Interview Date: Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Interview Location: New York City, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arensteinr
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Seth Arenstein: Hi, I'm Seth Arenstein and we’re here for The Cable Center’s Oral History Project. We are here with James Brown, Jr. He is the SVP and head of content distribution at Revolt Media and TV. James, welcome and good to see you.
James Brown: Thank you, Seth.
Arenstein: Good to see you. We've known each other for a long time so it's good to be here with you. But you're in a different place than you were the last time I spoke with you the last time, I think. You're with Revolt TV. Why don’t you tell us what Revolt is, when it started, and we’ll start there?
Brown: Sounds great. Revolt TV, the new number one name in music, as our chairman, Sean Combs, calls it. Sean is the owner, Puff Daddy, Diddy—he has so many different names. Mr. C. It is a place where the hottest of the hot music is played and it doesn’t matter what genre it is. It is what is hot, what's trending out on the social network. And we try and make sure we capture it all. And cultivate it. Basically we’re telling the audience this is what’s next and this is what’s coming next and this is the hot music that’s coming next.
Arenstein: And how long has it been on cable?
Brown: A little bit over a year. October 21, 2013 it kicked off, and we’ve been going strong since then.
Arenstein: Tell me if I flipped on my television set in the right city or state and I found Revolt TV. What types of shows would I see?
Brown: You would see a nice mixture. One of the things that we make sure that we’re doing is that we are providing content at the speed of social media. And what that means is that it’s got to be live, so in the morning we start that off with our “Breakfast Club,” which is Power 105 New York. And then we have shows during the day that curate genres, different music, so you'll find that there is something on electronic, there is something on hip-hop, there is something on alternative and indie, and then in the afternoon, we kind of close it out with another live show called “Revolt Live,” which is done out of our studio in L.A. Lots of live guests and in that year’s time, we've had over 300 live guests and some of those are actually musical guests that are entertaining. And part of that is that we do an outside piece. Sometimes you’ll see an outside concert. We call it “The Takeover” that we do at Hollywood and Highlands. And we've had folks from Afrojack to Rick Ross performing and lots more who want to do that because what they see is they see the social media aspect from it, where they see their numbers go up and they follow that, of course. Then they also see them being able to have a stage where they can perform live. There are not too many places that an artist can perform live on TV these days.
Arenstein: And your job as head of content distribution; tell me what you do exactly.
Brown: So the title itself is probably a little limiting because we’re such a small group of folks. I am responsible for the distribution of the network and that means on all platforms and that’s worldwide, not only domestically. The good thing is that Sean’s brand is such an international brand that we get lots of calls from international players out there because they're interested in what he’s doing and what we’re doing. Then I'm also responsible for the acquisition of content so my team is out there looking for movies to short films to series and we’re out there trying to find the right mix and the right things to put on our various platforms. Then, of course, the international piece of it itself.
Arenstein: How is it to wear two hats? Like the two very large hats which in most networks, are worn by two different people?
Brown: For one, I love it because it challenges me and that’s one of the reasons why I took the position is because of the challenge. I'm learning something new and I had a great opportunity at Disney and ESPN and spent almost twenty years there. In that time period I got to do quite a few different things. I was on the distribution side, I was on the content development side, the programming side. So here I get to wear these two hats in the same job and I kind of understand at least the landscape of it all.
Arenstein: We’ll get to ESPN for sure but just right off the top, compare working at Revolt TV vs. ESPN. Or can you?
Brown: You can, just because I joined ESPN in 1995 and there were about 800 people there, so a very small company. I was coming from Bell Atlantic, which is a very large company. One of the things that attracted me there was no bureaucracy. No politics. You could easily make things happen vs. the lines of communication and the lines of executives you had to go through to make something happen. Then on top of all of that is the passion. So the passion for music is very much like the passion for sports. And that to me was the thing that really got me excited was here is something that is growing and it's in an incubator and when I look back at the things I got a chance to do at ESPN—ESPN Deportes, ESPN News, ESPN Classic. Changing everything over to ABC Family, taking Disney to, instead of a pay, to an ad base network. So all those different challenges that were actually new challenges were the things that excited me. The entrepreneurship piece of all of those businesses and that’s exactly what this is for me. It is excitement because everyday there's something different that you're doing. The other piece I didn’t talk about was the marketing piece that I have that I kind of manage, too. So all those pieces together, everyday is something different.
Arenstein: Let me ask you this. Not to cast aspersions on ESPN but when you started, it was 800 people. Now it's quite a bit more.
Brown: About 9,000.
Arenstein: And it’s worldwide. Even though I think when you started, they called it “The Worldwide Sports Network.” It really wasn’t. Now it is, it really is. When you left there, did you feel it was a bigger company but still with a small company feel, and if so, how did they do that and will you be doing that at Revolt? What could you take from ESPN that you could use at Revolt?
Brown: You know, George Bodenheimer probably is one of the best leaders and executives that I've ever had the opportunity to work for. So George kept that environment from the beginning. He was there from the beginning so he kind of understood the mentality and he would spread that mentality amongst the employees. And it was something he was able to do pretty well. There was always of course the Disney influence but for the most part, Disney left, and still does, leaves ESPN alone. Because there is a lot of money; that’s about it. They absolutely know what they're doing there. So I think the executives who have managed ESPN have tried to keep as much of that mentality there. I think with that said, you know, when you look at who is employed at ESPN, I'd say 50% of them are athletes themselves; probably have played some type of team sport. So already they come in with a winning attitude. And knowing that a team wins, not individuals.
With that attitude, it helps the environment, of course. It is an environment where people not only survive but they grow. They're nurtured. Those are the things that I want to bring to Revolt. When I first came on board, another thing that was attractive was the group of executives that they were able to bring together. So Keith, Val Boreland coming from comedy, Andy Schuon, background in a ton of music. Sean Combs, Andre Harrell, who’s our vice-chair. When you look at that team, first of all, it's hard to put together a team like that for a new network. So that also was attractive. I said, they see something, I saw it, too. Let’s go and do that. Let’s go make this happen.
Arenstein: OK. You talk about making a network almost when you put Sean Combs’ name on a piece of paper. You have a network—almost. But Revolt also has a little bit of a head-start in the sense that it is from the Comcast/NBC acquisition. So when you started, I think you were the third largest or one of the largest startups in cable history. Tell us where you are now and tell us what happens tomorrow. Tell us down the road, are there goals or does it grow differently than that?
Brown: There are absolutely goals. Mr. Sean Combs is a very goal-oriented individual or he wouldn’t be as successful as he is. And Sean is someone who’s constantly involved with the business itself. It's not something that just has his name on it. I get calls. Each one of our senior executives absolutely get calls, because Sean has his ideas of where he wants the network to be. As he says it, we are doing good, but we ain’t great. He said, I only do things great. When you think about that, it's such a great inspiration and incentive because it's coming all the way from the top. So to take that message and making sure that all the employees understand, he is excited about us doing good. But he doesn’t want good—he wants great. And what great means for us is that we want as much distribution as we can get.
So when I look at us and I compare us to the growth of networks past, as I call them in the Christmas spirit—ghost past—when I look at that, I think we’re in a great place. A great head-start with Comcast but then to get Time Warner, that really put us in a great position. Because Time Warner has done a great job of using us. And when I say using us, the promotions and marketing that we've been able to do with Time Warner has not only been successful for them, but also successful for us, because it's given us, again, a platform to show the rest of the world what we can do and how we actually have a connection with these young people, these Millennials, folks that are hard for everyone else to talk to. This happens for us everyday and it happens a lot easier than others. I think one of the things we do—we do understand, we put enough time and energy into research. We have our head of audience inside—his name is Jay Katz. I think he’s a super-being as far as research is concerned and understanding and guiding us in how we develop our content, marketing and our touchpoints. He does a great job of communicating that and sharing that with the rest of the organization. The other thing that I think we do really well at is another thing that Sean says. He wants the young people to run the network. He communicates that on a weekly basis. He’s like, “You guys have got to manage it. You guys push them maybe in the right direction if they're going astray but I don’t want you guys running the network because you guys don’t know enough about what is going on with not only the Millennials but even the music pieces of it. You guys have lots of experience in running businesses, but that’s OK—I want you to run the business but at the same time, I want the input from this young group of people. We have a great group of creatives that understand music and the different genres of music and they know how to put it on the various platforms that we have.”
Arenstein: So let me ask you when you're in the boardroom with another MSO out there and they're not a child, they're not a kid, and you have to explain why they should have Revolt on their lineup. What do you say?
Brown: That is probably one of our biggest challenges. It’s actually sitting across from folks who are my age and helping them to understand that if you don’t connect with these folks, you may miss out in the end. Your business is great right now, but you may miss out. So one thing we try and do is we share as much research as we can.
At ESPN, we feel like we own the male audience. That’s pretty much the same mentality we want to have with the young audience that we have. We want to own that young audience. And we want to be able to connect that young audience to the cable operator. We want to be able to say, “Look, the first grade for these folks is the phone or their iPad. It is not the TV, but they do love the TV. They do love the fact that it is still their sitback experience where they don’t have to do any work. All they have to do is sit back and look. And they still love that; it’s still at the top of their list. It is still at the top of the list when it comes to when they want to see a program, or they want to see an artist perform, they would rather see that on a big screen than a small screen.”
But the thing that we also want to try and make sure that is tied together with that is that it is their social currency that when they see it live for the first time, if they see Iggy Azalea performing on our air or Revolt live, they want to be the first out there: “Did you see that?”
Brown: “Wasn’t she hot?” They wanted to have that conversation because it's that currency that kind of happens. It is about making sure that you're delivering that to them, that social currency, the whole time.
Arenstein: As if you didn’t have enough to do, James, you also are making deals and trying to get territory with other platforms because as you said, television is one of many. With the Millennials, it's certainly not the first choice. How has that been for you? You're a television guy mostly and now you're traveling in different circles. How has that been for you?
Brown: I think one of the positive things, like take Verizon for instance, they are looking at various platforms and we recently finished our deal with them and that deal has lots of components to it. Part of that is their phones and broadband and other things. We are making sure that our contact is easily accessible on all of it. We have our website, of course, Revolt.TV, and we do a lot of things digitally with a lot of different partners, YouTube and Spotify we do things with, and we’re always looking for different ways to actually have our content accessed because that’s the way the young people access it themselves.
So our deals, especially as we go forward, they're going to look like that. We’re going to do deals that are along all the platforms. If that means OTT, we better have our OTT product and I think most content providers better figure that out, too, because that’s what happening today. And then I think everyone’s got to take a look at it. If you don’t, you're going to be behind the times. So we’re building those types of products and making sure we stay on the forefront, especially as we go into international markets, too, because there are a lot of international players who are looking for OTT products. When you walk into a door of some of our cable operator friends, you have to have things that are going to be attractive to them and that’s going to provide them enough value that they're going to want to add you. As you said earlier, Seth, we’re kind of late to the dance on the linear side so we better have something that’s going to provide value. Some way to either connect or keep their subscribers.
Arenstein: You know, just to flip it a little bit, James. You probably have a terrific insight into what cable operators are thinking and doing now. What do you hear out in the field? I mean, we hear things like HBO, they're going to go alone, they're not going to have cable operators at some point. We have all these OTT products. I certainly have heard people say that cable operators are going to get out of the video business and stay in broadband. What are you hearing out there?
Brown: We hear all that but the challenge for me is that there is so much revenue associated with video that it’d be hard to get out of that business. I think they'd have to figure out how to do it a little more smartly and it's part of the challenges that some of the content providers are having these days on just their rate increases and rate adjustments. And with that said, you're getting a little bit more pushback from the operator because the margins are definitely going away. Not only the margins but even the consumers themselves are pushing back and saying, “Look, you’ve got to make it more affordable for me.” When I look at all of that, you hear a lot of talk but there’s just too much money involved. It is funny because I think back to, again, my Bell Atlantic days. One of the jobs that I had there was there was this competitive response team. And the competitive response team, it was a group of seven people and we would go to the various business units and create war games. The war games we—the group of seven—would act as one of the cable operators and the scenario would be that we would team up with Pepco and they had the dark fiber running up the street and then from that we also then teamed up with Sprint and now we were cable TV, telephone provider in your marketplace and what are you going to do? So the scenarios then would have Bell Atlantic create whatever they wanted to do, what their next move would be. Out of that group the first movement of the Bell Atlantic purchasing TCI kind of came out of that kind of organization. And it's funny how some of the things that we looked at were like the price sensitivities of cable and now those price sensitivities have come to bear. And what was going to happen when those things happen and how was competition going to adjust to that. So now it's that time; it's like all the things that we thought about are all coming to fruition right now and so what’s next? What’s next is OTT. It’s like, OK, how do I provide this video—which I still believe is the best entertainment value, period—how do you compete with that and how do you make sure that those margins are still there for the cable operator?
Of course, broadband makes it a little easier. It’s funny; I was looking at Verizon, some of their marketing. 144, I was looking at that, I was like, wow, that’s kind of high but then at what I looked at what you got, I was like, OK, that’s not bad comparably speaking to everyone else because I get my speed, I get 405 channels, 200-something HD. So I get everything that I would really want at a pretty good price point. People have to begin to figure out how are they going to put those packages like that together and I think the AT&T acquisition of DirecTV, the Comcast acquisition of Time Warner—all those things still point to that the video business is still well and alive or those acquisitions, I think, would not be happening. They're not just having those acquisitions because of broadband; they're doing it because there’s a huge amount of revenue that comes in the door.
Arenstein: James, you graduated from U of Maryland, are you a Maryland native?
Brown: I am DC-born, but I'm a military brat, so I've lived all over the world, which was, I think, actually was my training because we used to move every year. So when you move every year, you’ve got to make friends pretty quickly. When it comes to sales, it's all about building a relationship and then figuring out what the need is and I think it was my training. That’s the same thing of making friends.
Arenstein: So you went from the U of Maryland and I think you have a child at Maryland right now.
Brown: My youngest lives in Maryland, my oldest is a dancer/actor/singer –watch him on “Peter Pan,” he will be in “Peter Pan” on NBC on Thursday [December 4, 1014], he’s in the making of “Peter Pan.” He’s a very successful Broadway actor/dancer/singer.
Arenstein: I didn’t know that. So you went from Maryland and you went to AT&T and you told us briefly about what you did there. How did you get to ESPN and what did you do there in your first years?
Brown: ESPN: there’s a gentleman by the name of Greg Bunch and Greg has been around the industry for a long time. Greg was one of those folks that took me under his wing and how I got there—that group I was telling you about at Bell Atlantic—one of the things that was my responsibility was to infiltrate a little bit of the cable industry and begin to understand it a little more. So I started going to the NCTA, the big cable shows, the Western Show, all those shows, and began to understand what this industry was about and at the same time, folks like ESPN, MTV, HBO were very interested in Bell Atlantic and what they were going to do, how they were going to become an operator and so, of course, I built a lot of relationships with them. Sean Bratches, who is now head of sales and marketing, I befriended Sean through Greg and one day Sean asked me if I would be interested in having an opportunity at ESPN. It was kind of interesting because at first I was very hesitant because I was then at Bell Atlantic, I was in an executive management program and kind of knew where I was going to be. When I began to talk to my dad about it, he said I was a fool to leave this place that had—if I did thirty years there, pension and everything else associated with it—to go to work for this company called ESPN that was a 24-hours sports network, he was like, what is that? So it took me a little while to make that decision but I made the decision. My first job there, I was director of the Central region, in the affiliate sales group and worked with Sean, and Steve Raymond and Randy Brown. George Bodenheimer was the head of affiliate sales during that time period. So a great group of executives to learn the business from, especially Randy Brown; he was my immediate boss and just a great group to really truly learn the business and what I brought to them was this corporate-speak, I’ll call it because of course, at Bell Atlantic, very corporate, lots of courses in leadership to engineering and everything else. So that was one of the things that I kind of brought some structure to the sales organization and began to thrive. I spent about a year and a half in Chicago, then went out to L.A. I spent a year there and then went to corporate, went to Bristol as VP of the East at the time. A nice run, especially during the time where the affiliate sales group became the—called the “star” of ESPN— because that’s when we began to incorporate the 20% six-years increases. That was right as we got the full season of NFL and that just kind of changed the whole game, I believe, for ESPN, if I was to look back at the turning point; that was absolutely it.
Arenstein: You mentioned George, you mentioned Sean—who will be in that chair tomorrow morning at nine. Those are two of your mentors. Do you want to tell us what you learned from them and others?
Brown: You know, George is such a, almost like a quiet leader.
Arenstein: Very, yes.
Brown: And very real. You're not going to get any bullcrap from George. He’s going to tell you how it is. So to work for someone like that, someone that has integrity out the kazoo. That makes you want to stand in line of a bullet or anything else because George is that guy. He’s personable, he’s passionate, he is to me like that ultimate leader. At least for me, that makes me work and feel that way. And Sean is, he’s the doctor of sales. He is the professor of sales. He knows how to spin things and make them feel great, very intelligent, knows his business like nobody else. And gave me opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had. He believed in having a team that was very diverse and we had a very diverse team. Not just in color, but just in diverse backgrounds. When it came to putting together his executive team, a lot of growth in that team so a lot of nurturing and turning people into great executives. So it grew from the ground up and we always felt like if we could create this environment that everyone was learning from one another and the whole team lifts up, then that’s going to make for a very good team and I think that the proof is out there; that he absolutely had built some unbelievable teams out there.
Arenstein: So you were at ESPN until 2012 and then you got to Revolt shortly thereafter. By the way, at some point your father must have approved of ESPN though, right?
Brown: Absolutely. I think after the first year, I took him to the ESPN Awards in New York and he was like, OK, I get it. I get it.
Arenstein: That’s interesting, though, that in 1995 when you joined, it was still a risky bet, at least in your dad’s opinion. At what point, or was there a point when you thought, OK, now I can tell Dad I’m at ESPN and this is a going concern? Not including the ESPYs, but was there a point where you thought, oh, wow. You mentioned the NFL contract. Was that it?
Brown: I would say that it's kind of interesting. I want to share something that I did. One of the things, how I secured my dad as far as him feeling fine about it was that I had decided that I was only going to do it for two years. And I had an opportunity that I talked to several executives back at Bell Atlantic where I said, “Hey, I’m going to go really, go truly understand this business from ESPN and then I'll come back.” And so at that two-year period, when I was so excited and involved with ESPN at that point, there was no looking back. That was the point where I said, “This is going to be a fun ride.” We were doing things that were so much fun—the building of ESPN 2 was really at it's high point in 1997 and when I look at that and what we created in that time period, it was just lots of fun, lots of energy and again, lots of excitement and creativity and passion because now it was like we built more room on the bookshelf and guess what? That meant more programming and more creativity with the programming. That kind of secured our life with ESPN, and that was right after Disney had acquired Cap Cities and so then it was really like, what are you talking about? Now we have Disney, so then, of course, they have truly…
Arenstein: That was OK.
Brown: Disney-owned. Everything is good now.
Arenstein: But then of course it begs the question: Revolt TV. When do you foresee that getting to a point where your dad and other dads would approve of it?
Brown: Give us another twelve months. If we were having this conversation next year at this time, I would feel pretty comfortable saying that you know, we’re in a good place. One of the good things that’s happening is we’re out here in the field and having conversations and negotiating is that no one’s really said no. No one’s said, “I don’t like what you guys are doing.” Everyone likes it. It’s really about the value equation. It’s really about bandwidth and then trying to decide, OK, am I going to try and keep my bandwidth for more speeds or did I need something that’s going to connect this to—and continue to connect this to—this new group that I don’t have a big connection to. If we can continue to have that conversation, and make that happen, I think we’re going to be OK. We’re gathering momentum with Verizon, Suddenlink, CenturyLink, all those things help us to gather momentum because people are reading about it and seeing it. You know, Sean was on Access Hollywood and he mentioned it. As soon as he mentioned it, he had ten million people basically following him, mentioning it, too. When things like that happen and we’re able to show our operator partners that these are the things that we’re talking about happens, when the chairman and the chairman’s friends start Tweeting and Instagram, I think people like that.
Arenstein: Right. I want to ask you: you mentioned that Sean Bratches took a chance on you, gave you this opportunity. I know that diversity is important to you, I know you’ve played roles in a lot of the groups. Are you mentoring people, have you given folks chances now that you’re a senior executive?
Brown: Absolutely. When I think about my career, when I look at the highlights, my highlights for me are who have I brought up behind me? When I look at the ESPN team, David Preschlack, Matt Murphy—my guys—Sean Brady—they're the whole executive team outside of Sean, people that came up through the organization that I had. For me that is one of the biggest kudos is that I hired the right people and I nurtured them the right way for them to be in those positions.
Arenstein: And they're still there.
Brown: And they're still there. So to me that is a great sign of success.
Arenstein: I wanted to get into a slightly different area now. What about cable’s impact on society? We see it through Revolt and music and we talked to Keith this morning about culture. What do you see as cable’s impact on society?
Brown: I really believe that cable is in the center. When you think about the broadband connections—we started working with this group out of Compton, L.A.—Dakar is the name of the team. It’s about mentoring and we've had some opportunities to share some executives, to actually go to the school systems and do some mentoring and then we've had some of the students at our studios and had them actually film some of the things that we do. And teaching them about what happens behind the camera. There are so many opportunities for our industry to do those types of things that the kids are interested in. It’s funny because even at ESPN, one of the things I always tried to do was make sure that the young folks know there are so many more opportunities on the other side of the camera than playing on the field or playing on the court. Opportunities that last a lifetime versus 3-5 years, which is what a professional career is on the average. The same thing with music and entertainment. It is all about what are some of the other opportunities that I think our industry has such a great opportunity to share that. We just don’t do enough of it. As many people as we have when you begin to think about cable operators and how many people they have work for them, if each one of them just took on themselves some kind of challenge like that, I think we would really, really make some serious changes.
But broadband itself can absolutely make all of those changes because of Internet. It’s everything. And who goes there—you can find everything and anything. You can type in anything these days and find your answers like that. It’s all about that. It’s all about the education pieces that we probably don’t do enough of as an industry. I think if we did, we could definitely change the U.S. We could potentially change everything that’s going on with Ferguson [Missouri]; part of it is just communication that’s not just done or not done enough. One of the things that we've been trying to do at Revolt is make sure that we’re in the middle of the communities. I'm sure Keith talked about some of that because music is that thing that ties so many of us together. We look at our research, we look at the various genres. It’s been interesting, kind of educating some of our cable partners about music and genres. So we show a stat on counties A, B, C and D, and the counties broken up on urban vs. suburban and rural. So A, B, C and D, and we showed like hip-hop. And hip-hop across all four counties is really at the top. If it's not number one, it's number two. C and D is number two. But a close second to country.
So what it says is that everyone listens to that genre. They listen to it. Kids listen to music very differently than you and I did. And part of it is because of the way radio stations are formatted. Part of it is the way they can access music off the Net. But those kids think a lot differently than we do. They don’t see colors the way that we saw colors, especially in the urban markets or the suburban markets where, outside of the urban centers, they just think a lot differently. I think what kind of bridges those gaps are definitely cable wasn’t around, you would not see a Black person probably or a Hispanic person as much as you see these colors. It’s able to showcase—there are so many different ways it showcases who they are, their cultures and everything else. We wouldn’t have those platforms if we didn’t have cable.
Arenstein: I know it's too early to ask you what you think your legacy is going to be because I know you have many, many years of sales and content acquisition ahead of you, but I have to ask you. What would you like your legacy to include? I mean, you’ve mentioned some of the people that you’ve hired, David Preschlack, and people like that. You’ve talked about diversity. You’ve talked about your forward thinking, your strategic thinking that started at your first job. You brought it to ESPN and now you're bringing it to Revolt. What’s your legacy? What would you like it to be?
Brown: Probably the same way that I talk about George. I would love for folks to talk about me like that; that I helped to mentor them and nurture them and to be just a better executive, hopefully a better person. Those are those type of things that I would love to leave behind. Some of the things that I was able to do at ESPN, especially in the latter years when I started building the high school brand, part of what I wanted to build was that I wanted there to be some learning that happened. I didn’t want us just to have the kids playing on the field or on the court; I also wanted to bring in, I was able to bring in professional athletes and talk about their story. Talk about—even if you make it to the professional leagues, this is what you have to expect. And this is what you need to begin to prepare yourself for. I've been able to build some relationships from some of those young high school kids that are now professionals who still send me a text or send me an email to say, “How’re you doing? I still think about the sessions that we had as I've gone into this professional career. I'm doing X, Y and Z.” To me, again, those are things that really get me excited, more so than any money or any of those types of things. I hope that I’m leaving that nurturing and mentoring legacy behind and I try to do it in everything that I do.
One of the things that I started doing when I left ESPN is created my own business and it’s a custom clothing business and with that custom clothing business, we actually have a workshop we do; we call it “Brand New.” It’s all about personal branding. Actually it's all about what we’re doing right now: communicating and having a conversation, eye contact, handshakes, and we do those workshops with college basketball teams—like I was just at Mississippi State, they have a very challenging program. I was at Providence, I've been at Notre Dame doing a lot of college basketball teams, but we also do like the managers of hotel chains and managers of restaurant chains. And then we do high schoolers. And we do college students, and we do business schools, and it's all about the simple things, like the most simple as far as the personal brand. When you walk out of your house, you're representing who? Your family? If you're a member of a team, the team, the school? And making sure that you understand all the actions that you do are a reflection on all of that. And it's hard to come back from all of that when you do make those mistakes; it's not that easy to come back. It’s easier to do the right thing than it is to do the bad thing.
So all of those things kind of give me that great feeling that I'm leaving something behind, some kind of mentoring, some kind of nurturing; hopefully getting someone ready for the next step in their life.
Arenstein: Speaking of the next step, what do you think are some of the big stories, untold stories, people outside the cable industry don’t know about cable? What are some of the things—misconceptions or a story you'd like to tell somebody tonight at dinner who is not in the cable industry? A couple years from now, watch this. This is going to come from cable.
Brown: Wow. I think part of it is and it kind of goes back to what I was saying before—the way that broadband connects us all. Most people don’t get that. I think some people just think it magically happens. It didn’t magically happen. There was a lot of money spent on the infrastructure and I don’t think people get that. They just kind of blow it off. I don’t think they pat the cable industry on their back enough to understand why they spent billions and billions of dollars to put it in the ground and on poles to make this stuff happen. It's probably like I said; there’s probably not enough history and a sharing of history to have just the layman to understand what the cable business means to the country. The President or some of our Congresspeople probably don’t know enough about that and definitely don’t have enough conversations about that.
Arenstein: Put on your ESPN hat again. HBO just announced that it's going to go it alone. Do you think that ESPN and other networks will do things like that down the road?
Brown: The question is that did HBO really announce they were going to go it alone…?
Arenstein: We don’t really know what it means, right.
Brown: If I'm HBO, I'm doing that move, too. Their content is some of the toughest to get to. You're not really going to find it on the Internet unless you are an HBO subscriber, authenticated. And so, there’s also, of course, the folks who just want to see that. Is this their way to get to those consumers? Can they do that and continue to do what they are currently doing? Probably. They have that type of content. ESPN is so expensive. I think if they do too much of it, I think that’s when the cat’s out of the bag. That’s what I think. Just knowing and being there, some of the concerns we've had forever is a la carte. A la carte is a tough thing to swallow for the whole industry. There’s no way that can survive. There’s no way that a business like Revolt probably could survive in that universe. We wouldn’t have gotten started and be where we are today. So that’s where the tough part comes. I think there are companies like HBO that can and there’s probably a few others, but everyone else, I don’t know CBS is one that can. It's like when I think of CBS, I think of like I can get to those shows unless you take it all away from me, I can get to those shows today in a whole lot of different ways.
Arenstein: You talk about the Millennials. One thing that concerns me is that Millennials for the most part, as you were saying in terms of broadband—people not knowing where broadband comes from, but it's just there. I think Millennials think television is “just there” and “I somehow got my friend’s HBO GO code, but everybody’s doing it. It's OK.” The speed limit says 55 but everybody goes 60, and it's accepted. What about that? Does that bother you, does that concern you as a cable exec? As somebody who purveys content?
Brown: Yes, it does, it does. One of the other things that we see for research, OK. There are so many people concerned about the Millennials and them not purchasing cable and just doing broadband. But one of the things that we see is that what's changing is the time that someone can afford it. So when you think about it, it's like that was probably one of the first purchases I did when I came out of college. It was affordable. I want my cable on. I've got to see ESPN, I've got to see MTV and things like that. But you could afford it then. It was not $100. So now I think they have to wait a little while and part of it is, I'm going to wait till I have a family. Because I want the kids—because it is still my entertainment vehicle. The entertainment vehicle still has to be there, I think, and I still think it’s the best in town when you start looking at what a movie costs, when you start looking at even broadband costs and you know, let me get the package because you're still not getting the full experience on the Internet. You don’t have this whole group of networks that you can search and find something on. You may not do that all the time, but I got a feeling you're not always going to those three or four. Sometimes you go outside of that. So I think part of it is just like, you know, the timing is just pushed back somewhere because of the cost. There are more kids that are living at home and there are more kids who live together with three other young folks. Will they get cable? They may. They may all chip in to get…
Arenstein: One subscription.
Brown: One subscription and share that HBO to GO authentication. But I still think they're going to get that one subscription. Again, one of my earlier answers about—our research still shows that they still feel that TV experience is the number one experience as far as watching video. That hasn’t gone away.
Arenstein: I think we have enough, right?
END OF INTERVIEW