As quickly and extensively as the digital media landscape twists and turns in fashioning its future fortunes, so do the executives holding the reins.
Speculation has followed Peter Chernin since he left News Corp after serving under Rupert Murdoch as COO. As with many moguls in that stratosphere, there was no rush to join another big company. Having worked with the best in the business, Chernin now wants his own empire to run.
According to the New York Times, on Chernin's drawing board is a two-pronged vision, with one foot in the old-world and the other stretching towards all things new.
He's hanging out his own shingle with Chernin Entertainment. Chernin has already inked a deal with his former colleagues at 20th Century Fox for a Planet of the Apes prequel, Rise of the Apes. He's also teaming with Steven Spielberg on Terra Nova, a sci fi TV series about a modern family that travels to prehistoric times.
It's the other side of his new company that's decidedly more futuristic. He's been hiring B-school grads to scour the world for cool new technologies and digital delivery platforms for entertainment media.
Given recent debacles in the media world, including News Corp's $580 million MySpace acquisition in 2005, and iconic studios like MGM up for sale, an unswerving commitment and unwavering vision are requisite in today’s economy to start a media venture of this scale.
“If you’re going to back somebody, back somebody who actually seems to have a record of respect for the shareholders and the value of the enterprise,” as Jonathan A. Knee, co-author, The Curse of the Mogul: What’s Wrong With the World’s Leading Media Companies, told the New York Times. "It’s certainly better than the alternatives, and there are plenty of the other kind around."
Chernin certainly has the pedigree – and the means. The plan is to finance projects one at a time, and one backer already in the queue is Jonathan Nelson of Providence Equity Partners, a co-owner of MGM. In addition to his generous package from News Corp. on leaving last June, he is well connected – Hollywood and Philadelphia style.
Last year he became an adviser to Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO, as he navigated the path to acquiring NBC Universal. The two are already in business together, as investors in a Martha’s Vineyard restaurant.
In a keynote chat yesterday with Roberts at the annual US Cable Show, Chernin dodged inquiries about his future, quipping only, “I’m here to dispel any notion that I’m going to be a talk show host."
A recent rumor roiling the digital world is that Chernin is hatching a deal with Microsoft to develop an Xbox “TV” channel for young males. The suggested model adds a dollar or two to the monthly Xbox Live subscription fees for additional, original programming.
It will be interesting and instructive to watch the making of a new media empire, with an old school mogul turning new tricks, and a refreshed vision that straddles both analog, digital, and the white spaces in between. Back to the Future…redux?