Breaking the hearts of Hollywood executives is exhausting to Lloyd Braun, the longtime media chief turned tech entrepreneur.
He does this often?
“You have no idea how many times I have to tell them the same thing, and they act like they’ve never heard it before,” Braun said from his office in Santa Monica. “So what I do is bring interns in and have them raise their hands if they subscribe to cable.”
None of them do.
Braun is an interesting character to study. Formerly the chairman of ABC, then an executive at Yahoo, he’s now been doing his own thing for years, diving into the wild world of multi-channel networks, which are entities that produce content and affiliate with YouTube or other channels but exist independently, bypassing traditional networks altogether.
Braun is an old timer in old media, a heavyweight Hollywood fixture (he’s the inspiration for an annoying character of the same name on “Seinfeld,” due to his longtime relationship with series co-creator Larry David). So, it’s interesting to hear him discuss Internet media, to look at the challenges he’s faced and the solutions he’s come up with.
His latest digital media company is called Whalerock Industries — it was previously Berman-Braun, though he recently split with his former partner Gail Berman. Its brands include celebrity site Wonderwall and Mandatory, a site about men. To get them traffic, he has been forming alliances with everyone from MGM to AOL and Microsoft to distribute content.
But, he said, it’s not particularly easy to wed old media and new media. Challenges start with office space.
Whalerock HQ, for example, is in two very different buildings.
Braun sits in a building that has carpeted floors, secretaries, muted colors and expansive private offices, with a bowl of fruit in the waiting room.
Next door? An open-plan, warehouse-like space with concrete floors, a napping French bulldog and fleets of young coders and content makers.
“It’s tricky, very tricky to build this,” said Braun, who is in his mid fifties. “Traditional media people have contracts, now no contracts. Traditional media people have titles, now not so much. Low-base equity on the tech side, no equity on the other side.”
Someone who’s running a comedy or drama on a traditional network is often making from $400,000 a year to about $1 million a year.
“Take a look at how many people are guaranteed a million dollars a year in the tech world,” he said. “I’ll bet you [Facebook COO] Sheryl [Sandberg] isn’t guaranteed a million dollars a year in salary and bonus.”
Then there are the personality differences between his new tech employees and the old studio folks.
“The skill sets are very different. You’ve got a lot of very extroverted people that tend to be on the traditional media side, and not so much on the other side, not so much. They studied computer science,” he said, giving a “you-know-what-that-means” glance. “It’s a different culture.”
Wearing stone-washed jeans and a button-down shirt, his hair slicked back, Braun thinks that a major issue slowing down traditional media from getting excited about tech is they have no idea how much digital teams should cost or what metrics to use to measure their performance.
So they just get nervous, he said.
“What’s a hit now? What does a hit mean? Traffic? Does a hit mean engagement?” he said. “We haven’t yet bred executives that in their DNA understand both of these worlds or can answer those questions.”
Therefore, he added: “People on the media side are scared to death. They’re trying to squeeze blood out of a rock. They all know that this is coming. Their attitude is that this will be the next guy’s problem. I’ve literally heard people say that to me in meetings.”
Braun stood up, popped his head out of his office — the door actually opens and shuts with a button on his desk — and asked his secretary to page 33-year-old Jared Heinke, who would be leading me into the new-media office building next door. Which, Braun assured me, would be “like night and day.”
In khakis, his slightly graying hair neatly parted, Heinke, who runs the digital operations of Whalerock, proved to be the perfect liaison between the two sides.
Over on the tech side — the right brain, if you will — Whalerock was a melee of designers, programmers and content creators.
Chris Gardener was shooting a show called “Celebs Gone Social” in a small room by the door. “It takes advantage of the fact that every day, celebrities are tweeting and Instagramming,” Braun said. “We package it up in a few hours. It goes out in the afternoon.”
Gardner paused and asked if I wanted to know the latest.
“Drew Barrymore and Reese Witherspoon are at Culinary School,” he informed me.
Some of Whalerock’s content is bawdy — especially at Mandatory, a jocular male-interest site that gets 10 million unique visitors a month. Thus, the Mandatory designer has to keep his computer monitor facing the wall.
I almost tripped over a young man with an enormous camera apparatus around his shoulders who was filming a video of an editor reacting exuberantly to the latest “Transformers” trailer.
Did Heinke notice the difference between the two sides of the company?
“Well. Lloyd’s office is real pretty,” he said. “And this? This is utility. This is where the sausage gets made.”
Heinke said that the physical space mattered, and that you could tell that many studios didn’t get it.
“You go to a traditional studio, and it’s almost like they’re proper. They’re trying to stop a wave with a broom,” he said. But, he added: “They’ll figure it out. They’ll follow the money. They’re smart.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.