Visit Date: October 15, 2003
Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship (CPEE): What does it take to be a successful media entrepreneur in this environment?
Simmons: Today, the media environment appears to be
driven so much by technology, access to distribution, and how
to build a brand. Looking back to where I came from, I will use
Turner Broadcasting as an example. Ted was a great entrepreneur
because he had a vision of ownership of content. At that point,
content was still available to buy, and content became what we
all love and see today. The challenge was this: can you own
content, repackage it, and build it? Entrepreneurs like Ted
Turner and Rupert Murdoch were successful through the ownership
of content. Then they partnered with a company like Comcast
for cable distribution.
CPEE: Do you think that the media market is fundamentally different in Europe? Are there opportunities in Europe that no longer exist in the U.S.?
Simmons: Europe has its own set of opportunities and challenges.
There are different regulatory issues, different government involvement
and ownership. The government often still owns the largest television
station, and they are much more advanced from a technology perspective
(wireless technology, for example). I think for a business to be
successful-either in the U.S. or in Europe-it comes down to having
really interesting content, awesome execution capabilities, and
partnering with distribution providers. Unfortunately, in Europe
the concentration of ownership is a big challenge that people
are dealing with.
CPEE: Do you believe a media entrepreneur like Ted Turner could emerge in today's climate?
Simmons: If Ted Turner was just starting out today,
it would be hard to say that he would not be successful. But
if someone like Ted emerged today and said he was going to
acquire content (which is what he built his company on), he
just couldn't buy it. Now, there are pockets of content you
could acquire if you are willing to overpay. But, when Ted
was doing it, the content was readily available. Today,
it's nearly impossible to get a channel launched because
you can't get enough cable support. The question then
becomes, if he couldn't buy content and distribution, what
would the new Ted Turner emerge with? The new entrepreneur
today would be more dependent on technology and would create
a new form of content-not the classic form. However, it is
going to be hard to find those individuals because the
industry has consolidated.
CPEE: What are your thoughts on Video on Demand (VoD)?
Simmons: Video on Demand is right around the corner. The ease of use and convenience factors will ultimately make this business successful. What most people don't pay attention to is the technology entrepreneur that has helped facilitate VoD. I'm a user and big believer - but keep it simple. A few weeks ago, while in the car on the phone, I talked my 8 year old (who was at home) through choosing and starting a VOD - in less than 3 minutes and no frustration she had Goonies on the screen for $2.95. Now, that's how it should work.
CPEE: Do you feel that entrepreneurs are born, not grown?
Simmons: I wouldn't call myself an entrepreneur. I would
say that I have enjoyed working for and with entrepreneurs. I think
of an entrepreneur as the creator of a business, the visionary. I don't
think of myself that way. I think that is a unique individual who is so
special and, by the way, not able to do everything him or herself. So,
for me, it is more about going to work for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial
companies. Hopefully, one will be able to work within a small team of
managers to take a particular concept and grow it in important and interesting ways.