5 Questions with @jessalbert…Ramble

It was in Santa Monica a few years ago I first hung out with the dynamic ‘ginger’ that is Jesse Albert. He is smart, focused and cuts right through the spindoctor spiel to find out how to make deals happen. This is a noble quality in business and in life.

Location: Hollywood
Vocation: Producer/Consultant All Media Platforms
Sign: Libra

1)  In the last year you left a talent agency to embrace your digital entrepreneur? What are some of the lessons you learned and what are the advantages of working for yourself?

Yes, I did leave ICM where I was a new media and branded entertainment agent.  At the risk of sounding like the bitter ex-employee, the biggest realization for me was that talent agencies are not the place for new media or branded entertainment practitioners.  As an industry we went thru an exploration of talent agencies getting involved in new media around 2001-2002 and it didn’t work then either and while there is more opportunity now, I don’t think agencies are committed enough to supporting either medium in a way where they can have a meaningful impact.  I get that it’s sexy for a talent agency to represent a large brand, but most agencies tend not to have the necessary strategic capability or patience to understand and provide uniquely tangible benefits to brands.  There’s simply not enough revenue from digital in the deals to warrant the necessary expenditure by agencies to cover the new media space.  Never mind the constant and ongoing perception that digital media is cannibalizing traditional media.

Talent agencies have a core expertise that they do very, very well and if 97% of entertainment revenues are derived from traditional media then that seems like the obvious place for a talent agency to concentrate their efforts.  On a personal level however, I’ve been working in digital media since the mid ’90’s. I’m not interested in being in an environment where I feel like I’m pushing the boulder up the mountain every day just to get people to understand what I do.

Back in 1998 everyone was likening the internet to the wild wild west and here we are today and I often hear that phrase repeated.  The reality is that we’re now in a state of perpetual beta which is a great opportunity and a fun place to be.  I think that we’re at a cross roads in how consumers consume their media and creators and distributors monetize it. Working outside of an agency, I love being free to engage in the exploratory process, looking at and testing new financial models, developing or producing a variety of types of content and expanding upon distribution formulas to incorporate a more global footprint.

Given my new-found freedom, I get to do whatever I want and whatever interests me which is fantastic.

I love strategically connecting businesses and/or teaching them how to interact with one another. I’m starting to like more of what I’m seeing in the high end “web” content space. I’ve found a couple of properties recently that appeal to me which I’ve been able to help develop and sell and to explore different financial models that include foreign distribution, home entertainment, television licenses and of course web advertising and/or brand sponsorship.  Some of the work being done on the web is more akin to filmmaking with the only difference being the overall financial investment and how distribution is windowed.  I think that audiences, a vast number of whom are now consuming content online, are hungering for types of content that they’re not finding in traditional media.

I’ve also been an early evangelist of transmedia or cross-platform development. I think it has huge ramifications both strategically and financially for Hollywood and it’s something that I’ve become passionate about over the last several years, especially as I’ve been fortunate to work with and represent many of the thought leaders in the space such as Starlight Runner in NY and Hoodlum out of Australia.  I’ve been able to take those relationships and expand upon them both in entertainment, but also explore the concepts in branded entertainment and even advertising. Randomly, that interest has also led to being tangentially involved in some very early stage research in developing strategies for usage of digital technologies in new theme parks, and how to extend an IP, mythos or experience into new platforms both within and without the park.

2)   You tweeted about scaring Movie Studios with digital tactics that involve the word “free.” How do you think traditional companies evolve past seeing free as a bad word?

That’s a probably a question better suited for Matt Mason who wrote The Pirate’s Dilemma (Available for free download  which I highly recommend).  There’s a lot of dialogue happening right now about free, IP theft, and net neutrality. And sadly I think most of the entities with a vested interest be they studios or unions are taking an antiquated approach. I did mention some ideas to a studio division that will remain nameless, how they might take advantage of what’s happening.  Needless to say, I was pretty much greeted with blank stares.

I love some of the stuff that Gavin McGarry at Jumpwire is doing with peer-to-peer for instance where you can measure interest and geo target it to such a high degree that you could anticipate and stock retail according to corollaries in online traffic.  And by looking at what’s being downloaded via P2P of “your” content, you can start to anticipate audience interest and buying intent not just by-product, but also again by location.  Rather than fear what’s happening, let’s turn the tables and use this information to better focus our efforts.

3) In the last couple of years Comic-Con has attracted more Hollywood Big Names. What was your impression of events this year and what was your personal highlight?

This year was a personal low light actually.  I used to love walking the floor,reading the books andmeeting the creators, but now the floor, the parties and events feel very overrun by Hollywood and certainly some of the attitudes that I was happy to escape from. I also found a lot of the show programming to have nothing to do with comic books.

4)  You are very vocal about social issues. What is the most important issue people should be aware of that will affect them but in general seem to be paying very little attention to?

Where does one begin, lol!  I tend to be quite outspoken and maybe having kids reinforces the need to be so.  I blog, tweet, donate and write letters to editors about everything, but right now, the role of corporate money in politics is becoming of paramount importance because the voice of the people has been lost in almost every issue from net neutrality, to our environment, to pretty much every regulatory effort to protect the rights and needs of you and I. Or perhaps it’s the negative influence of Rupert Murdoch.  Pick one.

5)  As a father your kids are growing up with a digital profile from birth. How do you guide them when it comes to Internet and what have you learned from watching them use it?

My eldest son Sean is 7.  I’ve been very hands off in terms of influencing what he can and can not do.  I love watching the discovery process thru his eyes and so try not to guide him too much in any direction.  I gave he and his younger brother Brendan (4) a used iMac very early on and have allowed them to discover on their own starting with playing games to rudimentary surfing and a lot of search by Sean as he learns to spell. My eldest will now see a commercial when they’re watching Clone Wars and go to his computer to enter the URL, or he goes to Google or Amazon to look up light sabers or robots or toys.  He’s amazed that the computer knows what he wants all the time!  So he’s becoming more savvy and identifying the power of the internet if not necessarily understanding the actual process.  It’s fascinating to watch.  I’m not terribly worried at this point given the type of interactions they’re having on the computer.  At worst, there may be a lack of privacy with regard to ad networks and cookies, but they have no credit cards or real personally identifying information that can be abused.

When they start to venture into other forms of social media and network destinations, or have phones or cameras I’ll have to worry and start being more hands on and protective.  For now it’s really fascinating to watch how children learn and teach themselves.


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