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Former HBO President Simon Sutton Joins Luminary as CEO (EXCLUSIVE)

Simon Sutton has joined Luminary Media and will serve as chief executive officer of the newly launched podcast subscription service. He joins the company after a stint as president and chief revenue officer of HBO. As part of the move, Matt Sacks, who founded Luminary in 2018 and currently serves as its CEO will instead assume the role of executive chairman.

Luminary has made headlines by signing up top talent such as Conan O’Brien, Trevor Noah, and Lena Dunham to create exclusive programming for its $8-per-month subscription plan. The goal is to become the Netflix of podcasting and to demonstrate that people will shell out for compelling content.

“Luminary is a fun and exciting company with a great business model that’s reminiscent of the early days of HBO,” Sutton told Variety in an interview. “When HBO started the rest of the television world was big, broad, ad-supported. It created something different and that’s what Luminary is trying to do.”

For his part, Sacks says, “my goal to help Simon in any way I can assist.”

In addition, Luminary has also raised an additional $30 million in the first closing of a Series C financing from existing and new investors. Sacks was slightly vague about how the money would be deployed other than to say it would be used for “content, content, content.”

Luminary was founded by Sacks in 2018 with backing from venture capital firm NEA. When it launched its content platform six months ago, in April 2019, it had raised $100 million in funding. The podcasting business is generating greater interest from major investors and entertainment companies who believe that it is an under-monetized and fast-growing sector. Revenues last year hit nearly $680 million and are projected to grow at 30% annually between 2018 and 2022, according to PwC. Moreover, the number of weekly podcast listeners has more than doubled in the past five years, from 28 million in 2015 to 62 million in 2019, according to a study by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Prior to joining Luminary, Sutton served as president and chief revenue officer at HBO from 2016 to 2019. He first joined HBO in 2005, helping the company accelerate its domestic growth in subscribers and quadrupling international customers from 20 million to 80 million. Prior to HBO, Sutton spent 10 years in international television at MGM, being promoted to executive VP and head of the division.

Sutton said he first became familiar with podcasting listening to NPR programming on long drives around California. He declined, however, to reveal what podcasts are his favorites.

“I’m going to be meeting a lot of podcast creators who are going to be upset if I don’t name their shows,” he said. “I can only lose by answering that question.”

Here’s the full text of Sacks letter to staff announcing Sutton’s hire:

Luminary is pleased to announce that Simon Sutton, former President and Chief Revenue Officer of HBO, is joining Luminary as our CEO and a member of our Board. Going forward, I will serve as Executive Chairman.

We are also pleased to share that we have raised an additional $30 million in the first closing of a Series C financing comprised of existing and new investors.

It is hard to imagine a more positive and transformative development for Luminary than to have Simon lead our company day to day. Simon is a seasoned media executive who at one point or another ran every functional area of one of the most successful subscription content businesses in the world, consistently growing subscribers, revenue, and profit.

As you know, I have been convinced of the potential to create a large successful subscription podcast business for some time. We have made tremendous progress since founding Luminary in January of 2018 and since our launch this Spring. We have built an extraordinary team with experienced leaders. We have extraordinary content and we continue to add subscribers and grow every day. Because of the success that Luminary has enjoyed on all fronts, and the magnitude of the opportunity in front of us, I aggressively pursued Simon upon learning he might be available to Luminary.

At HBO, over 14 years, Simon was a key leader on the winning team that set the gold standard for premium subscription content. Because my interests are fully aligned with the interests of Luminary creators and investors it was an easy decision to trust Simon with the leadership of Luminary.

As a Luminary partner, you should feel, as I do, real validation of our collective vision. While you will hear directly from Simon soon, it is safe to say that he would not have joined Luminary if he did not share our confidence in the importance of the medium, the quality of our content, the progress we have made as a business and the opportunity that lies ahead.

Attached is a copy of a press release we have just issued. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out.

Going forward I will support Simon as he quickly gets up to speed and will transition to my new role as Executive Chairman. In that capacity I will make whatever effort is necessary to be a good partner for Simon and a value added resource and champion for Luminary.

Please join me in welcoming Simon and please accept my gratitude for the confidence and trust that has taken us this far. I have never been more enthusiastic about Luminary’s future.

Best,

Matt

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