On this episode of Recode Media, Redef CEO Jason Hirschhorn talks with Recode’s Peter Kafka about the Murdochs, the Redstones and some people who aren’t old-school media moguls — including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Hirschhorn himself.
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, Recode Media is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.
Below is the full transcript of the conversation. You can read a condensed, heavily edited version here.
Peter Kafka: I’m back here with Jason Hirschhorn, a two-timer at Recode Media.
Jason Hirschhorn: I am.
A very select group.
In all fairness, the first-ever interview was too short. I think it was only three hours.
We clocked in at an hour, I literally ran out of the room. You were still talking.
You would’ve gone for another hour, so this is our make-up hour.
You weren’t necessary, honestly, I could’ve just gone on.
And then you told me, “Oh, that was great, I’m going to do my own podcast series.”
That was like what, a year and a half ago?
You know, a little life got in the way, but I am working on it now. I have three formats I’m working on, and I’m actually excited and I’ve learned a lot by listening to you.
I got to say, I was excited that you were going to get in the podcast business. A little worried, because you’re a pretty good talker.
No, but you’re smart, I got the one for the morons.
You got the dummy guy?
Well also, you’re a good talker.
I’m wondering how you’ll be as a listener. We’ll see.
Well, are there guests on the show?! Fuck!
It’s the Jason monologue.
As I said, Jason’s been on before. We covered a lot of ground in Jason’s life. I don’t think we got to everything.
And one of the things I wanted to talk to you about that I don’t think we really touched on nearly enough the first time around is the media landscape. Again, we can do — and Jason’s entire bio, we’ve already done it for an hour, so ...
A post-apocalyptic media landscape?
Jason has spent a lot of time in and out of big media companies.
A lot of insight into how these things work, how they don’t work, and what’s going to come down the pike. And I want to talk to you about all of that.
I’ll stop going through your bio, but in particular, you spent a lot of time with two of the big media moguls of today, who are sort of on their way out. The Redstones and the Murdochs.
And I’m curious about sort of how you think those things are going to go. Let’s start with the Redstones. You were at MTV early. Early-ish.
I sold my company to MTV in March 2000 and I left at the end of 2006.
Right, so we talked about how you got there. We didn’t really talk about what happened when you were there.
And one of the big things that happened when you were there — this is covered extensively in Keach Hagey’s book, which we had Keach on earlier this year, she’s really great too. We’ll talk about the Redstones, which you were advocating, “Hey, there’s this thing called YouTube, we should go buy it.”
Didn’t buy it.
I can’t remember if I said buy it, but I said “You should absolutely not sue it.” I think the intrinsic problem with MTV Networks and Viacom at the time was this was a business that was set up to tell the youth of trends. To be the cool factor in their lives.
Right, and maybe just to set the context, this is 2005-ish?
Yeah, that was towards the end of my, I guess 2004/2005-ish. It was around the time of “Lazy Sunday.”
Right, so the internet is here, it’s firmly established, we get that it’s a thing.
There has been the boom, then there was the bust, there was a lot reticence to spend money again on digital media.
Yep, we had bought iFilm, which was, at the time, the biggest video site on the internet.
Because they didn’t buy Myspace, but people were still thinking, “Yeah all right, the internet’s a thing but it’s not really a business.” And if you’re the TV guys, “We’re still where the action is.”
I actually think there was actually a bit of happiness that the internet had faltered in the early 2000s and the TV people could be, “Let’s get back to work.”
TV, but that happened to magazines, lots of places. Like, “Whew, good thing we don’t have to worry about that anymore!”
“Look at these idiots, they wasted all that money.”
And by the way, because you could feel smart if you were a traditional media guy, because you saw these guys burn enormous amounts of cash on businesses that made no sense, and turns out you were right.
But then you were wrong.
Well yeah, I mean I suppose, it depends on the timeline. But at the time, I think my whole point was, we need to be a platform for the youth who are our audience. We’re going to tell each other what was cool. Be the platform that enabled that. And I don’t think that the executives could ever let go of the fact that they weren’t going to be the trend setters.
Then you have YouTube come about, really from, obviously through user-generated content, but there was a moment where there was a clip from NBC, the new digital shorts, “Lazy Sunday,” it was on there and you saw YouTube’s traffic skyrocket.
And that’s certainly a compressed version of the story, but I think all the media companies started calling me for advice, even at MTV, saying, “Should we sue?” And I said, “No, take some equity. Get a seat at the table.” And what was fascinating at the time was that the company, you had a legal department who wanted to sue these companies, and then you had the promotional departments that were putting content up on YouTube.
Yeah, it is all spelled out actually in legal documents.
Because the ensuing lawsuit, you can literally see the marketing group is sending up stuff, the legal guys are trying to see this stuff.
Yeah, and you have a CEO who took over from Tom Freston, who was a vision guy, and that was Philippe Dauman. I wasn’t there for that, but obviously, knowing a lot of people in the company, here’s someone who doesn’t have vision for the company, he’s a lawyer, you set up things through litigation, and the idea was to go after them. And for me, if you get over the fact that there was a copyright violation, yes it was.
You’re in the newfound world where no one had ever even known in the media business that you have to have rights for everything, meaning things would just show up, you take it off your screen, and you rip it, and put it up on YouTube. How could you look at it from another vantage point that it could work for you?
Now, the record labels were very litigious. Zack Horowitz, I think, was a revenue center in the legal department at Universal.
He’s the old lawyer for Universal, yeah.
The old lawyers. And I think what MTV Networks and the other media companies should have done was what the labels did. Which was take an equity stake in YouTube for all the trouble. And even at one point — and I believe this is documented in the books — David Eun, who is running content for Google at the time, I think he was going to make a settlement with a bunch of the media companies. It may have been even in the $500 million per range, and I think Dauman still said, “Go screw yourself.”
So, but to rewind it back, let’s say Viacom pays attention to your advice.
And not only doesn’t sue them but buys YouTube, or any of the big media companies buys YouTube.
Or takes a piece, yeah.
What happens to that company’s trajectory? Because as you said, the labels had managed to extract equity deals right as the sale was going on. But YouTube grew in part because it was kind and not very regulated, and had a whack-a-mole ...
I think it would have been a disaster had a major media company bought YouTube.
So it couldn’t have worked?
I don’t think it would have worked given what I know of Viacom at the time. The idea probably would have been, “How do we have a kids’ network on YouTube for Nickelodeon?” and, “How does the music thing get rebranded MTV?” there’s this idea that when you have these media companies of scale that you need to do more of the same thing, and you need to continually extend your brand. I think companies like Viacom at the time had forgotten what it was like to have a sub-$100 million project and to have a new brand.
And when you’re dealing with a company like that — if you remember, I launched a music service called Urge with my team — and the big fight at the end of my career at MTV Networks was, “Why is it named MTV? Why is it named VH1? Why is named Urge?” My idea was that music is encompassing all these genres, and that’s not what those brands stand for, but when you’re dealing with a company that’s so brand-centric, to introduce a new brand that’s smaller than the other ones is something they don’t want, but they also want their brand on the new thing. So I think they would have smothered it. I also think there’s this idea of media companies at the time, and probably still, when you make an acquisition like that, it has to be accretive in three years or some ridiculous number.
You have to convince shareholders that it’s going to be worth their while, which is a reasonable argument to make.
But you’re saying the pressure to turn that into a profit center ...
It is unreasonable. A CEO that does not stand up to the Street and ultimately explain to shareholders that this is going to need the incubation period, that we don’t know what this is and we’re going to figure it out ... That’s the genius of Facebook and YouTube and other things, which was they were given time to figure it out and grow.
And they’re held to a different standard as well, right?
Held to a different standard, but that is ...
This is what the studio guys would be screaming about with Netflix right now.
Yeah, but you know, you wouldn’t come to me to learn to how to do a Pilates class. The reality is, you’re not looking for the Street to tell you ...
You’re looking good, Jason.
Thank you. It’s not Pilates, though. I lifted two heroes [sandwiches] on the way over here. But my big thing is that I’m not looking for a Street to tell me how to run a media company. And right now we’ll talk about this, I mean, you need a CEO that’s going to go, “Listen, we’re rejiggering this company for the future.”
At the time, Freston said to me, “I want 15 percent of the revenue from digital media within five years.” You don’t do that unless you upset some people, unless you shiv some of your current partners, unless you could explain to the Street that we need the time.
I think right now the compensation is not set up in such a way where you’re still managing quarter to quarter, you’re managing stock price, and therefore you’re going to short-term things that are going to bring up the revenue, where it’s going to get you your bonus, but you are going to be screwed in the long term.
So I was asking about Viacom. You were really talking about the all sort of companies, period — let alone media companies that are set up-
And this is something I’ve come ...
And by the way, Freston in all fairness gave me the permission to go buy Myspace and IGN. We didn’t get them.
But he was willing to take the bet.
Because Rupert came in and took it.
But I was talking to Keach about this, and other guys as well. There really isn’t an example of a big media company that has figured out the internet, that has managed to buy major assets and make them into something bigger. The best you can say right now, there’re companies like Fox that sort of set itself up and then sold. Disney is at least making a bet, spending a lot of money on digital. You can argue whether it’s working.
They both did good things, but they should have been bigger ...
And they’re later.
And the traditional things that they did are what hurt those investments.
But realistically, though, you’re saying, “Look, these companies are constitutionally incapable of dealing with a new threat,” which is the internet, which is digital media.
A friend said to me the other day, who’s a very prominent media and technology executive, that it ultimately comes down to DNA. “If they can’t change the DNA of a company, I don’t care what’s on their strategy deck, on what they will acquire or the people that get to work there, they will eventually fail.” I think you’re starting to see some changes.
But even with Disney, man, they’re late. Now, they happen to have the IP to make up for that, and I think that they’ll be one of the main players, but the reality is that this strategy that we presented in some of rterd our pieces at Redef or the stuff that you and I have talked about for over a decade, this isn’t new stuff. But these were people who were looking at short money versus long-term money.
Also, you have a DNA problem inside the media business, which is direct-to-consumer was never a thing. There were always middlemen. Now, you need to set up a company that’s completely about going direct to the consumer.
The flip side, right, is you’ve got Amazon, Netflix, Apple, on down the line, all spending increasing amounts of money to buy/make TV shows and movies, the thing the Hollywood guys know how to do. There’s a weird disconnect, right? The stuff they make is kind of more valuable than ever. Their companies are worth maybe less than ever.
Yep. Well, a couple of things ...
Can you tease this one out?
Yeah, a couple of things. Well, the advantage that a Netflix, an Amazon and an Apple have is they’re not in the content business to be in the content business. They’re in the content business for some greater objectives.
Well, Netflix is in the content business.
Well, yes. I take that back. They are unique. Let me actually start with Netflix. Good point. Netflix, everyone misunderstood what Netflix was doing. When they first came out, they were licensing things.
I will tell you that I was brought into a media company after I left Viacom to ask me some opinions about how to explain strategy to the Street. Their head of cable distribution said to me, “We’re going to push off one of the cable deals, because this Netflix is offering us $70 million, and they’re not going to be around in a couple of years.”
I remember one of the guys from the networks laughing about the deal he’d made. I remember it very clearly.
He is a moron!
He said, “they have to choke on this stuff we’re giving them.”
Yeah, and the difference is, other than traditional media executives, is that Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos would never sit there and argue back. Meaning, they’d take all the crap they take from people, they do it with a smile, but the reality is, this was post-2008. The media companies needed that money to replace where advertising was in a slump, and they were having some of their carriage deals renewed, but they would push back.
So Netflix was also misunderstood in terms of they would see what they were spending on a show when they went in there, and they’d said, “Oh, my God. No network spends on that.” If Netflix is going to spend $8 billion on content, I believe that’s four billion less than Charter spends. They were spending to be the video experience.
This is the greatest land grab in the history of media ever. It happened because those guys are brilliant and they ultimately figured out and made great shows, and they did like any other media business, which is they started out curating other people’s stuff. But really, they also succeeded because of the laziness and this silly laughter out of the people that were licensing stuff from them.
Yeah, they thought Netflix was the sucker at the table.
Right? From the poker metaphor. This is the dumb money, “we’re used to dumb money, this is the new dumb money.”
We’ve always had people ...
This is Matt Schuster or something like that, yeah.
Who want to come in here and buy our stuff, and great. You go on to hang out with starlets, great.
Or you don’t want hang out with starlets, whatever. We’ll sell you the stuff.
Yeah, I’ll put you at the table with Brad Pitt, you know? I’ll get a 100 million from you.
Yeah, here you go. Enjoy.
Yeah. So that’s the Netflix story, and their execution has been fantastic. Their buildup on original content, which has been high, medium and low, “Netflix Originals” means something, they changed the way that the media business worked in terms of release velocity, the cadence of their programming and, frankly, as an operating system.
We just wrote this piece on Netflix and the misunderstandings on Redef, Matt Ball did, and talked about the importance of product in technology. If you think about it, I still like TV. I like channel surfing. Now you have rollovers on Netflix. On Amazon, you could see what song is playing and what actor’s in the scene. Those were innovations that TV weren’t making, so that’s a big deal.
In terms of Disney, you know, I actually think that they’re going to have a shot at this kind of stuff, but they’re not a product and technology company. They have MLBAM. You could argue whether that was a good purchase or not. But how many years away are they from launching their service?
And they’re also doing it with IP in many cases which is 30 years old: Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel. And we’re seeing a little ...
Let me pull you up, big picture again.
Again, back to what I was saying.
So you’ve all these guys with really deep pockets saying, “We now want to buy content.”
Yeah, sorry. So, Amazon, yeah.
“And we’re going to pay much more than we ever have. And we’ve explained why Netflix is in a different group.”
But you would think that the Disneys and the Foxes and even the Viacoms and the MGM, where you were on the board, anyone who knows how to make TV — because it turns out you can’t just make a TV show. It takes work.
Yep. It’s hard.
When Netflix got into TV, they bought it from existing studios, right?
You would think these guys would be more valuable than ever. Instead, they’re consolidating, they’re dwindling, they’re seeing their market power going away. They’re very afraid of Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple really getting into the content business.
Listen, I forget what the statistic was, but you look at the film business: While revenue may be up, ultimately attendance is down.
The ticket prices are higher. I think they’re going down because they were ... I’ll give you an example at MGM. When I was on the board, our first three shows that we did and scripted were “Fargo,” “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Vikings.”
MGM, best known for being a movie studio.
A movie studio with a catalog.
Right. James Bond famously is the main asset.
Then eventually got into TV, right?
Yeah, bought Mark Burnett’s company and decides to go into scripted as well, gets a couple of great executives. The three first shows they put out are conversation shows: “Fargo,” “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Vikings.” However, that goes to Hulu, it goes to FX and it goes to History Channel. Someone like me who sits there and understands what’s going on in the media landscape, why aren’t we holding back that stuff for our own service? Thus, the purchase of Epix, which is still a nascent movie channel, but they need to ...
This was Viacom’s version of Showtime and HBO.
Viacom, Lionsgate and MGM, and then MGM consolidated the ownership. I think you’re seeing that because ultimately, they are on this licensing phenomena. They took short money, someone else’s business got built up from it, and their businesses are shrinking. The other thing is, you see even companies like HBO, who still don’t adhere to the new ways in which you watch. There’s no bingeing. There’s no downloading. So, I still think that we are ...
The reason that a Netflix or an Amazon or an Apple has an advantage is because they have no traditional relationships. They don’t have to worry about a MVPD, they don’t have to worry about advertising, even though they’re going into that area. Amazon can spend what they want to spend because what is it? A third of America is on Prime? That’s a massive business, and we think Apple, I don’t know if they’ve announced it yet, but we put out a piece on this. They’re going to do their own version of Prime, they’ll tie hardware, warranty and all the services together.
To be a standalone media service, even for a Netflix, is going to be a hard thing in the future, but they are the ones that made the land grab. What’s their number now? Are they 120 million subs or something like that globally?
I mean, think about that. That is remarkable, and they’ve done it with unique things like going into other countries with their own content. They’re putting content from foreign countries ... Some of the best shows on Netflix right now are foreign produced, India, Germany, all that kind of stuff.
Let me ask you the same question another way.
Which is if all these guys wanted to get into content, they want to spend lots of money, at a minimum you would think — and this was the conventional wisdom up until very recently — the MGMs, the Viacoms, the Sonys of the world, they’re all going to get bought because the fastest way for Apple to get into the business, instead of just going and buying individual shows, is to buy a studio. Why hasn’t that happened?
If I look at it through the guys of Netflix, I think their way of looking at the world, and I’m not quoting anyone there, is we don’t want to clean up any mess. The reality is, we want to do things differently.
“We want to buy Shonda Rhimes. We don’t want to buy Disney.”
“We don’t want to buy Disney.” They have the money, they’re giving the flexibility and freedom to creative talent, and ultimately, if you’re taking on a going concern, then you have the going concern’s problems.
You have overhead, you’ve got bad deals they made.
Yeah. You would think a company like that would buy an Endemol or buy ... Hey, in order to ... The banker pitch would be ...
Endemol, by the way, is still in the market.
Yes. The pitch would be, if you’re going global and you need production, you’re going to buy this kind of production company, you’ll be able to go and get it. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. There’s always rumors of Google coming around and kicking the tires on a Lionsgate, or an Amazon looking, and rumors of MGM in play. That may still happen because catalog is still important. On a lot of these services, it’s still, 60 percent of the viewing is still library film.
Yeah, HBO goes out of its way to put that out.
And it’s not a “not invented here” syndrome, it’s more of, we don’t want to be encumbered by legacy deals and legacy businesses. Can you argue with the way that Netflix has done?
I get that, except that you would think one of them would say, “Well, we’ve got to jumpstart this. You guys own a catalog of a bunch of stuff. Let’s just buy it.” Or, flip it around, Amazon went out and bought Whole Foods, which is the definition of legacy business, because it’s all this real estate, it’s long leases, etc., plus a really messy business, and they said, “We’ll just buy that to jumpstart our way into the grocery business, which we’ve been at for a decade without success.”
Listen, I’ll also say that the DNA of Amazon is not the DNA of a media company. I mean, you have a guy who was a wealth manager and is now the richest guy in the world and probably the best operator in the world.
But again, if Amazon could buy Whole Foods for 13, 14 billion, why haven’t they just bought a studio?
I just don’t think that ...
Just to speed things up?
Amazon. It wouldn’t surprise me if Amazon bought CBS. You know, you get access to football. I’m not saying it’s not going to be done.
I think a company like Netflix looks at that and says, “We see problems and we could scale faster and do okay on our own,” and ... Here’s what I will say. It’s like a Rube Goldberg. The minute one falls, the whole contraption starts to go. So if Lionsgate gets sold, let’s say to Google, there is no way that MGM doesn’t go into play because everyone is going to start running for catalog.
You look at what Apple’s done. They hired these two Sony guys. They have the money to get the executives, they have the money to get the talent, and they don’t need the infrastructure of a studio. That’s fine for them. I’m not saying it’s not going to go. I think it will ultimately be whoever takes the first plunge and buys, that’s when media gets consolidated into tech.
Yeah, a bunch of us thought this would happen the minute the AT&T/Time Warner ruling came down.
It hasn’t happened. I think you’re right. I think once the first deal happens, then we’ll have a flurry of M&A.
I think if you look at Viacom ...
And by the way, the bankers are all peddling this right now, anyway.
The only difference between the banker presentations is whether it’s on 11 x 14 or 12 by whatever and they’re all the same charts. I think if you’re looking at a Viacom, for example, if you’re looking at M&A, the reason for the combination — which doesn’t make sense necessarily strategically to stay alive — is that CBS is probably an easier business to sell on its own. Viacom, with the cable networks are harder, but the combined gives you the leverage of re-trans, but it also allows you to buy MTV Networks because you have to get to CBS.
Right. This is the logic that Shari Redstone doesn’t want to say out loud. I think she believes, but doesn’t want to say out loud. Which is, “I want to sell MTV, I can’t sell MTV on its own.” Or maybe the value of CBS goes down a little if I smash it together with MTV, but MTV’s value goes up enough to cover it.
It makes a lot of sense for her — in all disclosure, she’s one of the Redef investors, and I know her very well but I don’t have any inside information on Viacom — but the cable business is challenged, the MTV brand is not where it used to be. Nickelodeon is looking for a senior executive right now to run the company whereas CBS, you know, Leslie has had one of the ... probably the greatest track records in the history of programming, so they have solid shows and they also have the NFL, which is a must-have.
What I thought we were going to do is talk about media moguls. We can still do that, but did you have much access to Sumner Redstone during your Viacom time?
I didn’t. I’ll tell you some funny stories.
That probably is a good thing for you, right?
You know, listen, the folklore about Sumner is folklore to me, though I know real stories and I don’t want to make a comment on it. I remember Judy McGrath when I became head of Digital Worldwide...
Yeah, Judy McGrath, who ran MTV networks, who’s my mentor and one of my closest friends. I remember standing outside of her office, she was waving me in and Sumner was in there. She was like, “You have to come in there with me,” and this is my first interaction with Sumner.
He was probably 70-something.
Yeah, he was up there, definitely went to high school with Moses or something like that. He looks at me and he goes, “Jason, you ever been to China?” I said, “No sir, I haven’t been to China.” He goes, “Not one restaurant better than Shun Li there.” Shun Li was his favorite Chinese restaurant on the West Side. That was my first interaction with Sumner.
Another interaction was, I remember every once in a while you would get to get a ride on the plane back and I would talk strategy with Tom. I remember we landed at Teterboro and we all got off the plane, and Sumner didn’t get off the plane and he starts to drive away and I said, “Tom, what’s he doing?” And he goes, “Oh, he likes to park over there and watch the Yankees game.”
So those were my interactions. In all honesty, he’s the mogul, he built that company, but Tom Freston and Leslie ran the company. You didn’t hear from Sumner on a daily basis. You may have heard him on earnings calls, but it was the division heads ran that company.
He famously was sitting there watching the ticker. If the stock moved down X number of points or half a point, he’d be on the phone with them.
I’m sure there was “Hudsucker Proxy”-type thing going on there, I didn’t have access to that. Certainly that’s not the way that Tom would want to run a company, and he saw what happened with that, but a lot of the stuff I heard was secondhand, and even with Mel — when Mel Karmazin was running Viacom — yes, Sumner would come to the senior executive budget meetings with us, but it was Mel’s company, he ran that company day to day.
This is where I’m going to stop again and promote Keach Hagey’s book, “The King of Content,” very good. But while I’m speaking promotion, tell people who don’t know, which again is a very limited percentage of these listeners who do not know what Redef is.
Redef is a company I call “the interest remix” company. It’s a bunch of newsletters we put out on different areas like media and music, and every day I write a forward as does Matty Karas on music, and we’re coming out with or relaunching some of those publications called the Rant and the Rave, and we talk about something personal or something in business and we give it pop culture context and then we pick twenty items for you to read or listen to or watch every day.
It’s free for now.
It’s free for now, largely because I had lot of life stuff that I had to get by, but we’re going to go into subscription, and you’ll see Peter’s podcast.
And incredibly you were giving away these amazing analysis pieces, many by Matthew Ball, former Amazon guy now doing something he won’t disclose.
I’ll tell you a very funny thing. So...
Who won’t write for me even though I asked him.
Well, that’s called loyalty.
It’s a great story. Matthew Ball, who does our Redef publications, he started our originals thing. He walked into my office in New York City when he was 25 years old, he had no appointment with me, and he said, “I like your career, I want to know everybody you know, and I want to operate, and I want to learn from you and I’ve done these things under this nom de plume” — which we had been linking to — and I just said to him listen, “I’ll give you a bunch of money and we’ll come up with topics together and they need to be data-oriented but narratives about the media business.”
And three years later, to his credit, he was the Head of Strategy at Amazon Video and now is about to do something else, which is not announced yet, but he’s one of the great thinkers in the media business now and it’s good that I can help him come up with a topic, but Matt’s way smarter than me and we give those things away for free.
So again, if you like this stuff and you haven’t read these things, he’s written these really, really deep, insightful pieces particularly on Netflix and HBO in the last few months, and you should go read.
And Disney as well, and curation. I’ll tell you a funny story about the Disney piece, he wrote a piece called “Disney Is a SaaS Business” about three years ago, and I got a call from Kevin Mayer at Disney and said, “Hey, Bob Iger and I would like to have ...”
It’s a subscription business. It doesn’t know it’s a subscription business, but it is.
Yeah, well, not yet. But he says, “We’d love to have lunch with you.” And I’d known Kevin for a long time, so I had lunch with him and Iger. And Iger, I’m going to paraphrase here, but we’re having lunch at Disney and Iger says, “You know, you’re an idiot.” And I’m like, “Why is that, Bob?” And he goes, “You give away for free what we pay tens of millions of dollars a year from management consultants for.” So, thus came in the idea of a subscription and paywall.
Okay, but he gave you that advice a couple of years ago.
Yeah, well, you know. I sort of had some personal stuff and heart attacks and heart surgeries and time off, which normal people take, and now I’m rebuilding Redef. And I’m looking for a CEO if you knew anyone.
Is Jim Bankoff looking for a job?
Jim listens, so you’ll hear from him.
Banky, things don’t work out with Fox or Vox, I’ve got a ...
I’ll look around. Things are working out, right?
By the way, I love this studio.
The lights are still on. So, let’s go back to more mogul talk. Great Iger story there. When Bob Iger tells you you’re an idiot, you should listen.
He meant it in a loving way, I’m sure. He’s a wonderful guy.
Murdoch. You know the Murdochs well.
You went to work for them, you grew up with James.
Yeah, grew up with James, went to high school together, still a buddy of mine. And Rupert, I worked for when I ran Myspace, and he was very good to me. I obviously have my issues with the Fox News of today, which is ...
You made that very clear over the last year or so.
Yeah and it’s not indicative of the Rupert I know, but he seems to be able to separate business from personal politics.
That was one of the questions I had for both Rupert and his sons. Do you think that all of them say, “Well, there’s a product that we put out, it’s Fox News,” — or by the way, it’s anything else I put out — “and there’s what I actually believe in my heart of hearts. One’s a business and one’s my ideology.”
I don’t want to speak for them, and I think all of them probably look at it differently. I think there are people — and this doesn’t go just for the Murdoch boys — I think most of the senior executives inside the Fox organization as we stand today before the merger, it’s not the partisan issue of Fox News, it’s the presentation of lies and propaganda. And not to say that CNN and MSNBC doesn’t have their fair share of that.
They’re nothing similar.
I’ll tell you a funny story. So when I was president of Myspace I also had a side job, and the side job was the chief product officer of News Corp. And I sat down with Rupert, even back then — this was 2009 — and I said, “I will not work with Fox News, I won’t work with Roger Ailes.” I never met Roger Ailes, but to me, I knew what I needed to know.
You think about what Fox News is then compared to now, all right, it wasn’t even in the same crazy house. But I really thought then — I grew up on Steven Spielberg movies and Frank Capra movies and knowing about Walter Cronkite — so my idea of the media and journalism is a very lofty idea, even though we may fail at it every once in a while. And I thought that what they were doing was poisoning the fabric of the country.
By the way, when I have problems with things like the newsfeed on Facebook or on Twitter, why is news any different from that? You know, when you’re on CNN I’m sure you hear in your ear like, “Go more aggressive, drop the bomb.” They’re looking for it to be a boxing match.
We’re at a really tough time in this country, and having spent a lot of personal time with Rupert during my tenure there, he’s a curious guy, he’s an open-minded guy, he’s not a prejudiced guy, and I just don’t see him in Fox News. And yet, it’s probably one of the greatest business decisions in the history of television, but we’ve gone beyond just a shareholder thing now.
By all accounts, that’s his product, right? For one thing, he’s not selling it to Disney, he’s keeping it, it’s incredibly powerful, he uses it as a tool, direct access to Donald Trump.
And his hands are all over it in terms of the actual programming now.
I mean, if I play that stuff out, it wouldn’t surprise me if Fox News even as a separate organization gets sold. It would scare the living daylights out of me if it got sold to a Sinclair or something like that.
And also on the Disney front, if you’re looking at succession — not “Succession” the television show, but succession… The minute that I heard that the Murdochs were going to sell — it was a rumor before it was released to the press — if you had given me 37 chances to come up with that answer, I would have been like, “You’re out of your mind.”
That it was going to go to Disney or it was going to sell it at all?
That they would sell it at all.
Right, that was on my list of questions.
The idea that Rupert would ever sell that company, ever.
It was a U-turn, right? Because he was acquisitive, acquisitive, acquisitive, wanted to buy Time Warner a couple years ago. And then he says, “Nope, I’m selling, I’m basically, I’m not getting out of media, but I’m selling at least half my business.”
And the narrative is like, the Bewkes narrative at Time Warner, which is these guys see the top, they’re getting their top dollar — Rupert, you know, toys around with Comcast, which has always been an adversary, gets an extra 20 billion, sells it to Disney. The Rupert that I know has played this five to 10 steps down the road, and I don’t know exactly what their share of Disney’s going to be or how their board seats are going to be, but a Murdoch-controlled Disney in the future is not science fiction.
You think it is significant that he is taking stock and is going to have significant equity and voting power in the new Disney-Fox combination.
I think it’s just a Monday for Rupert. Yes it’s significant, but that’s the way he thinks. Your guys like Rupert, Charlie Ergen, John Malone, these are the smartest guys I’ve ever met in my entire life.
So you don’t believe he is leaving the media business. I mean, clearly he is holding onto something else. But you think he is still a player.
First of all, I think it’s a good bet, if you bet on a media company, you bet on Disney. All right, for any issues they may have, I want to be in that kind of trouble. They have the great assets, great IP. But I still cannot swallow that Rupert’s exiting the business and I ultimately, I don’t have any information, but if you came to me in two years — and remember, there’s going to be a lot of Fox executives over there — if a Fox executive ends up running Disney, I would not be shocked and then Rupert is back in Disney.
Because there’s another narrative that says, well, forget the top part, the part is you’re building this business, you’re of a certain age, you’re looking at your kids who are supposed to run the business for you and maybe you don’t get along, maybe they don’t really have their heart set on running this business, you go, “What am I doing? I’m not going to pass this business along to you guys.” Or by the way, if they don’t want to take over the business because they can see the challenges for themselves or whatever reason they don’t want to run it, fuck it, let’s sell it.
I don’t think Rupert looks at life that way. I still think he is as spry as any 35-year-old is, at least mentally. Maybe I can beat him in a race now, but mentally ...
When’s the last time you saw him?
I haven’t seen him in a couple years, I mean, to be honest with you, the stuff that’s going on with Fox News has hurt my sense of him.
So you can’t disconnect between the business and the product.
Well listen, I’m an entrepreneur most of my life. When people say to me, “It’s business, not personal,” I’m like, “What are you, out of your mind?” My money’s in there. I live this 18 hours a day. I could separate the art from the artist mostly, but I can’t separate if you know you’re doing something that is hurtful, and I believe that these guys have to know. And again, this isn’t about my politics as much as it’s about truth. That really hurts me and I’m not letting an MSNBC or CNN off the hook, but certainly Fox News is my Pavlovian dog. You know, it really does hurt me.
Well again, let’s be clear. CNN and MSNBC are not the left version of Fox News. Fox News is its own product, it’s its own power, and it’s not being used for good.
I don’t think it’s being used for good. I certainly think that they are largely responsible for helping Trump get into office, and you’ll see rulings and other things of that nature that seem to be helping Rupert. Whether or not that’s directly connected, that’s the way that Donald Trump works. I can’t even imagine Donald Trump...
Remember when he’s being outflanked by Steven Bannon and Breitbart?
You mean Rupert?
Yeah, that was the conventional wisdom two years ago.
Well listen, I think there was always a fear in Fox News that, if you think of the genius of Fox News, it was having an outlet for that audience, it wasn’t that crazy in the beginning. But remember that a campaign manager ran the television network. That in itself is freaking scary to me.
And if you go into the future, this idea that someone is going to out-Fox Fox and become even more radical? I’m a middle guy, I like the middle. The middle doesn’t get me everything I want, but it gets me peace, it gets me understanding. So I think the Bannon and Breitbart stuff is way out there, but if they sold Fox News, and it went to a place like Sinclair or Sinclair decided to invest in a place like a Breitbart, those are things that are going to happen.
And you know, when you and I were younger, I’m older than you, and I would go see a Mike Tyson fight, and I’d say, “Mike Tyson is the most vicious fighter I’ve ever seen, no one will ever be able to beat him, he’s the most vicious fighter that’s ever lived.” And then five years later there’s a guys that’s more vicious than him. So, if I thought that Fox News was bad when it wasn’t as bad and now it is what it is now, the right of Fox News scares the living daylights out of me.
When the Disney-Fox deal was first announced — and you said you knew about it before it was announced, I’ve got to talk to you more often ...
Well, the rumors about it.
One of the theories that floated was that James Murdoch was going to go to Disney.
That’s who I was rooting for obviously.
Bob Iger didn’t have a successor, James would be the likely No. 2/successor. And then at some point James basically said, “Nope, I’m not.” What happened there?
I mean, I don’t want to betray any confidences. I was surprised.
It’s just us talking here.
Yeah, just us. And the sound guy. But listen, there’s me who sees a friend that I’ve been friends with since I’m 12 years old, and I want him to be successful, I don’t know what he wanted. I was surprised, he was the heir apparent. It was a confusing time over there.
To be honest with you, Rupert never left the lot, Chase Carey was sort of still around when they were there. James gets the job a few years after what happened in the U.K. with the hacking scandal. I knew that he would get the job eventually in my mind, but he got it sooner than I thought. I know James to be one of the smartest guys in media. He understands the media business super well. His experience at Sky with different kinds of digital products and ARPU are very, very germane to a direct-to-consumer business and then Lachlan came back into the fold. It’s a confusing thing.
To me, it means something that a guy who might have been able to run Disney — which under a lot of scenarios is going to be one of the most powerful media companies ever — has decided not to. And we don’t even know if he’s going to be in media at some point in the near future.
Well, it’s been rumored that James is going to do something on the VC front.
Sure, but when you’re a billionaire, VC just means you’re going to write checks, essentially.
Well, you also have to understand the person. You have a person who is literally one of the most courteous people on earth, sits on the board of Tesla.
By the way, has spent his entire life working for his dad to have this job.
Yeah, so if you look at when Anthony Bourdain died, who I was a huge fan of, you see these things on social media where people say, “I don’t understand, he got to travel the world, and he has a beautiful girlfriend, and he had the greatest life.” We don’t know what people want!
If you’re James Murdoch and you grew up in that and you’re always compared to your father and no matter how smart, you may be a captain of industry anywhere else, some cases you’re still Rupert’s son. Maybe James thought, “It’s time for me to do my own thing. I’ve done very well here, look at the exit here” — I mean, even the exit after the deal announcement was tremendous — “and now I’m going to do some things.” Money’s not the issue.
If you’re a normal person, you say, “Wow, I have the opportunity to do whatever I want, free from being compared to my dad.” It makes a lot of sense. I just can’t imagine what it’s actually like to be inside that head, which is one of the reasons I think I’m one of the few people who’s really into “Succession.” Now we’re talking about the HBO show.
I’ll say this, you know when we look at other people’s lives it’s very one-dimensional, when we look at our enemies it’s very one-dimensional. When that’s what you grew up in and that’s all you know and James is someone who at 20-some-odd had a record label. He collects sneakers, he loves to travel, he’s into biking. Like, we don’t, the average public doesn’t know what he wants to do. And by the way, that’s more of the same. In a smaller way, in my career, I got named to a huge job at MTV Networks, was on track to be a guy that may run Viacom, and I decided to quit to go to Slingbox.
Also collect sneakers.
And also collect sneakers.
And Matchbox cars.
This is the throughline. And I had no, I didn’t think about it for two seconds, but everyone said, “You’re ruining your career.” That’s what other people want. There is no rule on how you get things done.
And I’ve got to tell you something, Slingbox was the most fun I ever had in my life. I love underdog fights, I like new technologies. Maybe that’s what James is thinking. Who knows?
I’m going to get him in here one day when the deal is done and see if I can get him to speak even remotely candidly.
And that will be safe?
I don’t know, I think he’s going to be wound pretty tight for a while.
I have to say, I think a lot of people get him wrong. He’s got a tremendous sense of humor, he’s a lot of fun. And again, you come with a lot of baggage when you’re Rupert Murdoch’s son and I don’t think there’s been a fair representation of him in the media. But, you know, not my job.
Well, I will extend the invitation for him to come represent himself.
Sure, well, maybe if there’s a sneaker episode you’ll get him in here.
One of the reasons I wanted to have you here besides to tell old mogul stories is to talk about what’s happening today. We talked about at the beginning with Silicon Valley versus LA versus New York, you’re in LA most of the time, you’re seeing the Valley guys now show show up all the time making deals, you’re watching Apple make deals; we’re not quite sure what they’re doing.
How do you gauge their chance for success? Netflix is already very successful.
Everyone, Apple, but all the other, all, everyone else who’s trying to get in to media who hasn’t fully gone there yet. Even Amazon spent a lot of money, kind of did a reboot in the last year.
Yeah listen, I think Amazon’s first swing was a pretty great swing. I can’t speak to what went on management-wise there or the success that, ’cause it’s comparative, but some of their early shows were good shows. I’d actually give them a better mark on early than I gave Netflix when they first started doing Originals.
Listen, they have a tremendous amount of engagement with their audience in multiple ways, I bet on all these companies to do well. Part of it is when, and Apple gets in to the business, then you talk to all the traditional TV people. And like, “Oh these guys are crazy. I can’t believe they’re signing up Spielberg and Oprah.” There’s always a reason to crap on them.
Right, and then the standard critique now is they’re in the press release business. All they’re doing is putting out press releases.
Yeah, I mean, which is very un-Apple, from the past. But the reality, I looked at some lineup of, “Here’s the announcements of the shows.” Listen, I guess someone in their place had to decide like, “Listen, we just want you to know there’s momentum in here.” But it takes a long time, a lead time to get a show going.
And it doesn’t matter whether you’re Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV or whether you’re a new streaming service, you have a time to build to your service and get your content. Apple will license like everybody else, and they’ll start to pepper these things in. I think they’ll do okay. And remember that this is, imagine, what is it gonna be, 70 bucks a month maybe?
You think ultimately the Apple play is a big subscription service where I get music, video, Apple Care, whatever else they can throw in there?
And the new phone. Matt Ball wrote a piece which we called “Apple Prime.” That was his take on it, whether, I think we’re directionally correct.
And there’s been some leaks around it, but the idea would be that instead of buying a new phone every time, you get the phone when it comes out. You’d have your extended warranty and your Apple Care, you’d get, you know, iTunes. You’d get whatever, you know, maybe App Store stuff. That’s the way that it’s going. And remember that the hardware is still so significantly great that that keeps you in the ecosystem.
Does the fact that Apple missed really badly a year and a half ago when they rolled out two new shows — a reality show and a spinoff from James Corden’s show — should that indicate something in terms of how they’re gonna perform this time out? Or is that just, “Look, in order to succeed you gotta fail,” etc.?
You know, it’s, on the “30 for 30” documentary I think Christian Laettner, I’m gonna paraphrase him, said something about the Duke, famous Duke basketball player like, “People remember the wins.” Everybody had these, you know, you name me five of the first Netflix shows, you know?
Eh, not that bad.
I like Little Steven but, but ...
Actually Netflix had a great, had a great hit ratio in the beginning.
Yeah, I’m saying when you have “Orange Is the New Black,” when you’ve got “Peaky Blinders,” when you’ve got all those things, I don’t remember any of that kind of crap. So, what’s the hit ratio on a television network? Even the stuff that gets canceled off of HBO — which is pretty good — would be better on any other network.
My thought is if, my thought is only that if you were a, it’s one thing to fail. It’s another thing to go, “Here are our first two shows!”
I agree with you.
And they’re bad TV shows.
And to not have someone in your organization go, “No, no, no don’t, don’t put those out.”
I think sometimes — and again, this is just me pontificating without fact, my take as being a media observer, and I don’t know the Apple people well — is they get taken in by svengali sometime. So they get the big guy who does and does not work for the company and tells them, “This is gonna be the good thing.” And they’ll do their version of whatever.
If it was me, that would not have been my calling card. My calling card would have been something, would be as close to my version of “Game of Thrones” or my version of a “Silicon Valley” so that I can set the example.
Right. And so what, now they’re going the other way which is, “All right, we’re gonna hire two other guys who are well regarded, and they’re gonna come out with dozens of shows.”
Yeah. I mean, one of the problems, and you’ve been in this, covering this business for so many years; you know, it’s fascinating, when YouTube comes in the business and says, “TV’s over, TV’s shit, no one cares about TV.” Then they hire everybody from TV, they want the TV ad dollars, they want the TV creators and they want the TV operating system.
When it comes time to make money, the media guys haven’t been so stupid after all. And while I admit the comps may not be what it is, everyone is signing up now because content is a differentiator. And therefore you can’t just load your system in with catalog, you have to have some signature shows. And as we’ve proven, the marketing for your service is the show.
It’s not just putting up, you know, performance ads or saying, “Join Netflix on TV for 9.99,” when you have “Peaky Blinders,” when you have the new season of “Stranger Things,” when you have an Amanda Knox documentary, that’s why people join. And the genius of Ted Sarandos and those guys has been, think about November traditionally, you have holiday programming, some sports, you go into the New Year, TV’s off the air essentially, and some movie openings. The first week in November I remember a couple years ago, they’re hitting you with the new “Black Mirror,” “Stranger Things ...”
The Amanda Knox documentary.
I love that they put stuff out during holiday weekends.
Right? Which, networks go dark, essentially.
Right? That’s when you put the Jerry Lewis telethon on. And they go, “No, no, here’s a hot new show from us, which we know you’re gonna watch ’cause we know you’re sitting around, you can’t stand your relatives or you’ve already had your picnic. Watch.”
Yup. But think about the difference in businesses there. So, a TV network says, “We’ve already made our numbers for the year advertising-wise.” Anything we, and when you over deliver in advertising, the consumer gets it. I mean the buyer get it, you don’t anything.
And all of a sudden, what they, what they’ve proven is churn. To fight churn, you keep releasing stuff. The idea after November that I would ever cancel Netflix unless I went broke is insane because they keep giving me stuff. And even if all of it isn’t great, there’s three or four shows that I’m talking about. And that is not by mistake. I mean, they’re doing it because they’re doing the opposite of what the TV business did.
Which is basically shut down from December till mid-January.
Yeah, they’re all in St Barts, all of them, while Ted Sarandos is eating their lunch. You know, I think it seems pretty simple but it’s pretty genius, and those are the kinds of things that we need to change. The television or video experience now is great content, content for all of the family.
So what Netflix did, look at Netflix. They’ve systematically gone after children. Matt Ball will tell you he thinks they’re cornering the comedy market now, maybe not at the scale or quality that HBO has had but they’re getting there.
They announced the Bruce Springsteen show, which I just saw. I can’t believe …! Like Bruce Springsteen, like he was literally an HBO guy.
I mean, Netflix is literally going in to all these sectors and then they’re releasing in such a way that you’re never letting go. You look at Starz now, Jeff Hirsch, who is the CEO of Starz, who has responsibility for these units. And you see David Nevins on Showtime. Two episodes to the end of the series, you introduce a new episode. You introduce a new show, sorry. And that’s what keeps churn. They’re starting to understand what Netflix has been doing.
You got in to media via music, you were making websites for bands.
Music labels. The music business tanked eventually, not ’cause of you.
It was my fault, it was my websites honestly.
Now music is booming again, valuations are going nuts, you’re on the board of a music company, Pandora.
Which doesn’t seem like it’s really caught the same waves as everybody else.
Have we overcorrected on music? Are we overestimating the power of the music business?
Well, first of all, anything looks good from the bottom.
So, Matt had written another piece about this. I mean, they’d hit a bottom, it was a lot of mistakes that were brought on by the music business. I don’t blame Napster, Napster was a product innovation that was sued. It’s no different than the YouTube example. Certainly, streaming numbers are through the roof, the economics for artists are not. I think that’s gonna be the next evolution of the media business. Anyone that’s telling me that a company like Spotify isn’t going to go directly to the artist, I know they’ve talked about some of these things, or Daniel will say that they’re not gonna replace the, you know, the labels. I’ll say this, the economics are much better for the artist and for Spotify without a record label in the middle.
Record labels are still good at finding artists, they’re still good at using their catalog for leverage. I don’t know how they’re gonna do this displacement, and traditionally record labels have been very vindictive if you move against their business.
Right. The game/act that, looking for a metaphor around here. What Spotify is trying to do is do direct deals with a certain tier of artist that wouldn’t get a major label deal.
Or else I’m turning off the lights.
Sure. Was that Lucian Grainge just turned off the lights?
Yeah. Without going after the acts that would really upset the Lucian Grainges of the world.
But, and I wrote about this.
Yeah. I forget what media, what ...
And trust me they paid attention to it, and you’ve got, and so on the one hand Daniel Ek will tell investors, “This is what we’re doing.” I mean, and he’s gotta tell Lucian Grainge, “No, no, no everything’s great. Labels are great.”
I’m sure it was someone smart like Reid Hastings or Ted Sarandos or someone that said something. You start from the bottom of the pyramid and you work your way up. If you look at YouTube Television, you know, starting with some of the smaller channels and working their way up. If you’re a big artist, if you’re Drake, what do you need a label for at this point now?
This is the perpetual question that people have been asking in the music business for years and years and years. And there is always, not a Drake but a Chance the Rapper. More often it’s an artist who’s already been big for several years.
A Radiohead, a Prince.
And they go off without a label, and the label story is, they always come back. ’Cause it turns out we provide services to them and we can talk about the value and how much we’re gonna pay them and vice versa.
And believe me, in many ways they have been right about some of it, promotion.
But there’s a reason that so-and-so still is on a major label.
Well listen, they like the advances. Certainly for a label, it’s in their interest to re-sign the big artist because that’s what you package streaming rates in for, for other artists.
But maybe a Drake says, “You know what? I don’t want to be in that package and I want 50 million from every service to have my music.” That may seem, you know it’s like this thing with like LeBron and the other athletes. Like, “stick to what you know, don’t bring politics into, into sports.”
I think all that stuff is nonsense. The reality is, you’re out for yourself if you’re an artist. The label, yes, can have your interest, but they also have their interests and they’re selling you as a catalog together, and you’re a big part of that. And you shouldn’t be subsidizing the other artists.
Do you think for those big artists, the bigger issue is, “I would rather have guaranteed money up front. You pay me X amount for this many albums over this many years.”
“And yes I could make more if I own the stuff myself and sold it myself. Ultimately I could make much more.” Do you think it’s that or do you think it’s, “I don’t actually want to do that work”?
It depends on the artist. I mean, you have artists like Future who, I don’t know why he needs a record label but he’s got his own tour, he’s got his own clothing line. I mean, they’re thinking 360 in a way the labels haven’t. I think there are some artists that just want the, they don’t want to be business people. Which is a mistake, by the way. If you don’t understand your business as an artist, you’re hurting yourself. And they want that 7 million an album or whatever it’s gonna be, and then they’ll get their streaming royalty. I think it’ll be all over the place.
I guess my point is that it’s more transparent than ever before. And when you’re seeing someone that’s driving a streaming service and they’re getting these checks that we’ve heard of, it’s a real issue.
And the other problem is that the amount of payers is dwindling, you know? It’s gonna be very hard to be an independent music service, even for a Spotify going forward because the packages that we talked about with Amazon, with Apple, and ultimately Google and other sites, like, it’s just a greater value for you. How you gonna eke out your living in that? And I do believe that you’ll start to see these separate deals, and maybe they’re already happening, we don’t know. Where major artists are getting a bigger chunk or a separate chunk of a check.
And by the way, there’s, even though Irving Azoff and other managers have perfected the art of the second part of the career or the third part of the career, you see Journey and Def Leppard and other guys selling out stadiums.
The Fleetwood Mac Farewell Tour has yet to end.
Yes. And with Neil Finn apparently coming in for Lindsey Buckingham in the genius of Irving. They’re trying to figure out how to get their money when they can get their money. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean that in a good way. Artists and athletes, no matter how rich they get, is, are ultimately, can be exploited.
And the other problem that you have is, like, the streaming services get blamed. So why is it Daniel Ek’s fault that Spotify, that the label cut this deal? That’s who he has to go to for the music. I think it will help them with brand to do direct deals with artists.
They are not getting tagged anymore. Or you don’t see the musicians complain about Spotify anymore, which I thought would actually ramp up when they went public when they made so much more money. I mean Daniel Ek’s net worth skyrocketed from X to Y. You’d think you’d see more artists like, “Look, it’s exactly what I predicted. You’re making lots of money, I’m making less.”
I think Daniel learned probably from the Metallica early thing at Napster, and Daniel learned to talk to artists immediately. I think some of the arguments were disingenuous from some of the artists. Maybe they were looking at the sale of their label at the time or wanting to get a little more money out of them and making a fight that wasn’t a fight. I think Daniel talked to a lot of artists, I think you see Troy Carter and other people that are respected by the artist community come in and work there.
And it’s probably understood that the culprit may be the label deals. And Spotify can’t change a label deal, they have to do the deal that the label wants to give them. And that’s no different from Pandora or anybody else.
We’re coming up on hour two here.
All right, cool.
We’re gonna end it at hour two.
Oh, come on.
What do you want to tell us about Redef and your life, how you feeling?
I’m feeling great. You know, heart surgery was, you know your audience knows, was not a fun thing. I wouldn’t get an elective one if you had the choice.
I did not. But, you know I think, like anything else, you can’t kick the can on health and problems in your life. And I had them, and I was kicking the can and using work as an excuse. So I took some time off finally, two years after the surgery. I think a part of that was ...
Was that when we talked or after we talked?
After we talked. Really starting at around ...
After we talked you were feeling better, you recovered.
You were go-go on the business and then things paused again.
Yeah. Well I, as you know my best friend passed away, who was Blake Krikorian, who was the founder of Sling and the guy that actually took time off from work to help nurse me back to health. And I think that was a kick more than anything else that I wasn’t prepared for. He was a healthy guy, as you know, Blake was a super positive guy and someone who had a major role in my life. And I think after that it, I really went, you know, into a bad place. And then I think around November of last year I said, “You know what? I haven’t taken time off.” I mean, we talked about this last time. But I was curating in the ICU after my heart surgery. That’s mental.
But also understandable, because you build this thing, it’s your thing, it’s your identity.
And especially when you’re sick, you really want to cling to whatever you can that’s normal.
You know it’s funny, I was having this discussion with Liz Plank who’s at Vox. [We had] coffee the other week and we were talking about how, what’s the idea of being a man? And this idea of what you hear that you can’t show weakness and that you can’t show vulnerability. The reality is, I had heart surgery. My best friend died. You know? Things happen, and it’s okay to say that you need time off. I looked at that as weakness, by weakness I’m letting my investors down, weakness in the persona that I’m presenting to the audience. And the reality is, that could be weakness, but I’ll end up dead. So I decided to take some time off.
And I’d also say this, I started covering politics, which was new to me, and it really hurt my heart. I mean, what’s going on in the country now, regardless of whether you’re a Trump fan or not, these were things that I naively thought we were past in this country. And having to go through 6,000 pieces of content a day and rifle through nastiness is, you know, hurting to the soul. So I took that time off, and I came back a couple of months ago. I think my writing’s better than it’s ever been before. Staying away from a lot of the negative politics stuff, I’m talking about personal stuff and media. Matt and I are working on the originals again that were great.
And ultimately what I need to do for ... The mistake that I made at Redef was very simple. Which was, I didn’t think I was a good writer and I didn’t think I was a good curator. I thought I came up with a model, and that ultimately when I found someone who was smart, I would be CEO. And the reality is I became the talent draw, and I’m not bad at it, and I never should have been CEO, and I need a CEO that is ultimately gonna understand subscription, tell me where to be, and I also don’t have the ego to have to be that anymore. So I’m looking to rebuild the company now. Podcast is coming, a book is coming, more speaking engagements. And, you know ultimately, I think we talked about this, I like doing this. I like learning about people I don’t know, I like being uncomfortable.
I think that our enemies and our friends are not one dimensional in ways that we think, and I think there’s a hole where Charlie Rose left off. I don’t interview like Charlie but, you know, with humor and with curiosity, there’s a hole there and I think I’d like to take the business in that direction.
Do you think you’d be equally happy if you were doing all this stuff but someone else ran the company and it wasn’t your company and you didn’t have to worry about letting down investors or employees, and you could do what you did but someone gave you a sort of a, an apparatus where you could do this so you didn’t have that additional stress? Well here, shorter version, why not sell what you’re doing? I know people would buy this from you.
Yeah, I mean, I still, Redef was always about building a company based off of an ethic. Which is, it’s not enough to be smart, you have to be curious. And I’m the beacon for that, but Matty Karas, who runs music is way smarter than I am and way better writer, and way better curator. I have shown that I can scale other sectors, I don’t want to be involved in the operations of this company. I’m not the right guy for it, and I’m at the point in my life and my career where I’m, I want someone to tell me where to be. You know, my friend Roy Bahat who’s one of our investors once said to me, it’s a great line, he goes, “When you’re CEO, no one gives a shit.” And you can’t complain or you can’t, you’re responsible for ...
It’s all your problem.
It’s all your problem. And I don’t mind that aspect, but my value to the company now is my creative point of view.
So what I’m saying is Jason, sell the company.
It’s not sell the company, it’s find a, give it to a CEO to run it. And I just become one of the contributors. That’s what I’m saying.
All right. If you, if you are a CEO ...
Unless you have deal papers here, I don’t know, did Bankoff come in here?
I don’t, we know people, we, people have said that ...
You know a guy?
You should sell the company. And I mean as we look it up, we sell the company.
Yeah. But listen, it ultimately, the goal is to have a liquidity event. But I’m doing that through creating something I want to do. The mistake that I made, and I don’t think I was there mentally, understanding what I was really good at and what I wanted to do; is it’s time that someone else is the guy at Redef, and I am a contributor to one vertical, and I do these media things. And it’s what I love and I’ll be happy at, and the person that’s gonna need ...
’Cause let’s be honest right? Curating, sending out a link, sending out a list of links, getting on Twitter and yelling at people, you’re gonna do that regardless of whether you have a company or not.
Well, I don’t know if I do the yelling as much anymore, but yes, I have interests and opinions.
Yeah, yes. I mean, but that’s, it’s actually ...
I’m not saying you’re gonna do it for free, I’m just saying you’re gonna do it.
No, no. But what I would also say is that that’s part of the negative aspect of things. Which is, I want to be a little more constructive, the time off helped me to do that. I still go after brands that screw us, but I’m so, I’m so excited to take, to give someone the reins of Redef.
When I was at MTV I had a guy named Nick Lehman, who was my COO. I went to bed every night knowing he had stuff handled. That is a unique thing that you can only trust certain people with. And when I find that person I think my life’s gonna be a lot better and the company fails unless I do that.
Okay, so email Jason, tell him you want the job.
Yup. You looking for something, Peter?
I’m so not looking for something.
All right, well you know, if things ever go bad.
If you, if Jim is listening.
I mean, I know the Vox people are good. Yeah. They’re, you have good people and you have good publications.
Hour two of the Jason Hirschhorn hour is in the books. Thank you, Jason.
Thank you, my friend.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.