Dis-inter-media-what? The buzzword coming out of the Milken Global Conference this year is “disintermediation,” meaning that there is little need for a middle man anymore in an age when investors can cut out brokers, the media allows celebrities to engage their audiences one-on-one, content creators can go directly to fans and brands are being built overnight from YouTube sensations. How to navigate through this new world was the subject of much discussion in what was a standing room only at this afternoon’s panel discussion Monetize Me: Brand-Building at the Intersection of Sports, Entertainment & Media put together by United Talent Agency.
Whether it was in sports, music or in TV, the panelist all explained why and really how they cut out the middleman and became successful.
“We looked at two major shifts going on media that traditional media companies weren’t paying attention to,” said panelist and filmmaker Brian Robbins who is the co-Founder of Awesomeness TV. “One was technology was changing things in a major way and we were about to consume or were consuming video in a much different way, even from the beginning of cable … and (secondly) millennials were getting older and, quite frankly, their influence on pop culture was dissipating. We looked at GenZ which was 12 to 24 year old and said they are being ignored and no one is making content for them and brands have no way to reach them so we looked at that audience and said, ‘let’s super-serve them.’ “
The first thing Robbins did was grab teen social media stars and made them stars in their original content and “made programming that was authentic to them … from that we built a brand. When we started five years ago, we had no media dollars to do this so these kids were our marketing and our content was our marketing and marketing was our content and in two to three years we went from a YouTube channel to a company that is worth almost a billion dollars.”
Adel Nur, DJ/partner and manager of recording artist Drake, said they really didn’t need a record label when the artist dropped his album in 2015 nor did they listen to the middlemen telling them that he would never make it as a rap artists. “We crafted music and put it out for free on the Internet and we had a hit record off of that and if it wasn’t for the direct-to-consumer opportunity that we had … we would never had a career. We put the record out and now the middleman is calling us saying, ‘Hey, how do we get in business with you?”
Also interesting was that once the fan following was established, they didn’t use traditional media or any promotion to reach the base. “People woke up on Feb. 14th or 15th of 2015 without knowing what was going on and there was a Drake album out and all there was was a Twitter link to iTunes and it was like, ‘go buy my album.’ It was important to control what was important to us.” He said they didn’t go the talk show route to promote his music or buy outdoor, or “spend eight weeks jamming it down your throat. We just said here’s our offering. If you like it listen to it, and if you don’t, don’t. It basically super-serves the people who care most about your music.”
He noted that the quality of the music had built up goodwill with their core fans so it worked the way they brought the album to the public. “The record label woke up one day and realized we put the album out.” He also said that now, there are so many options that if they, as content creators, don’t like a deal, they can say, ‘let’s go do it ourselves.’
For Maverick Carter, CEO, SpringHill Entertainment and Le Bron James’ business partner, their disrupter was Uninterrupted, which was their own self-financed series that gave athletes a way to talk about themselves in their words instead of being filtered through the media. Seventeen months into building a company, they have worked with 125 athletes. “We’re living in a time when a time where guys like us can have an idea and have this skill to back up this idea, and we don’t have to go through what would be this wall, guard of Hollywood anymore — traditional media anymore.”
However, he failed to mention that they eventually did sell an equity stake to traditional media. In fact, Time Warner handed over $15M for an equity stake in the company and started selling the show for them. So, the infrastructure of “traditional media” was something that they didn’t have.
The moderator Rich Eisen, who is the host of NFL Network Studio and AT&T’s The Rich Eisen Show then asked with everyone cutting out the middleman and going directly to the consumers, is there a future for traditional media? Jeremy Zimmer, CEO and Founding Partner of UTA said yes and added that “What we’re looking at at this stage — and people talk a lot about disruption — I think we’re just at the beginning of disruption in the media cycle. And I think the next phases are how do we create shows that can go direct to a consumer, direct to an audience and then what is the marketing and monetization around that?”
Paul Wachter, founder and CEO of Main Street Advisors, who represents celebs in sports, music and film and TV such as Bono, LeBron James, Kevin Hart, Pharrell Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gwyneth Paltrow, The Edge, Sofia Vergara, and Jimmy Iovine, said they get inundated with about three to five new ideas for their clients a week and they only end up proceeding with about five-to-seven a year “at most” he said, adding that “and some of those incubate for six months.” He said that having business experience with an idea is more attractive then having a great idea and no business acumen.
Asked from a FB executive in the audience what is the most exciting about emerging social media environment and what gives the panelists the most concerns, there were a number of different answers, but all wondered how to monetize and build out the ideas into companies and brands.
“The emergence of these huge platforms, they were built on the idea that intellectual property is free, and if they can have it, they can use it,” said Zimmer. “And there is still a fundamental lack of respect for intellectual property in that world of platforms and that needs to be addressed and that need to be leveled. Spotify is unbelieveable for artists as a discovery tool but hasn’t necessarily been as fair for artists as an economic opportunity.”
Reisen, who was the comic relief during the panel, cracked, “I’m excited about social media because my Twitter number goes up every day and certainly for someone who is about to be ‘disintermediated,’ my children need to be fed.” His show airs on DirecTV from 12 PM to 3 PM ET.
Looking forward over the next three to five years, Robbins said, “I think we are going to see ‘legacy’ media companies look entirely different than they do today. It’s already happening. I think it’s going to go quick. They are going to have to react like that because their businesses are under duress because of what all of us have been doing. Drake probably doesn’t need a record company anymore.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be drastically that different,” countered Wachter. “Brands are going to be as or more important. I think what is going on is making brands more and more important. The power of celebrity is going be more important — not to say it wasn’t five years ago — but we see how many things are driven by celebrity and social media and how you can build a brand out of nothing.” He said that mechanisms of delivery are changing, “but the core of good content and good brand and the power of celebrity is only going to get stronger.”