Nancy Tellem, a veteran TV executive best known for occupying top roles at CBS Corp. and Warner Bros., has joined a technology firm that specializes in interactive video.
She will be executive chairman and chief media officer at Interlude, a creator of innovative music videos that allow users to customize their narrative direction. With Tellem on board guiding the startup’s strategic focus, the plan is to establish Interlude as both a consumer brand and technology platform that can work across a wide variety of genres that could span everything from scripted series to news and sports.
Tellem just opened an office in Culver City for Interlude, which already has 56 employees based largely in Tel Aviv and New York. With a Rolodex well-stocked from decades of experience in Hollywood, she is looking to spread word of the technology to the creative community.
“I want to take advantage of the relationship I have in town and not only evangelize, but work closely with companies and creators to either create original content or build their own IP in interactive content,” she said.
Tellem, 61, has been an adviser and an investor in Interlude for the past four years, joining its board of directors in 2014. But when they approached her about taking a full-time role, she jumped at the chance to take the company to a whole new scale.
“As I was seeing how things could and should go, I felt it was an amazing opportunity to build a significant business,” she said.
Part entertainment studio and part technology company with several patents, Interlude has created interactive music videos for acts as varied as Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Wiz Khalifa and Aloe Blacc. The company has also worked with leading advertisers for branded entertainment content. WPP and Warner Music have entered into joint ventures with Interlude.
Tellem previously led Xbox Entertainment Studios, a division of the Microsoft gaming console business dedicated to original programming. But she left the company last October after two years at Xbox not long after Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft and shuttered the studio amid other cost-cutting measures, including 3,000 job layoffs.
It was at Microsoft where Tellem got to familiarize herself further with how to meld gaming mechanics with premium video. Xbox assembled an entire slate of longform original programming, some of which had interactive elements leveraging the Xbox platform, but only one production was seen by audiences before Nadella pulled the plug.
Tellem left CBS Corp. after 15 years as a top lieutenant to CEO Leslie Moonves, who was also her boss at WBTV and Lorimar. She’s shephereded some of the biggest series in TV to air, including “CSI,” “Survivor,” “Friends” and “ER.”
Interactive storytelling has such a spotty track record in the entertainment business that the term “interactive” is almost rarely used without accompanying mockery. “Immersive” has become a more commonly accepted substitute adjective.
Regardless of the wording, though, the idea of a form of entertainment that requires active participation by consumers has never entirely lost its allure. The prospect of viewers interacting with content would be welcomed by advertisers who heretofore have little evidence of true engagement by the audience they’re trying to reach for even the most popular TV shows, which are passively consumed. Interactions would also provide rich data opportunities that could in turn better guide programming decisions.