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VV Show #43 - Fred Seibert of Frederator Studios and Next New Networks

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Before the rise of the Internet, cable TV was the new form of distribution remaking the entertainment business. Life-long entrepreneur and former jazz producer Fred Seibert pioneered that field, and is known in the industry for branding MTV (remember their ever-changing animated logo) and Nickelodeon (remember Nick-at-Nite). While he was figuring out what to do next, Ted Turner hired him to be president of the then-struggling Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio. Fred turned the famous studio around and kept his hand in the cable business until some friends dragged him into the Internet business. He now runs Frederator Studios which produces several cable and Internet TV shows. He also just launched a new well-funded startup called Next New Networks to create Internet TV networks.

1:30 Getting started as an entrepreneur

  • Parents were “mom and pop business people,” they owned a pharmacy on Long Island.
  • Started a jazz label with a friend at age 19.
  • “I’ve never looked for a job.”

5:10 Criteria for selecting a business idea
  • “I don’t have any criteria.”

6:30 Getting into the cartoon business
  • Became a cable television exec in 1980 after being hired by Bob Pittman for a corporate startup that became MTV.
  • “I’m less an executer than I am an analyst of things.”
  • “I was a real dark horse candidate” for becoming president of Hanna-Barbera.

12:45 Creative types verses suits
  • Hired the now-MTV Networks Chairman and CEO Judy McGrath as a promo copywriter in 1981.
  • “I don’t know that I’m either.”

17:15 Fixing Hanna-Barbera
  • “Hanna-Barbera had not had a hit since 1983 with the Smurfs.”
  • “I took over Bill Hanna’s office.”
  • “I was so scared.”
  • On his first meeting with Ted Turner: “I talked with the guy for 15 minutes. In 10 minutes he was complementing my belt.”
  • Producer role model: Fred Quimby.

34:00 The Internet
  • “I had no particular interest in the Internet.”
  • Ran MTV Networks online division but quickly left after lack of support from management.
  • “We are the only major animation producer in the world that keep an active blog.”
  • Launched online video shows Channel Frederator and VODCars to great success.
  • Included Herb Scannell and Dennis Miller (not the comedian) in the discussion.
  • “We like dependability, not predictability.”
  • “Digital right management is for the birds.”

55:45 Starting Frederator
  • Called “best favorite video friend” Jakob Lodwick of College Humor and was introduced to first employee Justin.

59:00 Content
  • “It’s less about getting good content than understanding the marketplace.”

61:00 The value of Next New Networks
  • “I learned a long time ago that when I laugh out loud, I got to find the guy that did it.”
  • Business is right for working with someone like Dan Meth but maybe not Andrew Baron of Rocketboom.
  • “What our venture is about is creating structure where anything is possible.”

67:00 Bad blog reception
  • Snarky posts on Next New Networks: VentureBeat, GigaOM and PaidContent.
  • Characterizing the blogs' reaction to his company: “Here’s some fat old guys.”
  • “We’re out of the club.”
  • “The two most important partners are 30 years old.”
  • “If you saw the nasty things people wrote about us when we were doing MTV…”

73:30 Starting a company
  • “Starting a company is always the same.”
  • On starting businesses: “I think I’ll do that until I drop.”
  • “I don’t think there’s any confusion or adversity unless you’re confused and adverse.”
  • Quotes and recommends Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman: “In Hollywood, nobody knows anything.”

Fred’s book: Original Cartoons: The Frederator Studio Postcards

Posted by Greg Galant on Jan 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

Greg,

Great interview. I find the comparison between the online and cable worlds fascinating. Companies like MTV and Discovery were exploring uncharted territory - like many of us web entrepreneurs are doing today. I didn't internalize the analogy until recently.

Here comes an experienced TV guy developing niche channels on the web with TV-style content. It will be interesting to see the true convergence of the mediums. Clearly TV itself is undergoing an overhaul. It's clear that TV as it is currently consumed is archaic and I just can't wait to see things evolve.

Like Apple Inc introducing "Visual Voicemail" and debasing the use phone-numbers for contacting other people, It will be great to see established conventions and other cruft disappear.

Posted by: anthropocentric at January 30, 2007 3:08 AM

Fantastic show guys. I really enjoyed it. A fascinating subject, great interviewee, and good questions. Internet TV/online video are near and dear to my heart, so it's great to hear a veteran so passionate about it.

Keep up the great work with the podcast.

Posted by: Richard Giles at January 30, 2007 6:15 AM

Greg, this for me has been the best interview so far since you started - and yes I have listened to every one of them!

Fred just seems to tell great stories of how things fell together and you ask just the right questions to set him off again!

Loving it with 30 minutes to go, can't wait for my commute home so I can listen to the rest!

Keep up the good work Greg.

Posted by: Andrew Beacock at February 1, 2007 3:30 AM

That interview was great, and Fred presented such a friendly and accessible talk.

Its a real perspective on what his philosophy of life is, and how that mixes into his governance of businesses.

Anyone who is in media, internet, business start-up, or corporate machines should listen to this podcast.

Thanks again for a wonderful train ride to work.

Posted by: Andrew Breese at February 6, 2007 5:14 PM

What I thought was most interesting about what Fred had to say was how much he is driven by accessing new talent. The story at Hanna-Barbera, as he laid it out, seemed to be that he produced hits by making it a better place for talented artists to work. I found it striking when he said that when he starts a new project he sets up two breakfasts, a lunch, and a dinner every day to meet with people in the business and learn what he needs to know to make something work. He seems to be viewing blogging and his internet-TV venture as new ways to build his networks and help other people do the work they want to do. Fred is I suppose what Malcolm Gladwell would call a "connector."

I wonder what the the role of branding really is in the YouTube world. It's part of a larger question about what will happen as people increasingly look to the internet for their video content.

Posted by: Andy Eggers at February 11, 2007 10:05 PM

Am I the only one wondering what CPM they were able to charge?! How about giving us a range?

Posted by: stranflow at February 12, 2007 1:59 PM

Greg, Fred - Just wanted to say this was an excellent interview and thank you for the time and for putting it out there. One of the best VV episodes yet!

Posted by: Ben Stein at February 15, 2007 11:19 PM

An absolutely phenomenal interview. This was my first "listen" to venturevoice, which I've heard much about via David Hornik's VentureCast, etc....and now I've got 42 more to listen through! The import of creating these channels of content on the world viewing audience is about as exciting as the anticipation of just what Apple intends with the Apple TV, as suggested in this post by Bob Cringely: [http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/2007/pulpit_20070216_001673.html]. In "Minute Lit" we're seeking to provide a window into Literature in general, covering everything from Homer through AppleTV...but it's the 'casters of Venter Voice, VentureCast, This Week in Media, etc., that're providing an awesome overview of Web 2.0, 2.5, etc, which really will be or deliver the "literature" of the 21st century. :-)

Posted by: Alex Landefeld at March 7, 2007 11:45 AM

Excellent interview...intelligent questions and thorough, insightful responses. The long diatribe on the early years was very reminiscent of the outstanding speech by Steve Wozniak detailing his early days. I love that kind of story, especially from those who are obviously skilled at telling the story.

-John

Posted by: John Nagle at July 9, 2007 8:26 PM

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