Overtime CEO Dan Porter does not want you to go to Overtime’s website.
“When I go and meet with a billion-dollar media company, and the CEO of that company starts out the conversation and says, ‘I went to your website,’ I think, ‘Our website?’” Porter said on the latest episode of Recode Media. “We have a website so we can have an email address.”
Overtime works with rising young athletes who haven’t yet gone pro, ranging from high school football players to up-and-coming eSports gamers, to share their stories and video clips with the world. And Porter is convinced that the conventional wisdom in today’s media industry — that it’s too risky to build a new business on top of a platform like Instagram or Snapchat — is wrong.
“I think it’s just silly,” he told Recode’s Peter Kafka. “‘Where do I listen to this podcast? Oh, I listen to it on Apple.’ You don’t own your own distribution. I watched a TV show, and it’s on Spectrum cable and it’s on a Samsung TV. You don’t own your own distribution. I just think that the way that people think about that is highly limited.”
A serial entrepreneur who previously sold OMGPOP (the company that made the game Draw Something) to Zynga, Porter said it’s a mistake to think you can “own” your audience by trying to shuttle them to a website “that nobody knows and nobody can find.” And that’s true even if you’re effectively using social media to drive that traffic.
“[It’s a mistake to think] ‘social media is amazing. I’m gonna go there, and I’m gonna use social media to drive everyone to said website, because my investor said I need a website because I need to own my audience,’” he said. “Versus, ‘I’m happy for them to come and engage with us on Discord, on Instagram, anywhere that they wanna engage with us.’”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Peter’s conversation with Dan.
Peter Kafka: Now I’m going to formally start the show. This is Recode ...
Dan Porter: I’m waiting for Jason Hirschhorn to put the link to this podcast in his daily email.
That person is Dan Porter. I’m Peter Kafka. We’re going to have a podcast now, Recode Media. Hi, Dan.
Dan is the CEO of Overtime. Before we get to explain what Overtime is, I’m going to run through some Dan Porter highlights, some of which I learned on my own, some of which I got from Wikipedia, so some of these may not be true.
If they’re all highlights, that’s fine. If they’re lowlights, I deny them.
First head of Teach For America?
I was the first president. Wendy Kopp obviously started Teach For America, but I was on the very first team and I became the president of it in the mid-’90s.
Okay, if you say. I did not fact-check it, but I believe you. You worked for Richard Branson?
You did TicketWeb.
Which made money and sold.
Yeah. We sold the first concert ticket on the internet.
You worked at a gaming company called OMGPOP, which you sold for a bunch of money to Zynga.
You went to work for William Morris Endeavor and did digital stuff for a bunch of years.
Yes, Ari Emanuel hired me to work for him.
You are an acerbic man from Philadelphia.
Yes, although people from Philadelphia would tell you I’m from the Main Line.
Yeah. I understand. You’re related to Milton Friedman?
Yes. He was my great-uncle and winner of the Nobel Prize and proud Rutgers graduate.
Wikipedia was correct.
I did not know. And you’re CEO of Overtime.
That is also factually correct.
Which I have written about. It is a sports media startup. You’ve just raised a second big honking round of financing. Media is supposed to have now fallen out of favor after being in favor, but there are a couple of startups, like yourself, a couple specifically in sports that are interesting to investors right now, so we’ll talk about all of that. Good?
I’m good, yeah.
Okay, let’s start with Overtime. I wrote about this, I think about a year ago, when you raised your first round. It’s an interesting idea. Will you tell people what you think it is?
Yeah. With Overtime, we are trying to build the biggest global sports network in the world.
It’s called ESPN.
No. It will be called Overtime.
Okay, got it. That’s the big mission statement.
And also, by the way, none of the ones that you will mention are global in nature because sports is governed by rights and every sports league sells its rights to different publishers in every territory. We don’t focus on right space content, so we are trying to build something that is truly global and a distributed sports network, meaning we’re on every platform you can imagine, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, anywhere that we can be, and we are specifically geared towards kind of the generation Z audience, or the audience that has fallen off from watching traditional live sports, which is the way that I grew up.
And what you’re also focused on, at least you were a year ago when I was spending time looking at you, was high school sports and high school athletes. There are other high school sports sites and they’re focused on scores or trying to figure out who’s going to get recruited to whomever. That’s been around for a while. You said, no, these are celebrities. People like Mac McClung. Did I get his name right?
McClung. Zion Williamson, who you’ve probably heard of now. You guys were taking footage of them in high school and the crazy dunks they were doing, etc., and then distributing that around the internet.
That was kind of your main sort of focus a year ago.
I would say some of that is correct. We don’t have a site because young people don’t go to websites, sorry Vox.
I’m just nodding.
Yeah. I don’t really cover high school sports.
You don’t cover, you cover high school athletes, star athletes.
We cover the most dynamic young people across sports. What are the four verticals? Basketball, football, soccer, and video games. The video game folks that we cover, it has nothing to do with high school sports. Soccer is global, there’s no high school soccer in America that’s left at any level. They play in academies and stuff like that. Football is very much driven by high school and basketball is primarily driven by club sports, and now we have rights in college as well. So our focus really is kind of finding the 30 or 40 most dynamic young people who have a chance to be pros and following them.
And I make that distinction because typically, “high school sports” has literally covered the school and the teams and it’s been about feeding content to parents. So for us, we set out to say, our goal isn’t to have parents as an audience, our goal is to make a sports channel for the next generation.
I knew or had an instinct from running the digital talent business at WME, which is a global talent agency, that part of the reason all these YouTube stars were so popular is that people like to watch young people who are like them, who they feel they can relate to and aspire to with less distance between them then there is between them and, let’s say, LeBron James, and those people typically are 17, 18 years old. But we don’t do scores, we don’t say who won, we don’t say what place they’re in, we don’t do playoffs.
It’s, look at this crazy thing, 15-second clip of someone doing something amazing, usually on a court.
It’s true, but almost every clip is tied to a character that you’ve been following all along. So if you sent me an amazing dunk and said, “You should post this.” I most likely would say, “Nobody knows who you are.” It’s not about the highlight, it’s about the ongoing story. In a weird metaphor, I think about what we do as almost like Saturday Night Live.
I was going to say The Real World.
Yeah. Every year there’s a cast, and sometimes those cast members move on and sometimes they don’t and you tell essentially a global story around them. You follow those characters and then sometimes you follow them as they go on to do other things.
That’s where we started. We covered Trae Young, who’s on the Atlanta Hawks, who’s having a Rookie of the Year season. We did our first show with him when he was in 11th grade and now he’s an NBA player and we just shot more content with him. So it’s really covering those kids, but it’s having a relationship with them on their journey as our audience moves with them, too.
So whether it’s The Real World or another analogy, most places, when someone is a star or a YouTube vlogger, there’s a direct relationship with money at some point. At some point, they’re getting paid, and in most cases, with the high school athletes you’re talking about, you’re not paying them. In fact, they can’t be paid if they’re going to go to college, right?
Correct. Correct, I don’t make the rules around eligibility and NCAA, but yes, and I think many people feel that they should be paid. You can go pro in golf or tennis when you’re 13 years old and it doesn’t have a problem, but you can’t do that in basketball or football. Our value transaction with them is, we help build their brand, we put forth 100 percent positive coverage of them. There’s no gotchas, there’s nothing on there, and as a result, somebody like Mac McClung who might have started with 20 or 30,000 followers, by the time he got to college, he had three quarters of a million followers.
Where’s he at, Georgetown now?
Yeah, he’s at Georgetown, playing for Patrick Ewing. And that’s an asset for him. It means whether he makes the NBA or not, he has a platform and that’s a direct result of essentially the value exchange between us and him.
Just to be clear, you can’t have contracts with these guys even though they’re not financial, right?
No, no, no. You just cover them.
You say, “Hey, Mac, we’re going to take a lot of footage of you.”
ESPN doesn’t have a contract with KD or Steph Curry.
Right. They do have contracts with the leagues. They pay a lot of money for those rights to show those clips.
For those rights, correct. Yeah.
And what you’ve done is, you have cheap/almost-no-cost content, which I get the appeal of that, for a media startup.
There’s a level of cost in the sense that our business is based on the fact that we have 2,000 stringers across the globe, anywhere from Lithuania to France to Denmark, primarily in the United States.
A stringer is a kid with an iPhone.
Yeah, a kid, community college student, 22, 23, 17. We have our own proprietary software we spent two years building. On the front end, it allows seamless capture of highlights and upload, even in low network situations, it tags them, and then on the back end, we ingest a quarter of a million clips fully tagged with games and players every year.
And we say, go to the game, take footage, focus on Mac McClung or Ryan Williams, whoever the Lithuanian is, and send us your best stuff.
Well, they don’t send it.
It gets uploaded, yeah.
I can literally sit at home and watch as clips come in in real time. We have various people who publish for us and they see it and they’re like, “Wow, that’s an incredible play,” and it’s on the internet in one second. And across essentially non-professional sports where these kids are playing — AAU basketball or club sports or high school sports — nobody has ever really in real time covered that. That was really our advantage. It was the breadth and the speed.
I get it’s not zero cost, but still very low cost, right? Because again, you’re not paying Mac McClung...
You’re not buying rights, correct.
So you don’t have to pay the NBA any money.
I get the appeal of that. I get the model of that, and I can see why that would be a venture business. And then on the end of it, you distribute your stuff, not on a website — Instagram, Twitter, etc.
Right. We have multiple accounts on every single platform.
And then that stuff gets picked up by other outlets like House of Highlights, The Bleacher Report Instagram account, or ESPN. Everyone who wrote about you said, “Oh, look at this Mac McClung dunk,” which ended up on SportsCenter.
So I get the appeal of why you would want to distribute this stuff broadly, but a couple of years ago I was like, “Yes, you must distribute all your stuff broadly on all the social networks and YouTube,” etc., and now everyone says, “Well, but you don’t actually make money there and there’s lots of problems there and you don’t control that and they’re not actually in the business of helping their media partners, necessarily.” So how does that work for you guys as a business?
Right. And people say that because they have that very traditional old-school mentality about media. I would say in the very beginning, when there were five of us in a room and almost every highlight was shot by one of the five of us on an iPhone, we would capture stuff of a Zion Williamson in the 11th grade or any of these other people, and all the folks you mentioned, ESPN, Fox, NBC, other folks, would come and say, “Hey, can we license this footage from you? We’ll pay you $500 or $1,000.” And I said, “You can actually have it for free as long as you leave our watermark on it.” And so when we were no one, everyone was blasting our content all around the internet and investors used to say, “Wow, I see you guys everywhere.”
Well, they didn’t see us with our 2,000 followers, they saw it elsewhere, but that was a value transaction and in return that’s built us millions and millions of followers. So now we don’t need to do that. It’s beneficial to have them share it, but I think you have to think about it in different ways. What you’re talking about is primarily short-form content, and short-form content is not a big moneymaker. It does two things. One is, it introduces you to a bunch of these characters and then we have 13 series on YouTube and four series on Snapchat, so that’s the long-form content. You can watch them there. They’re playing in airports all over the place.
And just to be fair, long-form on YouTube or Snapchat means seven minutes?
It’s anywhere from eight to 22 minutes. But the real value is that what you’re building is, you’re building a highly engaged community. And so there’s this perception of media which is, I make this thing — it’s a video, it’s a podcast, it’s something else — I push it out there and then people that I don’t know sit out there and watch it and then they move on to consume the next thing.
For us, what we’re really trying to do is build a highly, highly engaged community. As an example, I was at the NBA All-Star Game where I saw you and I met ...
That is a cool name-drop, huh?
Yes. You or the All-Star Game?
And I met a person who is very, very high up at one of the large social networks and that person said — didn’t know who we were — that person’s son was there and said, “Oh, my gosh, Overtime. I watch you guys all the time.” We sent them a T-shirt and a sweatshirt and that person sent me an email today and said, “My son has not taken off this sweatshirt since you sent it to him.”
I don’t think that that person would’ve felt the same way if you sent them a sweatshirt from five other media companies that I could name because those people focus on pushing content out, they don’t focus on building community. I have full-time people on the athlete relations side. We have people who respond to hundreds and hundreds of DMs a week, who comment, who engage with the people.
There’s a whole segment of people who love Overtime only for what goes on in the comments. We have roast battles where our people will actually literally roast kids in the comments and they turn that into a show. So it’s not an accident that I ran a community gaming site for five years and a lot of the value was in that community and in that network.
Let me just accelerate a little bit. Let’s say everything’s going great for you and in the next couple of years you keep getting bigger and bigger and building more audience and more community. In the end, you still need to generate revenue, right?
Especially the model we’re in now, where investors are less interested in what you might become and you still have to prove out a business.
So you are going to make money how?
Yeah. I would say two things. I will definitely tell you how we currently make money, which is how we will also make money in the future. But I will also say that instead of launching a media company where we went into a highly commoditized area, news, technology, where we had nothing original to say and we couldn’t point to any audience segment that we own, instead we went into a traditionally sleepy and less exciting area, high school sports. We made it, in the words of my children, lit, and we own that audience segment.
So when large media companies look at us, does it matter if we do a billion views or a billion and three views? What matters is that we have captured the young people. So some of the people who used to share our content won’t even share our content anymore because they’re threatened by us. They see that we have aggregated this group that they cannot aggregate and that’s really different and that’s valuable.
We make money in three ways. No. 1, we work with brands. We do millions of dollars of brand revenue already.
So they are paying you to make what?
They sponsor shows that we make. They want to reach ...
Such as “our show, brought to you by Gatorade.”
They want to reach our audience in a way that seems authentic and organic. We first started working with endemic brands to sports apparel, Gatorade, other folks like that and have grown beyond that.
The second thing is, we’re very focused on commerce. We have generated substantial revenues in selling apparel. We have over 25 SKUs we release every season.
Sweatshirts, T-shirts, shooting sleeves, socks, everything. We act like we are building the next Nike or Adidas. It works because of the same reason that you might wear a Patriots jersey or a Giants jersey or a Mike Kafka Eagles jersey.
There you go. You got it.
Because you want to represent. And I think that’s a large extent of why people wear our apparel. We seed it with athletes and influencers and it means something in the world. Commerce isn’t something that we got 10 years into our business model and we’re like, “We have to sell stuff.” That was built from day one.
And then the third is experiential and live. Ultimately, our big big-picture goal is to start our own league so that we don’t have to buy rights and then we can be fully vertically integrated. Until we get to that point, we will start doing tournaments and events and other kinds of sports IP that we can create and own globally.
So, I’ll talk to you a little bit more about this after the break, but before we get there, just one big-picture question, right? Hack journalism requires a rule of three, right? Then you can call something a trend.
So partly because it’s selection bias, right, I’m looking at them, but I’m thinking of you, The Athletic subscription sport site, and now what is Action Network, which is gambling. There all different businesses, but they’re all sports-related. They’ve all attracted venture money recently. Is there something thematic about sports do you think that’s interesting to investors now or that’s just randomly three different companies that have seemed appealing?
Well, I would say in terms of gaming, which is the euphemism for betting, sure. I mean, that is a huge transition in this country that will be ongoing.
We have legalized gambling now.
Legalized sports gambling.
In person. In person.
In person. Yes.
In person in different states.
Yes. I would say in general, sports is amazing because it’s such a large vertical. It’s filled with an enormous amount of passion. Sports is an ongoing news cycle. I could get into food and I could tell you, “Peter, I have a brownie recipe.” And you’re like, “Why now? I mean, I have brownie recipes.” Or, I could tell you, “I have this kid, he’s 17, he’s explosive, he’s going to be bigger than LeBron.” Those are two different things.
Sports is really tough because I’d say about 80 percent of venture investors have no interest in sports whatsoever. They make sports jokes. “Sportball! I get it, you guys are playing sports.”
You mean they are nerds or nerd-adjacent and they don’t actually like sports.
That was said by you, but something to that extent. So, it’s actually pretty challenging. We found some investors who like the market dynamics, but I would say ...
Oh, by the way, if you watch a Golden State Warriors game in the front row is full of dudes who ...
Sure, right, Ben Horowitz, my investor.
... presumably like sports.
Right, there you go.
So there are people, and that’s why they’re one of our investors. And I think they get it. And the thing about sports is, if you go to a movie or you watch a TV show, the ending is always going to be the same. Whereas you watch a game, anything could happen. So I think there’s interest. But the fact that all three of those were funded, I think is probably just a coincidence. They just represent different parts of the market dynamic.
Thanks for blowing holes in my bullshit trend story, Dan Porter. One other question about Overtime. This is something that you are the CEO of. Your co-founder’s half your age?
He is exactly half my age. He’s 25.
How do you meet a co-founder half your age and how did the two of you decide to build a business instead of making a buddy movie or something else? Something unseemly, maybe.
Yes, that’s a good question, and he’s a tremendously smart individual. Zack Weiner is his name. We met because initially when I was working at WME, William Morris Endeavor, I just had an early glimpse into the fact that the younger audience wasn’t watching live sports anymore.
And your job at William Morris was to do what?
I was the head of digital. So, I ran the venture fund. I did all the digital strategy. I built the digital talent division. I worked on podcasting, virtual reality, anything digital was like ... broadly across the whole agency.
And subsequently after I started working there, WME acquired IMG, which is a big sports rights agency and I also worked on digital there. And so, I was seeing in 2013, 2014, that various clients, leagues, other people were pointing out, they were coming to us and saying, “Wow, can we work with your digital talent to re-engage kids in sports and live sports?”
And that’s a whole other podcast discussion. Why aren’t they watching live sports? Any number of reasons. They don’t want to sit in front of a TV for three hours. It’s slow. It has commercial breaks.
They don’t have cable.
They can watch Ninja play Fortnite on Twitch. They can watch Game of Thrones. They don’t have cable. There are a million different things, but the fact is that it’s true and the joke is that parents would say, “Well, my kid will never have a TV in their room growing up.” And of course, they have a phone and a computer and multiple screens. But, they’re just watching other stuff.
And the other thing is, well, kids have short attention spans. I watch my fill-in-the-blank friend/nephew/niece/child scroll through Instagram. Well, they’re watching shows. They just have short attention span for old-people content that hasn’t changed in 30 years. But my kids who are 17 and 20 will watch lots of shows that are just formatted better for them.
So, I knew that there was an opportunity there, but I knew that I had certain advantages. I knew how to build a company and a platform, but I knew I had limitations too and that I’m not the target demographic. And I had not built something in sports. So I asked a guy. I went to Princeton and I asked a younger guy who went to Princeton, who I had met through Startup, if he knew anyone. That kind of younger guy, Josh, had gone to Stuyvesant with Zack, my co-founder, and they had ...
A New York City high school. Elite New York City public high school.
They had both been on the chess team. Yes, they took the SHSAT, got in. And so, through this Facebook post, he introduced me to Zack. He’s like, “Oh, I know this old guy who wants to build a company around sports and I know this young guy who had started a sports company in college.” And he introduced us and we just had a lot of chemistry around our shared vision.
So, he was how old when you met him? He’s like 25 now, right?
He was probably 22 when I met him.
And did you have to broker that through his parents? It just seems a little eyebrow-raising.
I did not. He’s a very mature, amazingly brilliant individual. But the funny thing is that after we started working together formally, his mom figured out that my dad, Jerry Porter, retired professor from University of Pennsylvania, had been Zack’s adviser in college.
So that worked out.
So, this is like when someone says, “I have a great idea, but I don’t know how to program. I need a technical co-founder.” Right? And you say, “I have a cool idea, but I’m too old to make a sports thing aimed at ...” They’re not even millennials, right? They’re ... What do we call younger than millennials?
I’m probably not humble enough to say that? I still probably believe I could have. I just realized that it would ...
It would work better if it wasn’t a creepy old guy.
... it would be advantageous to know the things that I know and to know the things that he knows.
And he could say, “No one says ‘lit’ anymore, Dan, it’s now something-something.”
Yes, it is exactly true. And that’s not ... it’s funny because there’s a segment of investors, a couple particularly in lower Manhattan, who said to my face, “I will not invest in your company because young people are watching the content and you’re old.” And these were genius investors who themselves had never actually started anything but said that to me.
But I understood their ageist point and the fact that they completely misunderestimated me. But look, I understood the things that I knew and I understood ...
This is why we have Dan on the podcast.
... and I understood the things where I needed to build a platform to get other people to know. And by the way, I don’t know everything about basketball or football or soccer or video games. But I do know how to build a company and hire people and nurture them and bring on young people and do that, and that’s part of the game.
And Zack had built a company in college where he had 300 freelance writers, and I knew — in what became essentially our stringer system, where we have all of these people — I didn’t know how to recruit those people. I didn’t know how to go to a college and find somebody and say, “Take out your phone and do this.”
Exactly. And he knew how to do that.
A venture question, since we’re bagging venture people, some of them.
So you just raised, what, 24 ...
And before that?
I only raise in prime numbers.
And before that it was what, nine?
Before that it was 2.5 and then 9.4, which is not a prime number, but.
Okay. So, you’ve raised tens of millions of dollars.
In a couple of years.
You’ve been an investor. You’ve built and sold companies. You know your way back and forth around startup financing. We are at a moment now, people are saying, “Hey, maybe venture investing has problems. Maybe blitzscaling ...” any version of this ... We just had Price Roberts explaining why you should take less money or no money.
Did you ever consider, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t raise a ton of money right away because that is going to force us to get to a valuation that is very high. We have to grow into that valuation. There are all kinds of pitfalls there.” Or did you say, “I know exactly what I’m doing. I have massive expectations and that’s why I’m going to raise a ton of money quickly,” the way you would have done five or 10 years ago.
Well, I feel like we did both, in a way. We raised a seed round of $2.5 million. It was ...
Which used to be a crazy number, is now standard.
Yes. It was not easy to do when we started. I didn’t get paid in the very beginning. For the first year, that’s all we spent. We only had 10 people. There was no blitzscaling. There was building stuff that didn’t work and figuring stuff out. But I think when we hit that threshold ...
And it was different, in the series A, we went in and we pitched Overtime. And the series B, there wasn’t a room that we went into where people didn’t know who we were. We’re trying to build something really big. There’re 2.3 billion people under 25 in the world and I’ve got to believe at least half of them like sports. So, you don’t go about getting a big audience and try to build a big network like that by doing it incrementally. Content is not inexpensive, and by the way, if you look at who is in sports, it’s all massive billion-dollar global media companies. So, I wasn’t trying to build a mom-and-pop app so I could watch my eighth grader play basketball. I was trying to build something bigger.
Is part of this because you have been a successful entrepreneur in the past, you’ve made money selling companies, that the idea of selling ... you sold OMGPOP for two-hundred-ish million dollars, right, to Zynga? A significant amount of money. You got a chunk of it. Does having done that then change your perspective on your ambitions for company No. 3 slash ... this is probably your fourth or fifth, I think, actually.
Well, my ambitions are always the same in every single one. I want to build the biggest thing in the world.
You want to make a giant thing.
Yeah. I want to make it because I feel like the world wants it. I want to make it because personally, I want to spend my time building something big and meaningful. I will say that despite the fact that I’ve had high-level corporate jobs for three different companies and I’ve sold two startups combined for a quarter of a billion dollars, I pitched probably 65 people when we started. Forty-five, after I left the meeting, never even responded. They never even gave me a “no.” Many other people said “no.” A few small amazing investors — Jeff Jordan at Andreessen, Bijan at Spark, Ian at Greycroft — they said yes and they believed in us. But I thought, “I’m Dan Porter. I did some stuff.” You know?
“Look, Business Insider has written about me extensively.”
Yeah, I was ranked number 432 most influential in tech in 2002.
“I’ve been a guest columnist for Recode.”
Exactly. But it didn’t matter. They just didn’t believe. But I knew from some of the early things that I saw that there was a huge amount of potential there and I just believed.
Before we started talking, you were talking about what you were doing prior to this, which was scouting out a gaming house in Williamsburg, which is not a euphemism. But tell me what that means.
Yes. So, I’ve always been ... obviously, I ran a gaming site. You played on said gaming site in a car game called Hover Cart. When I was at WME, I’d started the ELEAGUE, which is a televised eSports competition. I learned a ton from my two boys, who have always loved to play video games. I’ve understood for a while that the desire to watch people who are far better than you compete at playing these games is a meaningful desire and that our audience isn’t like, “Well, that’s on a keyboard and that’s on a field, so one is true and one is false.” They enjoy it and it’s sports.
So, I set out to do that as part of what we’re doing once we got to be mature in other sports. We built a Fortnite team. We recruited people. We competed. We won tens of thousands of dollars. We have what I feel is a pretty good team. But a lot of the people in the competitive gaming space have found that there are media attributes to their businesses that are as valuable. What that means is that it’s almost as valuable for them to run a $50,000-a-month gaming mansion in Los Angeles, put a bunch of gamers in there, and let them make content about their life because in a way, it’s the same as our business. It’s that you really care ...
Just to explain. So you’re going to rent a house in Williamsburg.
You’re going to stock it with video gamers.
Yes, except not a $50,000 one.
Not 50,000-square-feet, probably.
A couple thousand, I’m guessing. Williamsburg’s not cheap.
And you’re going to put gamers in them.
They’re going to game.
They’re going to stream game and we’re going to create content.
And you’re going to film them gaming.
And so, the content will be the actual gaming content they make. Plus the content you make about them.
Which is not a new idea, right? That’s The Real World ...
It’s not a new idea.
... and a version of like, Ultimate Fighting Championship had a version of this.
Yeah. Look, Ari was very smart. I mean, the UFC became the UFC became of that reality show. The fact is that you could drop me in front of two of the best teams in the world and if I don’t know anyone on that team, I would rather watch my 6-year-old’s soccer game because at least I know him and I love him and I want to see him play. So if you can’t get an attachment to the characters and the individuals ...
So you’ve got to create your own characters.
Yeah, it’s why we stop watching TV shows. “Oh, they killed off my favorite character.”
And the other advantage for you here, right, is that there is no amateur status in gaming, right?
So you can actually do contracts with these gamers. You can own their IP or whatever deal you make. As opposed to a Zion Williamson or Mac McClung where anyone can film them and broadcast that stuff.
Absolutely. And the thing that I would add to that is that I think the thing that is special about our business is that there’s an amazing point as a young person, maybe somewhere between fifth and eleventh grade, where you as a young person think anything could be possible. Like I thought I was going to be a rock-and-roll star. I had long hair, I played the guitar. Other people thought they were going to go to the NBA or they were going to do something else and ...
And your parents like, “Yes, Dan. Good for you.”
My parents were like, “Nice Jewish boys don’t get to be rock stars,” and my grandparents bought me a Bruce “Spring-stine” record to show me. And I was like, “He’s half Irish and Italian,” but I won’t disabuse them of that notion. So, that is an amazing part about being a young person. It’s actually one of the best parts. I think that we tap into that aspiration.
So when we launched our gaming team, literally we received thousands of messages from kids saying, “I want to be on your gaming team.” Are they good enough? No, they’re definitely not good enough. But they think that that’s possible and that’s amazing. Just like, they watch these other kids and they think, “I might be on Overtime.” And in fact, they might be on Overtime. Or they might play in a match with one of our gamers. And I think that that emotional component is really, really different than me sitting at home watching some player who gets paid a $100 million a year, where that distance is so great.
I come back to the idea of community and I come back to this emotional feeling of what it means to be a young person and participate and see people like you and think you might be on Overtime. I think in a way that’s what makes our business special.
I have a separate Instagram account, aside from my personal account, where I am the CEO of Overtime and I follow 5,000 kids who follow us and they DM me. They send messages like, “I just want to let you know that in 2019, I’m going to be on Overtime.” And I say, “Great.” That aspect of it, it is just different.
When people are like, “Media companies aren’t doing well,” I’m like, “Media companies that are involved in the hearts and minds of kids, that’re tapping the dreams that celebrate all those, those are gonna do great.” People who throw up a couple blog posts about the news or about technology, yeah, they’re screwed, but that’s not what we’re doing.
Hey, hey, hey!
You’ve already crossed that threshold.
All right, thank you. Jim [Bankoff] listens, by the way. Hi, Jim. We’re clear that this thing that I was hoping for a bunch of years, because I have kids now, that the ELEAGUEs and gaming was gonna be a trend.
You’re hoping it’s gonna disappear...
We’re stuck with it, right?
We’re definitely stuck with it.
The truth is, my kids view watching other people play a video game as legitimate or, frankly, more interesting than watching real sports.
Why is watching somebody run up and down the field and get a concussion ...
I get intellectually why that’s the case, but the point is, we don’t think this is a blip, or the equivalent of a Fortnite dance that comes and goes.
I don’t think so. I will say that most people tend to watch games that they play, versus, “I don’t play football, but I watch football,” they tend to watch games that they play because they want to see people who are really good, because they want to learn how to get better.
They’re gonna age with it, so when they’re 35 they’re on their couch watching whoever Ninja is on Fortnite.
Yes. My son played in a gaming tournament. All of a sudden I had something at stake. I watched it and it was exhilarating. At the end of four hours of watching I thought, “Oh, my God, there were no commercial breaks, there were no time-outs.” Everything was like on the edge of your seat. It’s a battle royale game: You are eliminated and you are done. I cared about one of the characters in the game because it was my son. It was enormously exciting.
By the way, I think about a third of the conversations I had at the NBA All-Star weekend were about gambling, another third were about Fortnite, specifically. Everyone there, all of the sports guys get Fortnite, and the rest were about podcasts.
Let me ask you a question. Would you believe ... I can’t believe that people watch other people play chess. It’s so not physical, you don’t have to be strong to play chess. It’s the same argument, it’s just ...
But chess is not very popular. There was Bobby Fischer back when we had literally nothing else to watch.
Parents aren’t throwing up their arms saying 90,000 people are watching a live chess match on Twitch, which they are for some chess matches, it’s just, that’s considered ... it’s analog, but what’s the difference between watching chess, watching Fortnite, or watching people play basketball? It’s all competition.
As Bobby Kotick would say, there’s a finite number of people in the world who look like A-Rod, but there’s way more people who look like him, and all those people want to have competitive experiences. By the way, the price pool for the Fortnite World Cup: $100,000,000. Bigger than Wimbledon, bigger than almost every other sport.
I want to ask you about the world of building startups and building apps and building successful games. You’ve built a couple successful ones, at least one that didn’t work. What was that one called, Thread ... you showed it to me, you made me write about it.
Tally. That was like a Twitter derivative.
It was more like a visual Reddit.
What is different about building a successful or hopefully successful startup/app, digital startup company in 2019 than ... when did you do OMGPOP? That was 2010-ish?
2008, and TicketWeb was before that. What are the important changes over that time?
I think that ... There’s all the obvious things. Obviously, the cost of storage and speed of ability to do things are different.
Everything is cheaper.
Everything’s cheaper. The flip side is many things have been built, some were built with the wrong time. Webvan was the wrong time, FreshDirect was the right time, but I wouldn’t say ... overall, I think that ...
Kozmo.com is now Uber, sort of.
Exactly. Yeah, or Postmates. I think that there was a perception that technology startups had to be — didn’t care about brand, had to build platforms. It was all about your technology versus someone else’s pure technology, and I think that so much has been built that you see in direct DTC commerce and other things that it’s not just the technology, but it’s all the aspects of the business, it’s the branding, it’s everything else. It’s less like, “This is a pure arms race of my 1,000 lines of code versus your 5,000 lines of code,” and it’s more about all the other attributes around the business because it’s not like everyone’s at the party and nothing has ever been built anymore.
So we’re in this world where there’s lots of like, “We can’t build media companies on the back of Facebook or Google anymore, it’s too fraught.” You build on someone else’s platform, you can’t control it. That’s now the new conventional wisdom for media, right?
But there’s this direct-to-consumer thing you just talked about, which is everyone is building a retail business on Instagram. You are building a media business that is meant to be, again, distributed on a bunch of platforms. You don’t own your own site.
We can’t draw a linear line.
Right. I’m also building a commerce business on Instagram. I think it’s just silly, “Where do I listen to this podcast? Oh, I listen to it on Apple.” You don’t own your own distribution. I watched a TV show, and it’s on Spectrum cable and it’s on a Samsung TV. You don’t own your own distribution. I just think that the way that people think about that is highly limited.
If I go and I put on an Overtime t-shirt and I walk down the street here and some kid looks at me and says, “Yo, shout-out to Overtime,” I think I own a relationship with that kid, whether I’m distributing it on a Samsung TV, on Instagram, on the Apple podcast app, anything else like that.
And you’re not worried about one day Instagram turning around and saying, “We’re gonna impose some limits, etc. If you’re gonna do a brand, if you’re gonna have sponsorships, we need to limit it, or we need to take a cut,” or anything that they can do because they own the platform?
They can all make changes, but I think No. 1, we’re on a lot of different platforms. I didn’t try to build a Facebook hacking-style media company. And I think the other thing is that we’ve crossed that threshold. The people who consume our content really care about us and they like us, and if we’re not available in one place, they’ll go find us in another place.
But I think if you try to do that on day one, if you try to ... Here are the two mistakes you can do: I need to own my audience, on day one I’m gonna build a website that nobody knows and nobody can find, and I never get any traction, or, “Social media is amazing. I’m gonna go there, and I’m gonna use social media to drive everyone to said website, because my investor said I need a website because I need to own my audience,” versus, “I’m happy for them to come and engage with us on Discord, on Instagram, anywhere that they wanna engage with us.”
I don’t think of social media as a conduit to drive you to some place, and I can tell the difference when I go and meet with a billion-dollar media company, and the CEO of that company starts out the conversation and says, “I went to your website,” and I think, “Our website?” I don’t even know what’s ... We have a website so we can have an email address. I’m like, “Why aren’t you looking at our YouTube channel, or our Instagram, or our show on Snapchat, or our stuff on Twitter? Anything else like that.” It’s just the way that people consume media.
This is not your first time around building companies, three, four, five of these. That said, I’m sure you have got something wrong here. What did you get wrong where you thought, “I know better than to do this,” or, “I would have thought this would have worked, because I’m so old and I’ve done this so many times and I still got it wrong”?
I got so many things wrong. When we started, I think my vision was to build a SportsCenter for all 32,000 high schools, and we built it for about a hundred high schools in the Northeast.
“Here are the highlights from these games tonight?”
Yes, from your school, from Stuyvesant.
Or anyplace else, that was one of the schools. They have a great badminton team. I think what we found was a couple things: One is, nobody wanted to watch it. The kids in the game were like, “I didn’t really do anything epic in that game.” The parents didn’t want to watch it, and then I would have one video of Zion Williamson and it would do more views than all 100 schools combined. I was like, “We’re being very literal about this,” and we just scrapped that whole thing.
Second is like, “I need to have an app where people go.” I started an Instagram account as a way to promote the app, and the Instagram account had massive engagement, blew up and built our whole community, and I thought, “That’s way more valuable than trying to support ...”
Were you better at figuring out your screw-ups and moving on to the next thing than you would have been that number of years ago? Does that part accrue to you, to your benefit? Like, “I’ve seen this, I know when this is broken and this thing’s working, do not drop that thing.” Or are you still a regular human and you still want to make the first thing work because that was the original idea?
I think that I don’t know if I’m better, but it’s less devastating. You just realize like, “That really didn’t work.” Even in other things. When we started out covering football, we filmed football games and chopped up highlights, and it turned out that what people wanted to see was like the day in the life with all of these great kids, and we’d get 2,000 views of a game with like three touchdowns and half a million views of hanging out for 20 minutes with a kid who’s gonna be in the NFL in two or three years.
You just realize it’s not that devastating. As long as we learn and we keep moving relentlessly and we build the train while it’s moving, we will get there. I think I’m better at not having that break my heart every time it goes wrong.
You spent a bunch of time in Hollywood working for William Morris, Ari Emanuel, what’s the show?
Entourage, that’s it. The Ari character doesn’t really look like him, but there are similarities. You get very exposed to Hollywood and big media companies and what they’re thinking. Do you have a sense of ... Are they ready for the moment in time that we’re in now, where AT&T owns Time Warner and Netflix is the most dominant player in Hollywood and Apple is coming in a couple of weeks to start putting out their own content, is Hollywood ready? For a long time they clearly weren’t. Are they ready now?
I think that there’s an element that’s ready on the production company side, on the agency side, they’re sellers of content. If you’re buying, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the Reverend Jim Jones or you’re Netflix or you’re ...
Don’t sell to Jim Jones. Sell to someone else.
... or you’re AMC. Their job is to make content people want to buy.
So they’re delighted that there are ...
Yes, there are more buyers than ever. Of course, today Steven Spielberg is like, “Streaming services shouldn’t be able to compete for the Oscars.” They are people who’ve done the same thing for 30 years who don’t see the writing, but there’s a whole crop of young people who are also subscribers to Netflix and users of Instagram and viewers of YouTube, and they understand. I think, ultimately, the big challenge is that sometimes, the pie gets smaller. Craigslist disrupted real estate classifieds, and that was devastating to print media, and the pie got smaller.
Ultimately, there were changes that were potentially positive. I think part of them are ready, in that they’re just ready to sell more to more people, but there are other things where some people don’t like making stuff that’s not 22 minutes. You can’t sell to television if it’s not 22 minutes.
For a long time the agencies would have a digital team, or a digital person, but they kind of existed ... If Ben Stiller wanted to make a webisode or something, they would work with him, but the real business was in representing Ben Stiller when he got paid $15 million or $20 million a movie. Has that shifted now?
It has shifted to some extent. I think there are still many unnamed people who believe that they’re going to bring a premium level of content to digital onto the internet, and that is a very top-down perception. No kid in America is like, “I love watching David Dobrik’s vlogs, or all of this other stuff, I just wish it were premium and shot in 1080p, with a million dollar ...”
This is directed at Jeffrey Katzenberg.
It is directed at lots of people who are trying to do that.
But that’s one of the people.
That is possible, that’s true. I just think that people are very happy with what they’re watching. For me, I’m really interested in figuring out what the problems of my user, my consumer, my community members are, and building from that, rather than kind of surveying the landscape and saying, “With all our Hollywood knowledge, this stuff is great, watching a vlog is amazing,” but what they really want is premium content and short-forming. By the way, there’s already short-form content on Netflix, you can watch The End of the F***ing World and the episodes are 18 minutes long.
I believe Vox Media has some 15 to 20 minute ...
Yes, I watch some of those, they’re great.
They’re very good. We had Ezra [on the podcast]. Ezra is not listening.
They’re very well produced, and they move quickly. I think that is like ... We used to have this thing in the video game business where you would play like a premium video game, and the beginning of every video game would be the same, it would be like the beginning of a movie, a “so-and-so studios’ production, by this studio, by that studio,” and five minutes later the game would cue up and you’d start to play.
And we realized we’re making mobile games, and you are on the 12th floor, and you just want to play by the time you get down to the first floor, so we got to get you in that game within one second, and I think there still tends to be that ... that’s like a metaphor, but there still tends to be that divide in timing, in pacing, in voice, and in all of those things like that. The fact is that people appreciate content that resonates with them, and the internet appeals to so much long-tail content: unboxing, whispering. I read an article today about people like to watch other people study.
Yes, hours of videos.
I guess there’s literally anything...
But the fact is that’s amazing, and that never existed because there’s no television station for that, there’s no format for that. Those people aren’t like, “If I could only watch someone study in HD,” and they spend $50,000 a minute to make that. It’s amazing for them. That gets me excited and out of bed every single day.
Dan, this is great. Was I cynical enough for you?
You shockingly spared me the Kafka knives.
All right. I can talk to you more about exploiting high school kids if you want. No?
You already did that.
We already did it. People should go check you out at overtime.com?
Exactly! Come on.
You’re ribbing me. You should go to Overtime on Instagram, you should watch us on YouTube, we’re Overtime everywhere.
You guys are smart, you can figure it out. Dan, thanks for coming on.
Thanks for having me.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.