real productions, but compared to Hollywood standards, we’re pennies on the dollar.
But, ultimately, we’re investing in shows that our audience tunes into every week, and I think that that’s actually the most salient point and the most unique, when you look at it.
Not just a random thing that showed up in Facebook one day.
Yeah, we don’t … our Facebook traffic is not … nonexistent. We’re Instagram, we’re YouTube, we’re growing on Snap. But we’re destination/appointment viewing, and I think that that’s really gotten lost from the conversation in the last 10 years. Everyone’s drifted into this content well of who posted first, who gets the scoop, and less of, “Let’s watch This Is Us tonight! We’re looking forward to it.”
Right, although the content well thing … people are sort of moving back from that, right? Because it turns out that just putting stuff on Facebook doesn’t work as a business.
I think they are moving back from that, but when I think about the most highly-valued digital media companies out there, and I say, “Hey, Peter what’s their most popular show?” I mean, I can’t name one.
… This is gonna be a long pause.
Yeah. But, that’s interesting. If I said to you, 10 years ago, “What’s the most popular show on NBC right now?” They were must-see TV, they were a slate of shows that people actually, affirmatively cared about, and that’s been our ambition from the beginning, not to just build an audience through blind video creation.
So, again, I don’t want to go over and over it, but you’re not the first person to show up in Hollywood or anywhere else and say, “I’ve got this idea, and I see this market here.” What got you to Hollywood? You’re based in New York, initially. That’s where I met you. It’s fun to go to LA, right? But what made you think, “I want to go here and make this thing now”?
Yeah, so our last company, which we’ve talked about a bunch, called Niche, which was acquired by Twitter in 2015, did sort of the marketing and advertising side of this business to some extent, which is, we had a network of digital talent, and brands came in and packaged big campaigns to run across these networks.
And it was incredible to me how quickly Vine, Instagram, Snapchat were able to cultivate these massive audiences of young people and how hungry brands were to reach them. And I looked at those audiences which were developed in a Silicon Valley way through a platform and people posting their own content, and said, “There’s a huge gap in the market here, of course, but what about for TV-style programming?” Because the mind share has left TV and moved to these digital apps.
Right, that’s the thing, when you say that no one does appointment programming. Well, there’s a reason. It’s because no one’s watching linear TV. The idea of waiting till eight o’clock to watch a show is bonkers, right?
Well, it turns out it’s not bonkers, actually, because …
People subscribe to stuff they like.
And I’m sure you have a core audience that do want to watch this thing when it’s out, if you tell me it’s out Thursday at eight. But the entire world has moved to on demand …
Of course, and our whole library is always on, and they can watch any time. But we do see … our holiday movie came out in December. We had 65,000 people waiting for that to go onto live chat on YouTube, which is appointment viewing.
Right, so that means you’ve got a big audience, and they’re into it.
But it also … you could’ve put it on whenever.
Oh, no, I’m not here to espouse linear television. I think that that doesn’t make any sense, but I think for that kind of programming, that kind of content, there is a hunger for that that’s not being met.
So, again, this does remind me a little bit of the … just terrible acronym … MCNs, right?
This was the first YouTube attempt to professionalize businesses there, and those were in many ways just fancy ad networks. But a lot of them were trying to make their own low-cost programming. Again, I think you had Maker …
Maker, Awesomeness, Fullscreen.
Osimis, Fullscreen, all those guys. And that flamed out. There was one big exit, a couple other smaller ones, and everyone’s sort of frustrated with that business. What did you learn from afar, watching that business?
Well, I think that those, as you rightly pointed out, were mostly ad networks. They were collections of hundreds, in some cases thousands of channels, where they were really acting as an intermediary.
”Hey, you, you have a video show. That seems pretty cool. Will you join our ad network and sometimes we’ll give you a cut of our cut.”
In a way, they were similar to Niche, our last business, even though we were doing much more high fidelity, hands-on campaigns, we were brokers. We were middlemen.
And this business is about creating our own consumer brand, and we do some interesting stuff with talent, with advertisers. But at the end of the day, when we look over a quarter, which is about a season of programming, we see 15 million unique viewers tune in. They’re watching, you know, 10 videos a month, they’re tuning in for up to 10 minutes of video. It’s quite engaged as an audience, and that’s the most important thing for us.
I don’t think that many young people went home five years ago and said, “Oh, Mom, I saw the best show on Maker tonight!”
Yeah. But one of the issues that I was writing about at the time was that there just was not that much money to go around in aggregate. And then when you divided it up by view, it got very, very small, and then if you were an MCN and then had to pass that along to an individual creator, they were getting very small checks for lots of views.
Has that gotten better?
I think that there’s … well, A) on aggregate, a lot more money going into this ecosystem than there was just five years ago, just because of the decline of television.
But, it still has not moved over en masse. The advertising dollars always … There’s a long lag between the dollars and the adverts.
Correct. I think there needs to be companies like ours, who have videos, who have pieces of content that people watch for more than two seconds, before advertisers are going to start bringing their brand advertising over.
So, we’ve been talking around it, but your business model, obviously, is advertising?
We have a bunch of different revenue streams that are starting to become interesting. I think most of our money, if I talk to you in December, will come from direct advertising spends.
So, that part makes sense, right? You make stuff that is popular. It reaches a market that people want to be in front of. How else do you make money?
First of all, we make programmatic revenue from the platforms where they serve ads against what we’re doing.
You put something on YouTube, YouTube puts a random ad there …?
Yeah, we make in the seven figures in programmatic, based on the amount of watch time that we have been able to drive. We make money on Spotify. We do a lot of original songs, and similar to YouTube, they pay us a share of …
So, someone who was already a little bit famous comes to you, gets more famous, and famous enough to put out a song on iTunes or Spotify?
Yeah, but even more than that, we actually help them produce and write the songs, and those are the theme songs of our shows, so it all is incorporated. We sell merch and products on Amazon. And we have an editorial website where we write articles at brat.com.
So, we’re trying to build a studio system that, in some ways, has a bunch of money coming in in different ways. We are also thinking about media sales on and around our own channels, and selling that as well. And we are starting to work with platform partners more closely to produce content for them.
I actually think when you have a large core audience, and a demographic that is desirable, there are actually a lot of ways to make money, and we’re just starting to scratch that surface.
Give me the names of three of your biggest stars.
Sure. Our three, if I look at the last year, Chicken Girls was our first and signature hit, and that’s Annie LeBlanc who’s been in that show and now a second show of ours. Total Eclipse is with Mackenzie Ziegler, who was just on Dancing with the Stars: Junior. We just launched a new show that just wrapped the first season called Zoe Valentine with Anna Cathcart who many people probably saw in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which was a Netflix feature that did super well.
I know none of them, but that’s good because if a creepy 47-year-old guy knew those stars, that’d be a problem. Is the idea that you want to catch these folks when they’re on the up but not so big that they’re going to be headlining Netflix movies of their own?
And/or what’s the pitch to them? Are you giving them money up front? Are they getting a percentage of revenue associated with their IP? Are you going to own a piece of them if they move on to MTV or feature films?
To answer the last question, we’re not managers or talent agents. We look at ourselves as a network. We compensate our talent, I think, very well and through a variety of different ways. Most talent is a very simple agreement to come and act and provide services for us.
Going to pay you to be in this movie or TV show.
We’ll do 10 episodes at this much, done.
Yeah, and of course, as I mentioned, we work with talent in a lot of different ways. Some people have different kinds of agreements, but that’s pretty standard. For them, I think because of the death of television and Netflix is a tough nut to crack — there’s not that many shows that go on every year — there’s not a huge abundance of roles that are necessarily being cast. We come to these people, and we say, “We’re going to film this project in four weeks. You’re going to be the star of it. We’re going to cast some people that you know and love. The shoot’s going to be really fun. It’s going to come out very soon after that, and it gives you something to have that’s your own.”
Do any of them or their parents or their managers say, “Well that’s good, but actually, I’m up on the disaggregation of media, and I can make low-cost stuff, and I can keep 100 percent of the revenue, and I can put my stuff on Instagram”?
Totally. I don’t think it’s zero sum. They’re not posting less on Instagram or on YouTube because they’re working with us. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s giving them collateral to talk about on YouTube and Instagram. I think the disaggregation of media is interesting, but it creates a lot of fragmented entities who are left on their own with very little in the way of resources and capital to do anything. I think the goal for an individual creator is to become bigger than themselves. It kind of reminds me of The Dark Knight when Bruce Wayne says, “How do I become a symbol?”
I’m trying to remember that scene.
You’re giving me a funny look.
I’m just looking off in the distance trying to remember the movie.
Well, no, but if you think about talent, really the question is, “How do I create leverage? How do I become bigger than just what I can do every day?” Suddenly you have a song that’s a hit single. You have a show that everyone knows you from. You wrote a book. And that media starts to propel itself into the popular consciousness. I think that’s where we can help this kind of talent who’s just getting started.
Again, making low-cost video that’s going to be distributed digitally for free, supported by advertising and other revenue. You’re not the first person to invent this. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman are out speaking at many places, explaining that what the world really needs is high-cost, premium video. I’m trying to read your face here.
I don’t think that that’s necessary wrong. I just think that that exists everywhere. That’s what Netflix is, that’s what Hulu is, that’s what Disney+ is going to be.
His will be shorter.
Yeah, well, I mean, you can hit the pause button anywhere.
Do you think there is a world for that, that where someone says, “I would like to watch this stuff, but if only it was shorter and I had paid for it”?
I can tell you only my experience, which was we started with four- to five-minute videos, and our audience clamored immediately, like I’m talking about 10,000 fans posting on Instagram saying, “Make the episodes longer,” tagging us. Now we’re almost like a 22-minute standard TV episode.
Basically sitcom length.
What’s your cost per minute, on average?
A few thousand bucks.
Yeah, but it looks good.
No, I mean, look, I would hold our stuff up to what’s on Netflix. I also think if you’re talking about unscripted or hosted shows, sure, maybe shorter is better. For scripted narrative entertainment, I have seen very few examples of where people want to watch a few minutes on the subway and then pick it up next week.
You and your co-founder Darren, who had done Niche together, come out to LA from Twitter. You say, “Hey, we’ve got this great idea to make content, and by the way, we want to raise some money to do it.” Who comes to you and says, “This is great, but none of you guys know how to make this stuff. It’s one thing to do tech stuff, it’s one thing to connect influencers with advertisers, but you guys want to make content. Show me that you can do this”?
We did work on, helped invest and produce a film that was acquired by YouTube Red before we started that did fine, and then our investors placed some trust in us. They can tune in to see whether that trust was misplaced or not, but I think that we have built a 60-person team in Hollywood of experienced professionals who know how to create television content. We just hired a woman named Jessica Klein who was actually the showrunner of 90210 in the ’90s and has been working in TV ever since, and she leads our writer’s room.
You don’t need to know how to make a TV show because you can hire those people.
Oh no, they hate me. I sit in the writer’s room all day.
Just because you’re a nerd.
You’re a media nerd. You like it.
I think writing’s fun. It’s our core product also, so I care a lot about it, but we have an amazing woman named Nora who’s our head of physical production, a guy named Chase who came from Awesomeness who’s our head of post-production. We have a team, and I think it’s a little bit like how do you write software? Like, I’ve been a product manager, but I’m not typing in all of the code.
But you are sitting in the writer’s room. They must find that very annoying.
They might be pleased that you’re here in New York right now.
They’ll be thrilled to listen to this.
Let’s go back in time. I met you on company No. 2, but let’s go back. Again, Wikipedia tells me that you were a social media guy at HuffPost?
Yeah, I had an interesting first job.
How’d you get to HuffPost?
I just actually ran into Arianna a week ago.
As one does.
Her memory is so sharp, it’s scary. She remembers every single thing that’s ever happened in the history of the world. I had been at Columbia Journalism School, and I had a few friends who worked there. It had not started that long before, and I went over to do editorial. It was actually interesting, especially in this moment in time, Facebook had just started approaching news organizations to be like, “Hey, we want to do news.”
This is 2010-ish, ‘11-ish.
Yeah, ‘09, ‘10 really. I raised my hand because I thought it would be interesting. I actually went out with Arianna a bunch to Facebook, and we were petitioning for features. The New York Times and all these guys just didn’t have tech teams, and they couldn’t really work with Facebook. Folks at Huffington Post were willing to chat with them. We were right in the middle of when Facebook was getting into all of this.
“We like stuff, can you make us some stuff?”
Yeah, totally. It was like, “We have this feed.”
How did you get to HuffPost? Because this was still not everyone can get to HuffPost even back then, right?
Yeah. Actually, I had a friend, a few friends who worked at the Huffington Post, and then I had met Ken Lerer, who ended up investing in all three of my companies.
You don’t just meet Ken Lerer. He’s not just hanging out in the street.
Well, actually I had met him at the Columbia Journalism School in large part because his daughter, Isabelle, was getting her PhD, and now she’s started The Dodo.
If you want to hear a cantankerous interview, go back and find Ken’s visit to this building a couple years ago. It’s good.
Kenny gets you to …
I actually had to petition both Kenny and Arianna for a job.
Arianna and then you had to make a fake resume and Photoshop your head on. You work at HuffPost for a while, and then at some point you launched your own company, which is?
Well, I went to AOL, and then they had started Lerer Ventures, Kenny and Eric, and they helped me start my first thing, which was, we were trying to actually make Facebook apps and create tools for that. We ended up doing our own first, which was almost like a matching dating app on the desktop, which probably wasn’t the space to do it because then Tinder launched on phones. We were only around for about 11 months, and our team went over to BuzzFeed in a sort of “acquihire” deal to work on ad tech there.
Right. When I’m going to say you built and sold three companies, you’re saying, “Well, the first one’s an ‘acquihire.’”
Maybe two and a half.
Okay, two and a half, but it’s an exit. That’s a success. It’s your first company that I meet you. You’re doing Niche, which to me seemed like a really good idea at the time because this is one of those, you’re going to describe it a different way, but basically you’re matching advertisers with people who wanted advertisers to give them money so they could go make … Basically, this is what we call an influencer today, right?
I think you called them back then as well.
People say influencer marketing or somesuch.
Right. There’s a ton of these things now. If you go to any conference, there’s like a ton of people who are doing this. You were fairly early.
Yeah, I think we were at the right moment where we weren’t the first people, but we were, like, definitely not near the middle of the pack.
Right, so Gap wants people who are kind of famous on Instagram. We’ll give them a few thousand bucks to wear Gap clothes and take photos of themselves.
One hundred percent. It’s interesting both how many people are doing it and still how much of a Wild West it is.
I do want to ask you about that market, but so you do this. It’s kind of software, kind of service. It looks like it’s going to be a really good business. Then really quickly, you turn around and sell it to Twitter.
Yeah, what ended up happening was Twitter actually was driving a lot of our business because they owned Vine, and they were launching Twitter Video, and then they had Periscope. Advertisers are saying, “Cool, how do we make Twitter ads with all of these new toys that you own?” Twitter was like, “I don’t know.”
They actually started sending us to these huge brands, and we created all these amazing Vines with HP, which became a TV spot, which was an incredibly successful TV commercial. As we were out raising more money, they said, “Would you guys be open to coming here and doing this within Twitter?” and we said, “Yes.”
Was there much debate?
Like, “Maybe we can make this bigger on our own. We’re pretty early. If Twitter wants to spend $40 or $50 million,” whatever the number is, you can tell me the real number …
It’s closer to $55.
$55, very good.
You forever cut down our net worth on the internet.
Whenever you do an M&A story, right, the people who sell the company want to tell you they had the biggest possible number, then to the people who buy it want to give you a smaller number. You triangulate.
That’s fine. I’m sure by the stock price went down, it was both.
$55 million is a big pile of money, right? Whether or not that’s all guaranteed upfront or not, it’s a big pile of money. A lot of people, normally people would say, “Great, great,” because you’re in your 20s at the time?
”This is great. I can buy an apartment in New York with this money. That’s real money.” Other folks, that are weird to me, say, “No, no, no, no, we’re going to go really big.” Was there much of that discussion?
You mean in terms of not selling the company and holding?
Look, I think that we’re fairly rational and opportunistic, and I’ve heard a lot of stories about people holding on for too long. Twitter was such a close partner to us and it made a lot of sense. As you said, I was in my 20s, and it did seem and was a lot of money, and I have no regrets about that.
Good for you. You and Darren go to Twitter, you stay there.
We’ve done really well. I will say, Twitter has made many times over their money.
As their in-house agency basically?
Does Niche still exist as a standalone thing within Twitter?
It sure does. Yeah, we have offices in Sao Paulo and London. I’m happy and pleased that it’s continued to perform well because you hear about a lot of acquisitions that come in and go quickly to zero.
This was in the era when people were still optimistic about Twitter. Twitter’s ad business was on the rise. This was before people equated Twitter with like a cesspool of Nazis.
It was right before.
What was that experience like internally at Twitter?
Twitter’s a really interesting place. I think there’s a little bit of a disconnect between Twitter the product and Twitter the company. My experience as a user of Twitter never really changed having been there. My experience at Twitter the company, there was a huge amount of executive turnover while we were there.
Who was running it when they bought you?
Dick, but left soon after.
That’s Dick Costolo, so then bringing back Jack Dorsey.
… and then Jack came. Yeah. We were there when Vine went under and for a lot of internal turmoil, and I think it’s gotten a lot better, from what I understand.
Do you still have Twitter stock? Are you allowed to…?
I do not.
You’re not constrained in any way.
No, I might be.
Often people say, “Oh, Twitter’s a product problem. If they can just fix the product somehow, they can get themselves out of whatever mess they’re in.” Do you believe that’s true, or do you think there’s something else going on?
I’m not totally sure if Twitter’s “broken,” so to speak. There may be cultural and there’s certainly issues around harassment, but from a product perspective, I’m not sure. Rather, if you take a step back and look at user numbers and revenue numbers from what I know, which is no more than you know, probably less, the story seems to be a decent one this year. Is that right?
When I’ve talked to people who’ve been there, they’re like, “Yeah, that’s the thing. That core group’s not going to grow much, and so we have to figure out what business to build around that.”
I would love to see them address some of the underlying problems, as I said, the abuse and harassment, and just the tribalism that I think is growing there and continues to grow there is disturbing to see from the outside. Again, I don’t have any privileged insight in, but I think that tackling those issues is fundamental, not just for them. You’re seeing that at Facebook and frankly at YouTube where there are brand safety concerns around comments and hate. I think that the large platforms, Twitter included, really need to do some introspective thinking before they figure out what to build around that service.
You are at company No. 3. What did you learn at companies one and two that’s changing the way you do business in company No. 3?
I think what I learned … That’s a great question. And my first business is software …
Thank you, Rob.
Have you been doing this for a while?
My first business, I learned that software was really, really hard.
Hard for you or just hard?
Hard to make. Hard to build and hard to do successfully. And I don’t think, you know, we didn’t really succeed.
Just to push a little bit, it seems like there’s lots of people who can code. You don’t have to be a technical person to start a company. It’s great if you are, but you can also go find those people. They exist all over the world, prices get cheaper. Was there something specific about software that you struggled with?
Well, first of all, this was 10 years ago. It was a little bit less turnkey. But just that there’s a difference between drawing a picture of a house and building a house and the devil is in the details. I was going to say, my first company I learned that building software was hard. My second company I learned that selling advertisements is really hard. This company I’ve learned that production is really hard.
I would say that the lesson I took from all of those is that building a business is really, really hard.
Yeah, it turns out that making a thing that didn’t exist prior is difficult work.
Yeah, there’s this myth of like, some entrepreneur somewhere who’s kind of sitting and letting the cash roll in. Something that I say a lot is just “in the weeds.” Darren will forward me an email or I’ll forward him one …
He’s your co-founder.
Yeah, we’re just like laying out CPMs and deliverables, or we’re talking about script notes on page … It’s like you’re just so in the weeds of whatever you’re doing. I bring up software or advertising or production, as you know, kind of core competencies that you need to develop as a business, no matter what you’re doing, it just is really … it feels very difficult and thorny.
We’ve already talked about money a little bit, let’s talk about it some more. $55 million, give or take. Then you guys worked at Twitter, got paid well to work there. Seems like if you have a comfortable living, comfortable/you’re rich, it would be a lot harder to do a third company because they are so hard. And go like, “I could just take meetings at the Peninsula.” Or whatever one does.
I’m not that rich, thank you. I have a few friends in New York who call me “LA rich.” Which I think is pejorative but I’m not sure.
Like “you own a car.”
You own a car … instead of having a driver?
I only know one person who has a driver.
Who is that?
Well, I don’t think I’ll give you … You know, Jason Blum has like a mobile office with a van. I don’t know, someone must drive it, though.
That’s a good gig. I bet Jason drives it himself, too.
He probably does.
But still, it’s one thing to be young and hungry and it’s another thing to be a little bit full because you’re rich.
Yeah, I mean, first of all, I don’t look at myself as … I mean, at least by the people who you probably interview, by their standards I don’t look at myself as rich. I look at myself as very hungry. I’m working harder on this company I think than I worked at my last company.
Here’s another way to put it. How do you motivate yourself at company No. 3?
I’m just incredibly engaged in what we’re doing and I don’t have anything else to do.
Because you’re 32. You married?
I have nothing else in my life, Peter, I’m desolate.
I have a mortgage.
All right, so that’s a little bit motivating.
Yeah, exactly. No, I mean, I think I’m really excited about what we’re … I get up every day, I’m excited. You know, I’ve never … Money is obviously exciting to me, but when I graduated college — and you’ll remember this — everyone I knew went to work at Goldman Sachs. I didn’t find that exciting because I don’t think making money for the sake of making money is super exciting. I think doing something interesting — and, as a reward, getting money — is interesting.
I knew literally zero people who went to Goldman Sachs.
Sorry, you’ll remember … I mean to say more you’ll remember ‘08/’09 when everyone was working as an investment banker kind of around New York.
I do remember that. I do remember when the tech people in New York would say, “We can’t get talent because they’re all working at the banks.”
Right, exactly. You know, that was for me when I graduated college. And there was that moment when iBanking was the cool thing, now it’s, you know, tech. But it wasn’t.
Where do you go with this thing? There are a bunch of media companies that aren’t going to buy BuzzFeed or Vice right now. But they have been bought. The Viacoms of the world have been buying smaller digital media companies. I can imagine them knocking on your door periodically. Is that happening?
We’re not talking to anyone right now about raising money or selling the company. But you know, when I look out at the landscape, I think that there is a great rebundling happening. Probably in a few years from now, you’ll see Disney+ and Warner and NBC and Viacom having largely what they had before. Except those offerings will be consolidated and delivered over the top instead of through cable.
We are in many ways — and maybe we’ll grow up from this — a TV network. And I think we will need to be bundled one day and that could mean that we have …
Just tease that up. Bundle, meaning?
Bundle meaning a collection of TV networks and shows.
You will be one of them.
Look, maybe we’ll …
In a bundle that, say, just for argument’s sake, that Viacom owns.
I think that there’s a bunch of paths. We could be bundled in three or four different networks. Or, sorry, three or four different bundles, because they all want to carry … It’ll be more like regional networks which can all simultaneously carry you. Maybe we’ll raise much more money and become our own bundle.
You don’t think there’s room sort of long term for you to be a standalone thing that people go to on their own, or pay for directly? You think eventually this stuff all gets swallowed up into bigger companies?
Not to speak of ourselves singularly here, but I don’t believe the future is a la carte. I don’t think selling consumers 19 different things for $2.99 is the future, and I think most people probably would agree with that.
Most people being consumers, or people on the supply side of the business?
I think consumers don’t want it. I think companies don’t want to be that. I think that …
I hear this a lot, by the way, “everything’s gotta get rebundled.” It makes sense if you’re on the Viacom side, right, because you like the bundle. Then there’s lots of logical reasons why bundles are a good deal. On the other hand, I’m spending my own money. There is a couple things I value a lot, I’ll pay for them. Let’s say it’s HBO, let’s say it’s Brat, I’ll pay for that. Everything else, I’m going to get for free because I don’t really care. Or I’m going to buy a very small bundle, some stuff will be in there.
And whenever I hear people saying, “Oh, we got to get the bundle back,” it’s people who are basically in the bundle business already, whether it’s Brian Stelter at CNN or anybody else who sort of can’t imagine the world being atomized. But I think it is, and I think there’s a ton of stuff that comes for free, from a YouTube or Instagram or whatever, and that satisfies a lot of people.
Well, I think that’s a great point. I think it’s incumbent on the bundlers to bundle assets that you want. If Warner is HBO plus a bunch of things that you don’t care about, then that’s a bad bundle. If it’s HBO plus 10 other things that you watch as much as HBO, that’s a good bundle. I think the bundlers are in the best place to bundle, if you will.
You should say bundle some more. I’m going to write about this too, this is good mental exercise for me.
This is bundles of fun. Look at iTunes over the last 10 years. You know, Apple’s about to relaunch their whole platform, because this sort of a la carte buy-what-you-want thing I don’t think is really what the consumer wants. I mean, what is Netflix and chill, it’s like staring into the black mirror and deciding what’s going to come on next.
Netflix is the bundler, right?
Yeah, they’re a bundle.
In this case, it’s 10 bucks and they give me a bunch of stuff. I’m not quite sure what’s in it but that’s okay, and that’s one of the things I’m going to buy. But the idea that I’m going to go out and then buy a bunch more of those, that’s where it stops.
I don’t think you’re going to buy a bunch more, I think you might buy three or four of them. I think that’ll still be less than what you used to spend on cable. You’ll get sports and news as part of one or two or three of them. And maybe someone will bundle the bundlers to add some more bundles on and you’ll pay one fee.
I do think it’s going to be brutal for a bunch of the existing companies when they learn, all right, in the new economics, when people actually do have a choice to not take what you’re offering, it’s going to be rough.
What’s going to be brutal is they’re going to realize that much of what is in their existing offering, no one cares about. That’s why TV is failing, largely, it’s because you get 100 channels and people care about two of them.
It’s funny, I just started getting Hulu Live for now, I think it’s $45, it’s good. And then they say, “Oh, you can buy some other stuff.” There was a Spanish language bundle, all right, that makes sense, not applicable for me. There’s something called like an entertainment bundle, and it’s just a weird collection of channels that — I covered this business — I’m vaguely familiar with. I just cannot imagine a single person going, “I need that. I need that on top of the $45 I’m spending.”
Right, we’re in that sort of awkward stage where we’re putting out their, you know, pimply offerings.
Yeah, you might want.
This is the stuff that you used to jam into a traditional cable distribution.
Right, and I think that these will be skinnier or leaner. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that this is a reshuffling of the deck. I think these will be new decks, and frankly the main reason I’m optimistic and I’m excited about what we’re doing is because we’re creating new IP. I think too many of these bundles are about taking shelved stuff and reoffering them to customers.
Right, so part of your pitch, right, is to distributor X, “Hey, you used to pay Disney for all this stuff.” Well, actually Disney’s still going to be Disney. Used to pay Nickelodeon, name your youth brand. “Ours is better, cheaper, and …”
And relevant. Totally, that’s why I think that those are two separate things. I agree with you 1,000 percent that this isn’t taking the TV channels, cutting them up, re-sorting them for digital. It’s creating new networks, new IP, new shows, but offering them as I think it will be part of bundles.
Who has most impressed you in Hollywood who gets digital?
Which of the studios?
You know, it’s really interesting. I went over to YouTube a few years ago, I sat in a room with a bunch of folks who were from Hollywood. I had just got in there, they showed two slides. They first said, “Who are all these people?” And it was a bunch of faces and I raised my hand and no one in my room did. It was the top 20 YouTubers in the world. And then they said …
The second slide said something like, “What are you doing on YouTube?” And no one was doing anything on YouTube. You know, there is still an incredible disconnect between where the eyeballs are — which is on digital platforms like YouTube — and what Hollywood, who’s in theory the nerve center of creation, is doing. They don’t speak really at all.
They will still tell you, if you talk to a TV network person or movie person and you bring up a YouTuber or Netflix, they’ll go, “Yeah, they’re popular, but the quality isn’t very good.” Well, people are watching it, so they like it, by definition it’s good.
Well, make some stuff. Right, on the one hand you want to yell at the Hollywood people for not creating assets and programing that will resonate with this huge audience. But on the other hand you want to yell at YouTube and say, “Listen, if you guys are going to pay $4 CPMs, how do these people fund their projects to put on YouTube?”
Right, or Mark Cuban, as you said, look, with all the resources they should do a much better job of getting breakout hits.
Right, so the only people who are making highish-quality things for YouTube are companies like mine, who have convinced venture capitalists to give them tens of millions of dollars. Otherwise, there’s no business model yet. You have to go sell your own ads and do all the stuff we’re doing.
How long are the VCs going to give you tens of millions of dollars?
You should ask the next person on your podcast, whoever that is.
I will do that. Rob, thanks for coming.
Thank you for having me.
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