New Media, New Thinking
By J. Max Robins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/13/2005 7:00:00 PM
It was Lloyd Braun's new-media coming-out party. The former chairman of the ABC Entertainment Group was about to take the stage at the iMedia Brand Summit in Coconut Point, Fla., where I was ready to quiz him for the keynote Q&A. This would be Braun's first public gig in front of a new-media marketing crowd since he was named the head of Yahoo! Media Group, an interesting position for a heretofore decidedly old-media guy.
I wondered if maybe Braun was switching to new media because he had soured on TV after a rough ride at ABC. He had been mercilessly micromanaged by Michael Eisner and Bob Iger, his former bosses at corporate parent Disney. As chronicled in James B. Stewart's delicious new book DisneyWar, the Mouse House duo derided Braun for greenlighting Lost before they fired him last April—and before the show became a huge ABC hit.
Usually, deposed network chiefs either snare new jobs running other networks or studios or become independent producers, pitching shows to guys who do what they used to do. I asked Braun why he decided to take his career in such a markedly different direction. He said that, if he had found himself unemployed two years ago, he probably would have taken the typical former-TV-exec employment route. And it wasn't a hangover from the ABC experience that drove him into terra incognita. Braun said his move was prompted by something closer to home. Actually, it was at home: watching the media habits of his four kids, especially the 11-year-old and 13-year-old. “When I asked them which they'd rather give up, the computer or TV, they answered without question, the TV,” he said.
In taking this cue from his children, Braun believes he's also following the advertising dollars. If he had known at ABC what he knows now after just three months on the Yahoo! job, Braun says, he would have “plunked 50%” of his advertising budget online. Sure, that may sound self-serving, given who's signing his check now, but the remark came off as sincere and unrehearsed.
I asked him if he thought online's status today is similar to cable television's 15 or 20 years ago. Braun said that was an apt comparison: a medium at the start of a rapid growth spurt that was already having a fundamental impact on every sector of the media landscape. But there's one crucial difference: Unlike in the cable universe, he said, content creators for the Web aren't held hostage by those who control distribution.
Braun hasn't totally shed his old-media skin. He regaled the crowd with a tale about how losing a golf bet with Larry David ended up with the Seinfeld co-creator naming a character on the show Lloyd Braun. An hour before the episode taped, David called Braun to let him know his sitcom namesake was “very handsome but insane.”
Braun also spoke about how TV hits, from I Love Lucy to The Sopranos, expanded the medium's creative possibilities. The Web's rise, he said, doesn't mean television's demise; it will simply “speed its evolution.” Cautious in his new role, Braun was quick to say he hadn't come to Yahoo! to find a Lost or Desperate Housewives for the Web. A new medium demands new thinking about what a program is and what defines a hit, he said: “Different platforms require different experiences and executions.”
With so much online content so niche-oriented, I asked him, is it possible to create a breakout online hit of some kind, a mass experience for mass marketers to exploit? “Yes, but they're going to be different kinds of hits,” Braun said. Not surprisingly, he's still trying to figure out what form those popular entertainments will take. He then showed his roots as an ex-network guy who watched hundreds of pilots fail, including worthy ones, before he found his Lost. “If you do enough things right,” he said, “you increase your chances of getting lucky.”
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