AOL deal puts multi-hyphenate in yet another business: digital content
Ryan Seacrest is a well-connected guy in more ways than one.
Sure, there’s the over 11 million people he checks in with regularly across Twitter and Instagram alone. The CEOs of those companies are among those Seacrest is linked to, and not just virtually speaking; he counts them as personal friends.
“I just had dinner with (Instagram founder) Kevin Systrom at my house the other night,” said Seacrest, taking a break during an “American Idol” rehearsal.” “I get to know what Instagram is doing but it’s not like that’s even on my agenda.”
Think of it as the mogul version of tech support; there’s no need to comb website FAQs when you have the company’s top execs on speed dial. And Seacrest is going to be getting their advice more often as he heads into the next phase of building his media empire: venturing into production of digital original programming. He’s already teed up his first project for AOL, which will announce at its NewFronts presentation this week a short-form 10-episode series devoted to women overcoming adversity, with appearances by Gwyneth Paltrow.
“It’s a new primary focus for us, in the context of this company,” he said of Ryan Seacrest Prods. “It was inevitable, not just as a necessity for the business but for my own curiosity.”
Seacrest certainly isn’t doing it for the money; the nascent business models of digital production will yield a fraction of the nine figures he pulls down from a combination of on-air gigs and TV production. He’s got so many irons in the fire there’s barely room for the fire.
But Seacrest wants to figure out the future of his empire, for not just digital programming but for the increasing number of investments he’s begun making in the sector, from photo app Pinterest to marketing venture Civic Entertainment Group. That’s meant spending increasing amounts of time circulating among some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley: Systrom, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Marc Andreessen, Ron Conway and Greylock Partners principal David Sze.
“I’m personally educating myself about how deals are done in the digital space, what the distribution opportunities are like,” he said.
Some of that education is coming in-house courtesy of Sybil Goldman, who he hired last year to lead RSP’s digital production efforts. Formerly VP of entertainment at Yahoo, Goldman works closely with the TV production unit to mine low-cost concepts that can work outside the traditional channel universe. “Part of it is experimenting just to see what works,” she said. “What we don’t want to do is sit on the sidelines.”
The Paltrow project emanated from TV development RSP was working on with the A-list actress. “Second Chances,” which co-stars fitness guru Tracy Anderson, reveal the inspiring stories of women who’ve overcome all manners of adversity.
The project is just the first of many that will come out Goldman’s unit in the coming months, and some may not necessarily end up at an outside buyer like AOL. Strengthening Seacrest’s own YouTube channel is a priority; the company has tapped top-ranked multichannel network Fullscreen to drive growth by partnering on content and ad-sales initiatives. “We’re thrilled to be teaming up with such a globally recognized company,” said George Strompoulos, CEO of Fullscreen.
As uncertain a world as digital programming is, moving into the space is an organic evolution for Seacrest, who is as aggressive as any celebrity out there is in terms of translating his personal brand to the web and social media. His ties to Costolo put him in the position to be the first to introduce the new Twitter Music app to his audience via his radio program.
Chalk it up to a sign of his converging worlds, but he sees it in simpler terms. Said Seacrest, “It’s always nice to have a fun toy to play with.”
Irons in the Fire
› “American Idol” (Fox)
› “Today” (NBC)
› “Live From the Red Carpet” (E!)
› “E! News” (E!)
› “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” (ABC)
› “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” multiple spinoffs (E!)
› “Shahs of Sunset” (Bravo)
› “Married to Jonas” (E!)
› “On Air With Ryan Seacrest”
› “American Top 40″
› Civic Entertainment Group
› AXS TV
› “Second Chances” (AOL)