On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Peter handed over the host chair to Recode Managing Editor Edmund Lee, who spoke with Univision’s new Chief Revenue Officer Tonia O’Connor. The two discussed her new role — a media company doesn’t necessarily include a CRO in its org chart — and the ways in which Univision is expanding its offerings through strategic acquisitions.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at the link above, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. I’m part of the Vox Media Podcast Network, but enough about me. You’ve heard plenty about me. Today you’re going to hear from my boss, Ed Lee. He’s Recode’s managing editor who recently talked to Univision executive Tonia O’Connor. She’s going to explain how TV works today and how that might change very soon. Let’s take a listen.
Edmund Lee: Thanks Peter. I’m here with Univision Chief Revenue Officer Tonia O’Connor. Tonia, welcome.
Tonia O’Connor: Hi. Thank you.
Chief revenue officer is actually a new title for you. You got a nice bump up, right? It was like a week or so ago that you got this new gig?
It was on Tuesday.
Wow, okay, so congrats. What does that mean, chief revenue officer? What are you in charge of now?
That means that I’m overseeing all of the revenue of Univision Communications Inc., which includes advertising revenue across all of our platforms, linear television, digital, as well as our distribution revenue.
So the step basically when you’re selling the feed to the cable and the other distributors, right?
That’s right. We distribute our linear networks to cable and satellite operators, as well as some of the new emerging platforms. We also sell our content to SVOD providers like Netflix. Facebook, we recently did a deal for Liga MX with Facebook.
That’s the Mexican soccer, football.
Correct, which happens to be the most-watched soccer in all of the U.S., in case you didn’t know that.
Well, it stands to reason, right, because U.S. soccer isn’t that great.
Oh, it’s great. It’s great. It just so happens that Liga MX has more viewership.
So you’re in charge of all the revenue which ... Could we say that you basically run the business now? You run the company?
I report to Randy Falco.
He’s the CEO, right?
He’s the CEO and he runs the business, but yeah, I have a lot of responsibility in terms of making sure that we are hitting our numbers and achieving our revenue targets.
Let’s take a step back for a second. I’m sure people know what Univision is in the back of their minds, like, “Yeah, that’s that Spanish TV network,” right? Which it is, but then there’s a lot more going on with this company than just that. You guys own a bunch of cable news. There’s Fusion TV, which we can get to at some point, and then also El Rey and a bunch of others. El Rey is the ... It’s Robert Rodriguez, right?
The filmmaker who’s behind that, which is pretty cool. Then a bunch of online properties, right? You guys acquired the Gawker Media sites without gawker.com over the last year.
Sans Gawker, correct.
Sans Gawker last year, and also Fusion as we mentioned, and then other sites like The Root, The Onion. You guys have a lot of properties.
We do. We do. I’m so glad you asked that, because most people just think of us as being Univision, Univision, which is our flagship network. Let me summarize it. Let me just recap a little bit of what you said.
Sure. Yeah, you can do the ... Yes, do the whole pitch here.
I love telling this part of our history, because it’s changed so much in the last 10 years since I’ve been with the company. When I joined in 2008, we had three networks, three linear networks, Univision, UniMas, which are two broadcast networks, and then Galavision, which is our general entertainment cable network. Since then, we’ve expanded to include now 17 networks, which is both linear and digital. We have Univision Deportes network, which is our sports network and happens to rate very, very highly. Last year, we even beat ESPN.
That’s something. Yeah.
Yeah, we are the home of soccer. No other media company has more soccer rights than Univision, so you can imagine, just given the popularity of the sport beyond even Liga MX, what that means for us in terms of viewership and a fan base.
It’s the most popular sport around the world, and as we know, sports is important to television, so yes, we can do that math.
That all lines up nicely. You mentioned a few times earlier linear television, streaming or SVOD. I think we just think of it as TV, but linear, when you say linear, you’re referring to just the regular broadcast feed like we’re used to seeing. Let’s talk about that for a bit though. I think as a step back, there’s broadcast networks, like what Univision is. There’s also cable networks, which go directly to a feed. Just in terms of when you sell the rights, when you sell the feeds basically to — whether it’s Comcast or Charter or Dish, DirecTV, that kind of thing — what’s the difference or how does that work? What’s that job like of just like actually negotiating ... What are the ins and outs of that?
How long do we have?
We can take as much time as you want.
Well, first of all, it’s great. It’s been most of my career, I’ve spent on the distribution side, so of course, I like it and I find it to be very interesting and fun and also extremely challenging. It’s becoming even more challenging.
Let me back up for a second, though, and just highlight that there are two primary revenue streams in a media company. One is advertising and the other is distribution. The primary difference between those two areas of the business is that advertising really has unlimited potential in terms of the number of customers that you could serve, right? On the distribution side, however, there’s been really a limited or a finite number of customers that you could distribute your content to. There are only so many cable companies and satellite companies. Of course, now, given all of the technology and the fact that everybody walks around with a TV in their pocket, there’s been a lot more opportunities for us to distribute our content.
Like Netflix or Hulu.
Exactly, exactly, but because of the fact that the MVPDs — which again, cable, satellite, telco, there’s always just been a limited number of them, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the deal-making, meaning that you need to make sure that your content is distributed with those providers.
You have to get picked up by ... You said MVPDs? We’re talking about the cable and satellite guys, like Charter, like Comcast.
Right. That, as you point out, is there’s a limited amount of those companies, but also the amount of people paying for television is shrinking, right? I think it’s something like 95 million or 90 million, and it’s only going to go down over the next few years. It goes down every quarter. We’ve been in earning season this week with Comcast.
Right now, yup. Yes.
We’re seeing that they’ve had fewer video subs every quarter, and that’s not a surprise, but it’s just going to keep going that way. What does that mean for you guys?
As I said, there are now a lot more other opportunities where we can monetize our content. We, of course, are being very opportunistic, and we’re pursuing those opportunities. You mentioned Hulu and some of the other SVOD providers. Verizon is a very interesting customer of ours, because they encompass all of those platforms, right? They have a cable operation with Fios.
They have Verizon Wireless, and they’re very active in terms of acquiring content and rights to distribute to their wireless customers.
Is this the Go90 thing that they’ve got?
Well, Go90. I mean, Go90 is available to their wireless customers, but it’s also available to anybody who happens to have an internet connection or a wireless platform. Go90 is speculated to be evolving into more of an SVOD platform, so there’s so many different opportunities in place for a media company now on which to distribute the content. Yeah, while the pay TV business is mature, and as you pointed out declining, we have opportunity to pursue other platforms as well.
Like Verizon. You are cutting some kind of thing with Verizon then.
Well, Verizon distributes our content. They distribute all of our networks with Fios, and then also on Go90. They just acquired Yahoo, and they have the whole Oath portfolio.
Is the Go90 thing ... Does that work? It’s the short-form stuff, right? It’s short-form content. It’s specific to Verizon customers. They’ve been talking about it for years and years. It’s something I always hear about, never really quite see.
Yeah, well, remember, all of this is ... Everybody is experimenting right now. Does it work? I can’t be the judge of what works or what doesn’t work and how do you measure. You’d have to ask Verizon what their goals are in terms of offering that kind of content into the marketplace, and then determine whether it works or not.
Again, I think that we are in a ... Well, first of all, media really, it’s the consumer age of media, right? Now the consumer is really dictating to all of the media companies, to all of the content providers, what they want and where they want it, how they want to receive it. What’s really great about what’s happening in the industry right now is that we’re all responding, or at least we’re trying to be responsive to that. Technology and the platforms that are available to us now give us unlimited opportunity to test that. We’re all testing. Yeah, some of it works. Some of it doesn’t work. The biggest mistake to make right now would be not making mistakes.
Right, or you should be trying these things. If it’s something like a Go90, if it works, it doesn’t work, as long as you guys get paid for each subscriber into it, that’s the main thing, right?
Monetization is a priority for us. That is correct.
Well, that’s the thing. I think when you cut these deals, you’re going to the Verizons, the Comcasts, Charters, and say, “Hey, we got a bunch of networks that we know people want.” Some of it includes sports or telenovela type shows, which are hugely popular or getting more popular. You bundle them all together, right, and say, “Hey, here’s all of our networks, including Univision. We’re going to sell it to you in a big bundle that it’s going to provide a lot of value for all your subscribers, and we want five bucks a month, or we want 10,” whatever the number ends up being. ESPN famously gets more than $9 a sub every month, which is huge. CBS, which is like the most-watched broadcast network — or one of them, certainly these days — gets something like $2 a month. Is that the strategy? You’re bundling these together and selling them in one group, or are you selling them a la carte, or ... We’re talking about consumer choice, right?
That’s the thing. That’s where I’m trying to get at.
Yeah. Well, it is our priority to distribute our content and our networks as broadly as we possibly can. The negotiation starts with an offer that includes all of our networks for a certain price. If they are unable to distribute all of our networks in the exact way that we want, that we’ve initially proposed, then we’re absolutely open-minded to looking at different ways of distributing or offering that to them, whether it be just a couple of them.
You mentioned Fusion and El Rey previously. I skipped over or forgot to mention that those are now our English language. Not only do we have Spanish language in our portfolio, but we also have English language. That’s El Rey, which we’re in partnership with Robert Rodriguez, and Fusion. Maybe they just want English, some English networks, from us, in which case we would be willing to do that deal with them as well. It’s a negotiation, and we’re trying to find a match in terms of what they need — they being the distributor — and what we’re looking to achieve in terms of value for each and every single one of our networks.
But then when you go through these renewal cycles, you re-up, you want more per subscriber every month. That’s how every broadcaster, every network, is doing it these days.
Well, we want to ...
The cable guys, they say, “Oh come on, we can’t ... You may us pay more. We have to charge our customers more, and they get upset, and no one wants to watch TV anymore.”
How does that get dealt with?
I would say it a little differently. We want an equitable value exchange.
Is that how you guys talk about it? We want an equitable value exchange, and that’s, you know ...
Well, it’s true when you look at our portfolio and you consider that Univision has been the No. 1 Hispanic network for over 50 years, and our sports content and our sports offering continues to deliver and grow. I mean, Liga MX and viewership for Liga MX on our networks is up season-to-date, when even the NFL has been down. Sports viewership has been down. As long as we continue to deliver and we’re offering a value proposition to the distributor that they can then take and offer to their customers, then absolutely, I want to be paid fairly for that.
They don’t want to pay more though. They never want to pay more.
Who ever wants to pay more? That’s not ...
But that’s the going ... That’s like the initial. That’s like the obvious thing when you go in, so then they’re going to want other things. “If we’re going to pay you more, I want more online rights. I want to be able to stream this to my customers on an authenticated basis,” etc. Are those parts of the negotiation getting more contentious, or are there more things you’re offering that way beyond just the number, beyond just the amount that you’re asking for?
I would say that that part of it is not contentious, and here’s why, because we’re in business together, right? The more subscribers that all of the cable and satellite companies have, the more business I have and the more customers that can access our networks. That’s a good thing. I want them to be successful. We built our distribution business.
When I joined the company in 2008, we didn’t really have negotiations, or we were just distributing our networks for free to the distributors. My team and I built that business for Univision. Our current owners, that was part of their investment thesis, that they wanted to build a revenue stream around the distribution of our networks, and we wanted to add more networks to the portfolio. The way in which we did that — and we were very successful with it — but the way we did it is that we went in and we proposed a partnership with all of the distributors. We understood that it was going to be a pain point for them to start paying us when they had been basically getting it for free.
For free, yeah.
But in exchange for that, what we said is that we have an extremely close relationship with the Hispanic consumer. There isn’t any other media brand that has the loyalty from its customer base that Univision does. We’re going to let you leverage that for the benefit of your business, meaning we’re going to work with you to market directly to Hispanics so that they understand the value proposition that you’re bringing to them.
If you’re Comcast, the fact that you not only have a robust portfolio of Hispanic networks to offer to them, but also broadband, and then obviously they have voice and telephone service to offer. We work closely ... In some cases, we even act as somewhat of a creative agency for them in that we’re using our talent and we’re creating commercials for them — again, to market directly to our core consumer.
And help these guys get more subscribers hopefully, right, at least within that community?
Whether it’s retention or acquisition, and of course, they have a lot of new technology and services that they’re bringing to the consumer. We’ve been on that journey with them together.
It’s a partnership. It works for the most part or mostly works, and these guys like getting your stuff. But there are hiccups sometimes? You guys had something with Charter recently, right? Charter is now the second-largest cable operator in the US. They bought Time Warner Cable, which is in the NY, LA area, which is my cable system at home in Brooklyn. Charter bought Time Warner Cable, and then Charter was going to ... They were on a renewal cycle with you guys, with Univision. They basically said, “Actually, since we now own Time Warner Cable, we want to just pay you what Time Warner Cable was paying you,” which is less than what Charter was paying. Does that about sum it up in terms of the situation?
That’s somewhat. That’s somewhat simplified.
How would you ... What did I miss? What did I leave out? What did I gloss over?
Look, you’re right. Charter bought Time Warner, and as a result of buying Time Warner, their position has been that they want to leverage the larger size, the scale that they have now, to achieve better economics with ...
They want to pay less. We have a new system that was paying you less. We were going to pay you that rate, and you guys said you can’t do that, sorry. You guys took them to court. Still ongoing, right?
It is still ongoing.
What’s the current status? Is it just more paperwork, more motions back and forth? Is any resolution ...?
No, there’s lots of filings and back and forth. Yeah, I’m not a lawyer, but what I do know is that Charter, that team, they’re excellent operators. You just said yourself you’re a customer. I’m a customer as well. I think they’ve done an outstanding job since they acquired the Time Warner systems, and it’s going to get better. They own the largest Hispanic markets in this country, Los Angeles, New York, Texas. We very much want to have the dispute behind us, and we want to be in business. They’re very good partners in that respect, and we want to do more business with them.
Very, very diplomatically put. I think it’s great. It’s good for negotiations or the ongoing negotiations. You guys aren’t the only ones though. I mean, Fox News, Showtime, they also took Charter to court for trying to do the same thing after Time Warner. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there’s ... What sparked this is the merger, right?
After they bought Time Warner, it’s happening on both sides though, right? The cable systems or the distribution systems are merging like Charter and Time Warner, and there’s some news out today and over the last few weeks that Discovery and Scripps are tying up. It looks like that’s going to happen, so that on the programming side, on the content side ... In other words, it’s like if the distributors are getting bigger, the programmers have to get bigger, so that when you go into these negotiations, they have equal leverage or similar leverage, right? You don’t want to be behind. Is that good for the industry? Is this the way it’s going to go forward?
Yeah, I think consolidation is absolutely a trend that will continue. I think the big reason for that is that there’s talk that we’re also in a state of convergence between technology and media. I think probably a better way to say it is that technology is kind of overtaking media. Facebook released their earnings this week, and just more phenomenal growth. They have deep pockets, and not only Facebook, but the other tech giants. They have deep pockets, and they have algorithms that inform them on how to now create custom or original content. It’s certainly impacting the business, the traditional media business, in that the consumers just have more choice. In response to that, yeah, I think everyone’s trying to become bigger. Consolidation is certainly the way to do that.
We’re going to take a quick break now, so Peter Kafka can read a word from our sponsors. We’ll get back in a minute with Tonia.
Thanks Peter. We’re back here with Tonia O’Connor, the CRO of Univision. You mentioned that there are other players, of course, now in streaming, right? YouTube has one. There’s Dish, and of course, Netflix and Hulu are existing distribution points for what you guys do. Would that be better for you if, say, Facebook and Amazon just said, “You know, we’re going to just snap up linear television, the broadcast and the cable networks, and just redistribute it to our customers,” in a way that is similar to cable, maybe better terms? Do you foresee that happening in the next few years even?
Yeah, I think that’s definitely a possibility. I mean, they’re dipping their toe in the water now. Facebook will be launching a premium video tab that will be available to their consumers, not just short-form, but also long-form content. Could that evolve then into them carrying linear, live linear channels? Absolutely. I mean, look at what Snapchat has done in terms of building the Discover platform. When that first launched, it looked very much like a channel lineup.
That’s publishers on Snapchat with these short-form seven-minute, five-minute, two-minute videos.
And it’s controlled shelf space, just like a cable channel lineup is. Could that become the next gen of cable? Why not?
But if that were to happen or as is happening, and I think the long-standing consumer complaint with cable has been just, “There are too many channels. I don’t watch all these things,” or the cable operators themselves are like, “Well, we have to offer all these channels, because that’s how they’re sold to us.” Are there too many channels? Do you guys have too many channels? Would you slim down some of your networks?
No. I think our portfolio is ... The size of our portfolio is extremely appropriate. We’ve been very thoughtful about that. You can imagine that a lot of people have come to us and asked to partner with us, because we are the leader when it comes to Hispanic and multicultural content. That is an area where most companies realize that they have to be in that business in order to continue growing. We get a lot of proposals in terms of partnership in launching new channels. We’ve been very disciplined and very focused on where we’ve invested and how we’ve elected to launch channels, and I feel that our portfolio is exactly the right size.
In the case, as I mentioned earlier, with Discovery and Scripps, it’s a recent example of them bulking up and adding more networks in a combined company. That’ll probably help them in negotiations when they go into the next round with the Charters and the Comcasts of the world, since they’ve got more leverage. Do you think that’s a good thing, or do you think some companies just have too many networks?
Yeah, look, I’m not in the room negotiating or representing Discovery or Scripps, so I can’t say what they need in order to do better, but I would surmise, given the fact that they’re pursuing that transaction, that they must ... There are very smart people in those companies, so they must believe that that is going to better position them in their negotiations.
I mean, speaking of all these deals, Univision, you guys are being chased right now, right? There have been reports about John Malone looking to invest. He tried to do that a while ago. He tried to do it again. First of all, who owns Univision? It’s not a public company.
We’re not public. We’re not public. We’re primarily owned by private equity firms, which is why we think it’s so funny that there’s all of this talk about the fact that we’re going to possibly be bought. I mean, that is the PE model that ...
That was the whole point in the first place, right?
That was the whole point, yes, that there will be ... At some point, the current owners will exit, and we’ll either be a public company or we’ll be owned by somebody else.
So you could go IPO, and I know there’s been a ... It’s like a long-standing sort of run-up to a possible IPO. You guys filed your S-1 some years ago, hasn’t quite happened yet. As far as you know, is it the idea that, “Well, if someone wants to come buy us or IPO, whichever one will give us a better return on an exit, that’s the way we’ll go.” Is that sort of more or less the calculus?
Well, I mean, I’m not part of that decision-making, but we’re super focused again on just the marketplace and making sure that we, especially now with me in this role, very focused on achieving our targets and revenue. Yeah, I think everything’s a possibility on the table, especially in this environment.
I mean, speaking of ownership, Televisa, which is a Mexican broadcast TV company with massive ...
Yeah, they’re the largest distributor of Spanish-language content in the world.
In the world, right.
You guys have a pretty close partnership though, right?
We have a very close partnership with them.
They own like 10 percent of Univision, but more importantly, they supply pretty much all the major programming that you guys run, right?
Yeah, Televisa is our primary content supplier.
I think, was it not that long ago that Isaac Lee, who heads up content for Univision, he is now also heading up content for Televisa.
Which I guess makes sense. If it’s all going to run on both systems, you have one guy in charge of that. It just seems like you guys are getting closer and closer and closer. At some point, you know. Does that make it hard for an exit do you think, for the owners, or is that just a long-standing agreement?
Look, the beautiful thing about the relationship that we have with Televisa and the fact that they supply the majority of our content is that we have a focus group in Mexico where we can test out the content that we ultimately distribute here. We have excellent margins, probably some of the best in the business. That’s all a positive in terms of Univision and this company as an asset or a potential acquisition target.
But is the idea with Isaac running that now, is that to kind of shake up the actual content, the kinds of shows? Are telenovelas sort of going out of favor and other types of shows are coming into favor?
Yeah. Isaac in that role is an opportunity for us to ... Back to what I said earlier about experimentation, the marketplace and the consumer behavior is evolving so rapidly that ... The U.S. market is different than the Mexican market as well. You have to take that into account. To have one cohesive content strategy and content team, that provides us with a ton of efficiency, and it also puts us in a position where we can react very quickly, most importantly.
Will there be more differentiation in the content though? Given the U.S. market is different from the Mexican market, right? I think U.S. Latinos might have a different sort of thing they might be interested in in terms of content. Is that the idea as well? To change the programming from region to region? Or is that still going to be the one stream of content that’s playing across both systems, both countries?
Yeah. Again, I think that there’s a possibility that it could be different. They could be creating content differently for the U.S. versus Mexico, but what’s really important right now is we’re focused on consumer behavior and reaction. Consumer insights is incredibly important, not only to our company, but to every content creator in the marketplace. We’re going to let that dictate the direction in which we go.
Okay. Can we talk a brief bit about Fusion? It’s definitely one of the more ambitious media startups in years. Gawker’s now part of it, I think, and when you acquired it, it was folded into that. What’s going on with Fusion right now? I know with the rebrand, is it called something else now? What is it called?
Well, Fusion TV, and I oversee the distribution for Fusion TV. That initially launched as a partnership with ABC News. We recently acquired ABC’s ownership, and now we wholly own the asset.
And Fusion TV is separate from the web play?
That’s correct. That’s correct. Fusion TV is separate. The digital asset is part of our overall digital portfolio, which as you said includes the site formerly known as Gawker, assets ...
Is that what we’re going to call it, formerly known as Gawker? Is that how it’s referred to internally?
No, we don’t actually. It’s Gizmodo Media Group, and all of the remaining assets of that portfolio. All combined, we’ve got over 100 million unique monthly users, which is a very powerful portfolio for us to take into the marketplace.
But the TV ... Now more than ever, it’s more clearly that the TV is really a separate operation, a separate sort of strategy than the online.
What was the reason for that? Why was that split, or how was that split?
The reason for that is because Fusion launched as a new service that was targeting U.S. Hispanics in English. That was the strategy with the partnership between ABC News and Univision. What we learned very quickly is that the target audience, which are millennials, they don’t watch ... You know, they don’t watch all of their news on linear television. They consume it mostly on mobile and digital.
What we discovered is that, for the television, we really needed to start leaning into more of the docuseries, and we’ll even be doing some scripted, whereas on the digital side, that’s where they were embracing all of the news content. The strategy now is split, so that on the digital side, we’ll continue to focus on the news and those topics that are very important, but on the television side, we’re going to focus more on the lean-back experience.
What you think of as traditional TV and the scripted stuff?
It’s a little more ... More, yes, more entertainment, more aspirational type of content.
Do you still sell it separately outside of the Univision bundle, or is it now being bundled in when you go into a new ...
Well, it’s the same team that represents all of our ... the rest of our networks. From that perspective, it is, quote-unquote, bundled.
It’s strategic. It’s an important part of the whole. It’s not some outlier channel that you just happen to own.
No. It’s very important to us, and really there’s no other network that’s like it on the channel lineup. It’s very mission-driven. What’s really special about it is that the talent in front of and behind the camera is representative of the audience that we’re targeting.
Millennials are 40 percent ... You know, 40 to almost 50 percent of millennials are multicultural. Their expectation is that the content that they are consuming are going to represent the world that they live in. That’s not only important as it relates to the content that you ultimately see broadcast, but again the making sure that the talent behind the camera that’s creating the content has the same sensibility as they do.
As I mentioned, I’m in New York. I can’t get Fusion TV because Time Warner Cable ... When am I going to get it? When you figure out this thing with Charter, right?
I know. You will soon. That’s right. Yes.
Okay. All right. I’ll look out for it then. That’s when I’ll know that you guys have sorted out the whole negotiations with them. Fusion’s not something you guys are just going to spin off or it being a separate thing. It’s bundled in. It’s a strategic part of Univision’s portfolio, as you pointed out.
Fusion is a very important part of Univision, yes.
What about, I know this is less under your purview, but the websites themselves, including the Gawker? What is the strategy there going forward? You guys seem to own so many digital properties now, a lot of them very well-known, as we mentioned at the top of the show. What’s the strategy there? Where is that going? How does that fold into what you’re doing in terms of the TV stuff and the ad and the distribution plays?
Well, I loved when the company made the decision to acquire that portfolio. It was interesting, because as I would see colleagues and friends at different industry events and dinners, I’d get the question like, “What? You guys acquired Gawker, huh? I don’t get it.”
But not gawker.com.
Let’s be clear about that. Yeah.
In response to the, “I don’t get it,” or why, the head-scratching is exactly the reason why we acquired it. It’s exactly the ... If we went out and continued just to acquire like assets, we’d probably be criticized for not diversifying the portfolio. The fact that the Gawker portfolio had a very strong lineup of a variety of verticals with extremely loyal users and audience, and it gave us the opportunity to then get into those verticals without having to do it organically and ramp up over time, gave us instant access to it. It was a very attractive acquisition to us.
How has that been so far? How’s the integration working out, folding them in?
I mean, it’s good. Look, as any other typical ... It’s not easy. I mean, it’s not easy, but we’re making great progress. One example of that is that some of the assets from the portfolio are going to have TV shows on Fusion TV. What we’re really focused on is the magic that can happen when you take digital audiences and convert them to television. What I find to be really interesting is that, while a lot of the digital media companies, the digital assets, get a lot of credit for being so hipster and cool, and here we’re old, we’re old, traditional media, where is it that all those cool, hip digital companies want to be?
They want to be on TV.
They want to be on TV.
We love TV.
Yeah, you all want to be on TV.
We all want to be on TV.
You want to be on TV. That’s the reality of it. That is the reality of it. It is still an awesome, powerful platform, and that’s where you need to be.
No, I think that’s a fair ... Vox Media, that’s a ... Video is an important strategy right now to any kind of online publisher, period. I think how that plays out on TV, or if it plays out on TV, or to the degree that TV’s a factor in that, it’s certainly something that can’t be overlooked. You guys already have distribution on television, so yeah, sure, why not? Is that how the investments are happening on the digital properties, that trying to convert some of these things into TV shows, or are you just going to spend more money to try to build more audience online?
How do you currently divide that? Yeah.
It’s both, and that’s why it’s great to work in a media company that is multi-platform, and that we have that opportunity and we can do that kind of experimentation.
The online stuff is generally seen as news, right? Whether it’s the Gawker sites or fusion.net, I guess ... I forget what you guys are calling it now. Splinter, is that what it’s called? Yeah, okay.
That’s going through a rebrand. Point is, these are news operations, right?
They’re news and lifestyle. Yes.
News and lifestyle operations certainly.
Is that where the news is going, and the Fusion TV and the other TV networks are more strictly entertainment?
Entertainment and lifestyle.
Got it. There’s less strategically news on the TV, but you might pull from it online. When you guys acquired Gawker Media sites, now you guys call it Gizmodo Media Group, gawker.com was separated out of that. Partly, there was a whole lot of legal wrangling around it. It was just a cleaner acquisition. Now all that’s happened. Now all that’s over, right, with the Hulk Hogan suit against Gawker and the craziness that that created. Gawker.com is actually up for sale now.
I read that. Yeah.
Yeah. Would you guys buy it?
There’s no discussion under way about us buying it that I’m aware of.
Okay. All right. But who knows? You could add more audience that way immediately. I think it’s still a beloved site in a lot of ways, especially in most New York media circles. It’s always something that’s on the minds of people. Before we go, I want to get into your career a bit more. How long have you been in TV, working in the media business basically?
Yeah, over 20 years.
Twenty years. You’re a very high-profile woman now in the business. That had to have been challenging. It’s a very male-dominated industry. You got people like Rupert Murdoch and John Malone and Barry Diller, really sort of colorful, swashbuckling male personalities, which then sort of trickle down into all these organizations. What was that like?
Yeah. It’s been a great experience for me. I mean, obviously, I wouldn’t have stayed in the business if I didn’t like it and I didn’t feel challenged. The fact that I was named the chief revenue officer as a woman, and when CROs are not really typical positions in a traditional media company’s org chart, so I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of myself, but I’m also really proud of our company for making that move, not just in putting me in that position but also because I believe we’re being extremely innovative in pursuing our business in that way.
I mean, certainly well-recognized now, but getting there must have been ... I mean, it’s not easy for anybody anyway just to kind of rise up through any kind of rank, but I guess as a woman, it must have been more challenging starting out and going through.
It is challenging. It is challenging. I am often the only woman in the room. If I were to say to you or if it ever becomes the case that I am uncomfortable with it or I don’t think about that, the fact that I’m the only woman in the room, then I’m done. It’s time for me to go home. I say that just because I feel like it’s my responsibility to sponsor other women and to make sure that it doesn’t continue to be that there’s so few or only one woman in the room. It’s very much present in my mind.
You mean, you can’t just think of yourself as one of the guys and try to gloss over things that might have been said. You have to stand up and say, “Well, hey, that’s not ... You can’t say that.” or, “What do you mean by that there?”
Yeah, well, okay, first of all, I definitely call people out for sure. What I mean by it is that, if I were ... There was a panel that I was on at one time, and there was another female executive in the business. She said that she often is asked about what it’s like to be the only woman in the boardroom or in the dining room. She said it doesn’t faze me, doesn’t even faze me. I thought to myself in that moment, if I ever get to a point where it doesn’t faze me, if I’m comfortable with it, and I’m still effective, and it doesn’t hold me back, the fact that I’m the only woman in the room, but if it ever doesn’t faze me or if I don’t think for a moment, “Hmm, this isn’t right,” or, “It shouldn’t be this way,” then I’m done, because it matters to me.
It should matter to everybody. It matters. I mean, it makes a big difference in terms of business success and performance. I believe that 100 percent. I feel like it is my responsibility and my duty to do what I can to reach down and bring other women up, and to call the guys out, yeah, on the fact that there aren’t more women in this room, and you should be embarrassed by that, and you too should want to do something about that for your own benefit.
How many times have you had to call people out in meetings?
Too, too many.
Too many times.
You can tell us about any one of those incidents if you want.
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
This is something you seem passionate about, this women sort of rising through the ranks and making it, and you want to help other women rise through. What have you seen lately that sort of sparked more of this concern?
Yeah. In terms of it being important to me, I would say next to the well-being of my family and myself, yes, it’s probably ... It is a key priority for me in my life’s mission. I saw recently, a couple weeks ago, I think it was the New York Times did a poll. It was in response to Vice President Pence saying that he would never dine one-on-one with any other woman but his wife.
But his wife, yeah.
But his wife. The Times did a poll asking both men and women if they thought it was appropriate for men and women to have dinner or drinks together in a business setting or in a business context. Believe it or not, not only the men but also the women agreed that it is inappropriate.
Even the women. Wow. Yeah.
It makes me incredibly frustrated and also sad, because business is ... It’s built on relationships, not just the media business, but really all businesses.
You’re going to dinner to have these meetings sometimes. Yeah.
It comes back to relationships. Right there in that moment, I realized, “Damn, it’s still a boys’ club,” and it’s going to continue to be a boys’ club, because women don’t even feel like they belong, that they deserve to be part of the, quote-unquote, club, or they don’t feel comfortable enough. I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve been talking with other women about how we ... How can we coach women, or how can we give women the tools, to feel comfortable in that setting?
Because getting ahead in your career, you have to be in a position to build relationships, and especially in the media business, so much of those relationships and so much of those conversations happen over meals or over drinks. That’s not to say it’s inappropriate at all. It’s not inappropriate. Again, it’s a life’s mission for me to influence and to help and to sponsor. I’m not a person that’s big on mentoring, but sponsorship, where you stand up and you put your political capital behind an individual, is very much what I’m about.
Well, Tonia O’Connor, we love having you in the room.
Oh, thank you.
Thanks so much for coming.
I like being here.
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.