Michael Nathanson, the oft-quoted securities analyst who covers the media business, has many family members in show business.
Jeff Zucker, CEO of CNN, is Nathanson’s brother-in-law, a connection that was tabloid fodder when Zucker ran NBCUniversal and Nathanson would comment on NBC and its rivals.
Nathanson’s sister Caryn was a producer for Saturday Night Live and his brother Steve did publicity for Whitney Houston and Paramount Pictures. His wife was a booker at Extra; her sister Allison Wallach was an agent at UTA and is now president of Jupiter Entertainment; and her brother Lou Wallach was a producer and Comedy Central executive.
But Nathanson, a Brooklyn native, credits another Nathanson with kindling his desire to get into TV. Ted Nathanson, no relation, was a producer for NBC Sports. “I always heard his name and people would ask me about him, and I always felt like that would be a really cool job,” he says.
At Brandeis University, Nathanson wrote papers about television and society and was drawn to the business and finance side of TV. After earning an MBA at Yale, he landed a job at MGM/UA in L.A. The company was sold, went bankrupt, and Nathanson lost his job.
Back home, he joined Rainbow Programming Holdings—run by Josh Sapan, now AMC Networks CEO—as business analyst for Bravo, AMC and News 12 Long Island. He moved to Time Warner as director of business development at Time Inc., which was trying to get its magazines into video.
That was when Nathanson transitioned to Wall Street with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Bernstein was hiring people to analyze industries they worked in “who knew where the bodies were buried and where the issues were,” says Tom Wolzien, the analyst turned consultant who recruited Nathanson. He “had the experience and the knowledge of how these companies work.”
Nathanson was first covered European media companies. Along the way he met an investor relations exec, David Cameron. “I would never have suspected that the head of IR at Carlton Communications would become prime minister of Great Britain. Truly amazing,” Nathanson recalls.
Nathanson distinguished himself by recognizing and writing about how the recorded music industry was falling apart. “The companies were in total denial at the time, giving him a lot of pressure.” Wolzien says. “That’s when he cut himself out from the rest of the pack.”
After Wolzien retired, Nathanson began covering U.S. media companies. He moved to Nomura Securities, where he was a regular on the Institutional Investor All-America Research Team. Then he joined with Craig Moffett, another former Bernstein analyst, who had opened up an independent research company.
“In seven years of working together at Sanford Bernstein, Michael was the best thought partner I ever had. When Michael left Bernstein for Nomura, it was like I had lost my right arm. It was only natural that I would jump at the chance to put the band back together again,” Moffett says.
“Michael has an uncanny ability to draw longer-term strategic insights from the mosaic of data points that fly at us every day. Pattern recognition is a rare gift,” Moffett says.
“It doesn’t hurt that Michael is the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. The greatest joy in starting a business is doing it with people that you genuinely like going to work with every day.”
These days, Nathanson reports on big media companies as pressure builds on the TV economy. He’s tracked falling ratings and slower growth in ad revenue.
“I’m worried about media. It’s going to get tougher. But I’ve seen industries collapse, and this doesn’t look anything like the music industry,” he says.
Neveretheless, Nathanson recently added coverage of Internet companies, which are growing share as TV advertising declines, to his beat, initially recommending Google and Facebook.