After 20 years at NBC, Marty Yudkovitz has left the most profitable network for a riskier job in the new-media world.
Multichannel News national editor Steve Donohue spoke with Yudkovitz last week, just after he was named president of digital video recording service provider TiVo Inc., reporting to chairman and CEO Mike Ramsey.
MCN: NBC is a pretty stable company. Why make the switch?
The risk is what they hired me to do. There is this feeling in the rest of the TV industry and the advertising industry, to a certain degree, and the cable industry that we're like the worst-tasting poison pill you could imagine. And I'm the spoonful of sugar, along with the pill, to say, 'I know you think that. And maybe you've even had some good reasons to think that, maybe not. But I'm here to tell you it's a misconception, and there's way more upside for you than downside. We're not looking to hurt your industry. We're looking to help it.'
MCN: Do you think some networks would be relieved that one of their own is looking out for their interests?
Yudkovitz: I think that was what Mike Ramsey was thinking exactly. I have absolutely no interest in damaging the industry that I grew up in, that I love so dearly.
MCN: What's your first priority — working on deals with advertisers, or distribution deals with MSOs?
Clearly, I'm going to be talking to the programmers and the networks; clearly I'm going to be talking to the advertisers and the agencies and the sales groups at the networks.
Maybe some of my first calls will be in addition to the satellite industry. But the cable crowd will definitely be very high on the priority list. One, because I think that's where there's obviously huge economic upside for TiVo, and there's also a huge gap of understanding as to what TiVo can do for the cable MSO.
We're in the fairly later stages of the game here, and we don't want decisions made that are anti-TiVo, based on a lack of understanding or a misconception. So yeah, I want to take a big swing of the bat there. I'm going to camp out in some people's offices. I'm going to show up in their driveways on Saturday mornings. I'm going to try and get in front of not the engineering people, not the cable-system people, the strategic people and the top executive people.
MCN: A couple years back TiVo did a trial with AT&T Broadband — is there anything going on now with any cable operator?
We don't have any high-level commitments from any major operators. It's a tough sell, but here's my pitch to the cable crowd: The advertisers will clearly pay more money for this. For no investment at all, Mr. Cable Guy, you get a cut of this. Now, wouldn't you like to show up at your investors conference and say video-on-demand is doing well, but by the way, by upgrading our plant and including TiVo in it, we've got this new revenue stream we weren't even thinking about. It doesn't cost us anything. Why wouldn't you want to give that message?
MCN: Three or four years from now, do you see TiVo as a standalone business, or part of a bigger media player — maybe a cable or satellite company?
I see us as a standalone company, because one argument is that a cable operator would want us to be a standalone company because we're sort of Switzerland. We own no programming services, we are not in competition for subs, but we do supply the commonality of functionality that we can supply across all cable operators. So having us out there as a nonthreatening independent seems like a good idea.