Sunday, October 22, 2006

Racers - Start Your Engines

Over the past year, I have decided to focus on learning more about NASCAR and building relationships within the "industry". There is a convergence of the "old or traditional" and the "new" happening with the media being the new and the "drivers and their families" being the old/traditional.

At the Bank of America 500 week at Lowes Motor Speedway (Concord, NC). I worked as a "concierge" supporting the corporate sales group for the week of pole night, the Busch race and the Bank of America 500 over a 3 day period. Working on the corporate suite level, I had a chance to mix and mingle with companies such as Bank of America, 3M, Anheuser-Busch. I also got to see Dale, Jr. and was able to meet and get to know the "Wallace Family" of Rusty and Kenny.

On two of my nights, I was teamed up with someone who worked in the ticket area of Las Vegas Speedway. I also discovered that some of the managers of the food service company (Levy) actually travel to NASCAR circuit to serve the tracks owned by Bruton Smith, who owns Lowes Motor Speedway.

On the technology side, I was able to meet a person at track-scan ( which supplies the radio devices to let fans listen to conversations between the drivers and their race crews.

This is an interesting adventure for me, as I am also working with Leilani Munter ( who is an up and coming female driver on the NASCAR circuit to help find her a sponsor. Learning about race teams and independent racers such as Leilani is also an interesting adventure. The role of women in NASCAR is also something I will be learning about first hand.

I look forward to writing more about this experience.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Viacom and the Nicest Guy in the Biz - Tom Freston

In April 2005, I picked up the Wall Street Journal to read about Sumner Redstone, Owner of Viacom (CBS, MTV, Paramount, Simon and Schuster and a major radio group) which detailed the plan to spin the company off into two distinct companies in order to increase shareholder value and position these companies for the future. One company was to become the "new Viacom" and the other would become CBS. The new Viacom was expected to be the fast growing part and CBS the traditional broadcast part.

I was fascinated by this and actually contacted Tom as I saw this as the ultimate area to really combine the new Web 2.0 and what I consider "eWarrior" company. Onvergence of two areas that I saw as significant, mobile computing and building an audience (or a network) on the web. Also what fascinated me was the idea of the future of digital and high definition. As I dug deeper and I found really the imprint of Tom Freston on the company.

Now for my reminscence. I met Tom early in ny career at The Movie Channel. Although, I was relatively young (24 years old), I had already worked for 4 years in college radio and sports broadcasting and had 2 years under my belt at NBC's flagship radio stations NBC AM and WYNY FM. In addtion, I had already had about 2 years of experience at HBO (I was about the 250th and one of the youngest employees) and had worked both in marketing and finance where I had a chance to work and read the corporate business plands an interact with senior executives, so I had a pretty good vision of the early "pay televion" marketplace.

Tom and I would have lunch on a regular basis (one of my memories is at the famous Cafe 1 2 3 (un, deux, troix), an intimate Frence cafe style restaurant. We both enjoyed brainstorming and discussing the industry and where it was going. Althought I did not really recognize it at the time, we connected because we were both passionate about the business and the combination of the creative aspects. It was an exciting time. The Movie Channel had about a dozen employees specifically asssigned to run the channel. So some days my job would be to track movies so we could amortize their costs properly as we played them on air or working with the programming and promotions group coming up with creative contest and promotional ideas.

Tom was right there in the thick of things...I left to go back to HBO in 1983 when the major partner American Express pulled out. Tom and a few people stayed on. He helped to oversee some of the major changes in cable and broadcasting. MTV, Nickelodeon and The Movie Channel have now grown worldwide to over 125 different channels in places like Europe, South America and even China. Nickelodeon exploded when the company decided to move heavily into animation and developed cartoons like Beavis and Butthead, Spongebob, Dora the Explorer. Licensing revenues exploded and wehn then Viacom bought Paramount, so now these characters, such as Johnny Neutron could be in full lenght movies. Licensing is so pervasive for the products I even bought a bag of carrots and hit was a "spongebob" brand.

Tom was there in the thick of things. He also was very generous and loyal having many of the people I worked with early in my career such as Judy McGrath (Chairman of MTV) and Herb Scannell (former head of Nickelodeon) move up the ranks with him.

Well Tom when Viacom went public at the beginning of the year, Tom was named Chairman and he was leading a very visible "public company". Every move was scrutinized and written about as the new Viacom and MTV were looking to do deals to postion them for the future and protect the "franschise.

Well, I am not sure what the catalyst for the early exit was, but Sumner Redstone fired his star movie actor, Tom Cruise from Paramount in a very visible and suddent way in late August. He then fired the heart and soul of Viacom, Tom Freston.

Could it be that Sumner Redstones ego got the best of him when his "octagenarian" counterpart Rupert Murdoch was able to acquire ego may have played a part. It looks like the new Viacom will become more like Microsoft, acquiring companies that are more of technology driven Web 2.0 firms in areas such as social netowrking, and online/personaized content.

I wish Tom Freston well and can't way to see his second "quarter" century.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ovitz - Inside Story of Hollywood's Powerbroker

For the past year, I really have been interested in the power of being interconnected and how what we do can influence others.

I was visiting our local library and they had a table with a few books for sale. One of the books was on Michael Eisner of Disney and the other was about Michael Ovitz.
As much as I was familiar with Michael Ovitz as an "agent". I picked up the book "Ovitz" - By Robert Slater (McGraw Hill) to learn more about how he came be become one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood.

This book resonated with me on many levels. It is about taking risks, overcoming seemingly insurmountable hurdles (not taking no for an answer), empowering others to reach for more than they thought possible. It also can be distilled into some basic facts that are the building blocks of my other background in CRM or customer relationship management - making the sales by focusing on benefits to the other party and completely keeping the customer(in this case actors, directors, screenwriters, movie moguls) by asking "How can I help you?" or by "showering gifts" upon them they they will deam valuable.

Ovitz had a vision and a plan. He early on did not try to power his way to the top by buying people off. He powered his way tot the tip by an equal partnership with 5 other agents from William Morris who could complement his skills and provide some level of a client base. He had been a "natural" leader by providing an uncommon vision and then working harder than the others to become the "leader".

He empowered people to think beyond of what they could accomplish on their own. He did this by buiding relationships and being meticulous. He also worked on setting up systems including redundant systems to manage the work flow so he could be out of the office, but still maintain levels of control.

He is tenacious on getting deals done and providing the "chemistry" for some of the most successful movies and television shows of our time. Rob Reiner, Sidney Pollack, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Bill Murray, Sean Connery became some of his early clients. He was able to reignite careers or provide more spark to some of those careers who needed a 2nd act such as Paul Newman and Sean Connery.

I have found this biography to be surprising, inspirational and intelligent on so many levels. Turns out to be great read.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada and Me

Once in a while along comes a talent for producing movies. Wendy Finerman is one of those talents to be able to put together a dream team to direct the movie, do the costuming and play the lead roles.

How can you get any better than Meryl Streep using all of your acting talents to make Miranda a realistic character and avoid turning the movie into a cartoon. The street scenes, office mania, dialog are also incredibly realistic and believable at some level. I was missing New York and remembering back to my early career at HBO and The Movie Channel.

Well, here it is again. There were about 10 of us that helped to put together the Movie Channel, I was one and a young women from Wharton was doing some analysis of Movie acquisitions across the hall. She was smart and analytical and generally very nice to be around. It turned out that young woman was Wendy Finerman.

It is very amazing to fast foreward to day to realize how much she has grown up in the movie industry, survived and prospered. One day I would love to catch up with her and here about her journey.

It also lets me know that we had some amazing people back then including the founder of MTV, the current chairman of Viacom, the CEO of MTV, former President of Nickelodeon among those 10 people.

Well, I am still on my journey and enjoying the prosperity of my old colleagues.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Business Week just featured and article about the concept of media company's buying up websites and editorial content. Robert Pittman and their private equity firm have invested in an eNewsletter/website called There are specific on-line editions in 10 cities from New York, LA, Miami and next is Atlanta.

This eNewsletter and website allow for new trends in fashion, restaurants, entertainment to be marketed to a very valued target audience, mostly women 18-34 with income and spending power.

Business weeks says that this webzine may be worth as much as $100 million dollars.

The trick to the valuation is to have a very professional staff and approach including a professional editorial team and advertising sales team. The rate card for advertising in Daily Candy goes from a few thousand dollars per ad to the thirty thousand plus per city edition. DailyCandy claims more than one million subscribers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Media Mensch

For the last few years, I have been thinking about my early career in media at WNBC Radio, WYNY-FM radio, Home Box Office/Cinemax, The Movie Channel/MTV and realized how interesting that time was and how fortunate I was to be working in that industry.

Some of the people I worked with early in my are some of the most influential people in media today and over the past twenty five years. This blog is a way to capture some of those stories from the "old days" or the "age of innocence" when we were creating and inventing the early days of cable television.

From 1977 through today, I have been fortunate to have worked with Robert Pittman (Creator of MTV and former COO of AOL), Tom Freston (Chairman, Viacom), Judy McGrath (CEO, MTV Networks), Jeff Bewkes (CEO, Time-Warner), Herb Scannel, (President, MTV Networks), Brown Johnson (VP Programming, Nick Jr., Bill Roedy, President, MTV International and many others.

During those early years I had the opportunity to be at Bruce Springteen's first concert at Madison Square Garden and presented him with an WNBC satin baseball jacket, was one of a few dozen people at "Cousin Brucies" last radio show at WNBC.
I was also the "N-Car" driver in the summer of 1978 in which over 2 million people had "WNBC is going to make me rich" bumber stickers on their car. That summer I gave away trips to London, Kawasaki JetSkis.

At HBO, we worked hard and played hard. I was responsible for the HBO Premium Incentive program that included all the coffee mugs, beer steins, t-shirts, tennis shirts, directors chairs and other items that had the HBO logo on them.
We had our holiday parties at Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Natural History under the Great Whale.