Interview Date: December 2, 2014
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Keith Clinkscales, CEO of Revolt TV, describes the network as a music media platform using cable as a foundation. He explains the mission to not only talk about the music, but also the culture behind it with a particular focus on the Millennial generation. He explores in detail music as a business, and the different listening choices for fans. He discusses Sean Combs, his success as an entrepreneur and marketer as well as his phenomenal career as a musician. He talks about the network’s programming, Comcast and Time Warner’s foundation carriage, the differences between ESPN sports fans and music networks. Clinkscales comments extensively on making a film with Spike Lee and Kobe Bryant on ESPN as well as his work in content development. He explores the making of the film, “Chicago Love,” on Revolt, and its message of anti-violence. He concludes with thoughts about the current situation of the cable industry, its effect on Revolt, and suggestions for industry improvement.
SETH ARENSTEIN: This is Seth Arenstein. We’re here for the Cable Center Oral History Project. It’s December 2, 2014. we are here with the CEO of Revolt TV, Keith Clinkscales. Welcome, Keith. Good to see you again. I saw you in a different light when you were at ESPN for many years. I saw you at TCA recently. Tell us what is Revolt TV? What would I see if I turned it on? Where would I see it? Would I see it in New York, Chicago, where would I see it?
KEITH CLINKSCALES: What it is first and foremost is an extension of the vision that’s put forth by Sean Combs that enabled us to get the deal with Comcast originally. It is essentially at its core a music opportunity. It’s a music media platform that uses cable as a foundation, but we also work very hard to work across all platforms. We work hard to basically deliver music to music fans; to make sure that we’re able to talk about not just the music, but the culture behind it, the energy behind it, the connectivity of young people today, particularly to a Millennial audience.
ARENSTEIN: OK, you talked about culture. I know that’s one of your keynotes. Talk to me about culture in business, culture at Revolt.
CLINKSCALES: Well, I think the important thing when you’re establishing a media brand, a communications brand, is to find out what is the audience that you’re going after and what do they respond to. Young people, the Millennial audience—they are passionate about music. They feel music, they talk through terms of music. They communicate in different ways using that as their tableau. So to make sure you’re credible with that group, to make sure you’re authentic with that group, you’ve got to pay attention to the subtleties of culture. You’ve got to make sure you indoctrinate that culture into the media platform that you’re working with.
ARENSTEIN: And how do you do that?
CLINKSCALES: The biggest thing that you do, I think, is that you have to pay attention to them. Media has had a tendency over the years to speak to its audience and I think that’s OK except for nowadays we have the technological tools where the audience can speak to you. The audience can really go ahead and create their own media, their own voices. So if you are not going to listen to them or if you’re not going to incorporate their voices into your media, they’re going to turn you out. And this is unlike any other time in history and that mainly goes back to the power of the smartphones, the power of all the different devices that are out there that are really encouraging cable programmers that really have to re-think how they approach audiences. When you ask me, how do we do that, I think that’s thinking in the past, how do we do it? the thinking of the future is what are we paying attention to, who are we paying attention to, and how are we getting that information to make sure we create a better media platform.
ARENSTEIN: So again, what, if I turned on Revolt TV right now, what would I see?
CLINKSCALES: What you would see mainly, we have music video shows, we use that as a foundation to make sure we’re able to deal with different genres from hip-hop to alternative. We have a whole dance genre show; we’re able to do that. We have a new show. It comes on twice a day, three times a day with a repeat. That show is “Revolt Live.” It’s an hour, it has six segments, with an opening and theme music at the beginning. So we go ahead and make sure that we give a good wrap-up to the day in music. What is happening in music? You know, was Drake at the game last night? What is Kanye doing? Katy Perry is playing at the Super Bowl. We want to make sure we have all that discussion. People say, “Is there enough information to make a whole show out of what’s going on in the world of music?” And the answer is an emphatic “yes.” We’re able to do that. We have a morning show on that we did a deal with Clear Channel, and there’s a show called “The Breakfast Club” with three wonderful hosts, and it’s a four-hour show; we air three hours of it live and then we turn it on itself and do it again so it takes a good amount of the morning.
So basically when you come to a Revolt day, you’re plugged in instantaneously to what’s going on in music, what’s going on in culture and we stay dedicated to that.
ARENSTEIN: On ESPN, which is an entity that you’re very familiar with and we’ll get into that later, you watch ESPN and there’s a ticker at the bottom telling you the scores, telling you the news. Is there a ticker at the bottom of the Revolt screen?
CLINKSCALES: We use a little bit of that, but not as much because we’re still wrestling with how younger people feel about the tickers. We’ve had some quantitative and some qualitative evidence that suggest that popups are better because of the way the technology that they use, be it Twitter, be it Instagram, PopUp, so we’ve had a good amount of discussions with that. So we’ve used those. Also, sports kind of lends itself to the ticker format. Music does in a way with news bites but not with the sales of Rihanna’s album or maybe a countdown to Beyoncé or something like that. That’s what we do.
ARENSTEIN: You know, you just bring that up about sales. I mean, music is a business. is that part of the coverage at Revolt? Is that part of the thinking—who’s selling what or is that not part of it?
CLINKSCALES: It’s part of it. We do a music report. We do different things, look at the business of music. This is a fundamental change, a shift in what’s going on in music. This is one of the first years in 2014 where only one album went platinum and I believe it was Taylor Swift. So it’s unlike any other time. Now, music sales of product are down, but music consumption are at an all-time high between Pandora, Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, Grooveshark, on down the line you have more ways to consume music than ever before. You could be at a hotel or a bar and you hear a song and you hold down your Shazam button and Shazam will tell you what movie you came from and all kinds of different information that just wasn’t available before so it is an awesome time to be a music fan. You can get more music than ever before. The business model challenges…
ARENSTEIN: I’m glad you said it’s a good time to be a music fan.
CLINKSCALES: It’s a challenging model because we’ve gone from a time where people were playing physical goods—be they CDs or albums—then you moved to the download time and some time in that transition to download, music became kind of a commodity that could be traded over the Internet and things like that. That enabled the dreaded word “piracy” to enter the discussion. Now the reason why piracy is a challenging word is because for people who are older like me, yes, if we take music that we didn’t pay for or things like that and we kind of know better, that’s piracy. Before a twelve-year old kid, a thirteen-year old kid who happens to be good with computers and it’s there and they’re able to take it, they don’t see it as piracy, they don’t see it they’re stealing music. For most of their lives, music has been free. So as these different technologies come together, and people charge for it, you’re not really charging for the music, you’re charging for the ability to curate the music and get it to your different devices. So that’s the biggest transition.
So now downloads are starting to go down and streaming is starting to go up, but then you’re starting to hear voices from the artists: “Hey, we’re not getting any fair share of the streaming thing.” Somewhere in between what’s being made by the companies that do streaming and the managers that control some of the biggest artists in the world, you’re going to find some common ground. But the good news is that music being distributed, music getting out to different devices, I don’t think that’s going to go away.
ARENSTEIN: No, it’s not going to go away, but do you think it might change? I mean, we see Taylor Swift doing this whole thing and she’s upset with….
CLINKSCALES: Taylor Swift is a rarity. She’s like, you know, like in sports, you don’t have a lot of…
ARENSTEIN: That kind of marketing power.
CLINKSCALES: The Jordans, Peyton Manning types. LeBron James types. So in music, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé clearly they have that kind of impetus so when they express that something’s not right, it’s a bellwether to everybody to say, “Well, this has to be adjusted.” At the same time, it also helps to illuminate things. I didn’t realize how large Spotify’s audience was. I didn’t realize how well Pandora was doing. And there are subtle differences between both of their business models that affect the way artists make money. What is the future of publishing and artists’ rights and things like that? But all those things ride nicely on the back of technology. Also, for what we’re doing at Revolt, it’s a great time to be in that ecosystem because everybody else has music—well, you can’t do this with music and you can’t do that with music. Music is interesting. And music has a lot of energy behind it. It has business energy, it has performance energy, and there are very few things that happen. The next installment of “The Hunger Games” comes out and all the different songs that are in there. That all becomes news. We talked about the Super Bowl and who’s performing at the Super Bowl. That’s a big issue just generally in life where Beyoncé goes, whether she’s domestic or international. And then you have artists that come out of nowhere that because of the power of technology, they’re either able to develop regionally or they’re able to develop a digital audience that hadn’t been able to have before. It puts what we’re doing in a different light. It gives us the best chance to go ahead and talk to music fans.
ARENSTEIN: How many employees does Revolt have at this point?
CLINKSCALES: We have almost 130 fulltime and then probably another 70 that are in various forms of freelance and working part-time.
ARENSTEIN: And where are they based?
CLINKSCALES: The main office is in Los Angeles, our studio is in Los Angeles, in Hollywood and Highland, and that’s the corporate headquarters. I’m very pleased with this studio: state-of-the-art, we’ve been able to do a nice thing there and then we have production offices right across the street. Then we have an office in New York where we work mainly some production but mainly finance, affiliate sales and advertising.
ARENSTEIN: There we were talking about important music figures. There’s an important music figure behind Revolt…why don’t you talk about who that is, what he did, what his vision is for the channel and how intimately involved is Sean Combs?
CLINKSCALES: Sean Combs is a force. He’s somebody I met in my earliest days of being in the media business when I ran Vibe, going back to 1993. I’m very proud of one of the first major magazine features he ever got before he had his own company was in the inaugural issue of Vibe in September 1993. So we had had a relationship for some time. Consummate entrepreneur; he’s been able to go ahead and run a successful record company, develop a line of clothing and has won design awards from the CFDA in Sean John. He made one of the greatest deals going when he did a vodka deal with Diageo for Cîroc and took a vodka that was a moderate performer—I think is being kind for Diageo—and turned it into a category leader, something that has been extremely profitable, huge growth for them, and has just recently purchased another product in DeLeon Tequila. So Combs Wines and Spirits has turned into a very nice area and he also has a brand called Aqua Hydrate, which is a water brand. There’s just a number of different products he’s had. He was able to go ahead and have a discussion with Comcast after the merger with Universal/NBC to talk about basically opening up the airwaves and providing some more opportunity in a very hotly contested situation. A number of proposals were put in by a number of very formidable people. He put in a proposal and that proposal spoke about his vision of providing music to an audience and making sure that music did not go away on television. He spoke about—I think the thing for him, he was doing an album, one of his last albums called “Last Train to Paris.” And music was really beginning to change so he didn’t have the opportunities to go ahead and go on TRL on MTV and Gone and some of these different places because they had moved away from music shows. Where were artists going? They were going on “Dancing with the Stars” or they were going on “American Idol.” They had to go anywhere else but not to a place that dealt with music. So it was strange to him that there wasn’t a place to focus on music. I think it was his celebrity, his success as a producer—he’s a consummate—I kind of skipped over, but he’s been involved in over 200 million unit sales of records. If you stretch it to the whole family, you’re probably talking about 500 million of unit sales in terms of being a producer. Music is important and music’s been his life and music’s been the foundation, and music has been like the cultural cable system. That’s what it does. So his vision was to make sure that we covered music, and we covered all of it, and we covered all of it that was important to the audience that was making it work. And that audience is a Millennial audience.
ARENSTEIN: How much time does Sean Combs devote to the network?
CLINKSCALES: I think he’s smart enough to surround himself with some very good people in all these businesses and things like that but at the same time, it leaves him the kind of opportunity to weigh in where he’s best. He’s phenomenal in marketing. What he’s been able to do in social media and all these other types of technologies has also been extremely impressive. He’s great at launch strategy. When you’re trying to go ahead and get something known, he knows how to walk right up to the edge of things. He knows how to do thing that he just knows how to do. You have to be smart enough to get out of the way and let him be Puff Daddy. There are times you’re dealing with Puff Daddy, there’s times you’re dealing with Sean Combs, but when you’re dealing with Puff Daddy, you’re watching kind of marketing history in the making.
We launched a network. You’re always behind on something and we didn’t have a way to go hit the advertising marketplace a correct way and let them know what’s going on. We didn’t participate upfront—we didn’t have an upfront. We were just getting things going. So we went over to Cannes for the Lion situation and as you know, a number of advertising agencies and people who were working at businesses are there. He did a talk and talked about what he was trying to do with Revolt and we held a reception and that enabled us to go ahead and at least have a discussion with many of the major advertisers, people who were making the television buys and were doing different things and here’s what they were expecting on their digital and here’s how they expect these things to link, and it was a great start for us. It enabled us to go ahead and enter the game in such a way that quite frankly we wouldn’t be able to do it unless we had the power of his celebrity. That’s just something that has been a tremendous advantage.
From doing that we looked at the impressions. How many media impressions did we make from him going to France? And it was billions. That helped put us on the map, it helped get on the ad agencies, the Adweeks, the Wall Street Journal columns, all the columns that matter. The New York Times, on down the line, to make sure that we were recognized.
ARENSTEIN: What about carriage? Where is your carriage today, where would you like it to be? Well, I know where you’d like it to be.
CLINKSCALES: I might need some Ciroc for that question. Our foundation carriage is with Comcast and Comcast gave us a very good foundation deal, helped put us in a number of different homes, and that was the foundation of what we got started. Then we were able to go ahead and get Time Warner. And Time Warner was substantial for a number of reasons. One, if you look at the Comcast footprint and the Time Warner footprint, those two combined, you’re covering most of the major cities in the country, in terms of the cities. So the other thing that Time Warner did was when they did the deal with us—the Comcast deal was perceived in the marketplace as that was something they had to do—so yes, it’s nice, I’m glad you have a network but that’s what it is. Time Warner’s deal came in and it affirmed that—Time Warner had no proverbial gun to its head, there was no reason that they did it—Time Warner, Jeff Hirsch, Melinda, they felt strongly they wanted to reach a new and growing audience. They took it a step further. Not only did they make a deal with us but then, as they were going ahead and doing marketing and promotion for what they were doing with Time Warner, they used Sean in the advertisements and the marketing.
It’s one thing to say you work for Revolt. It’s a whole other thing to be at a Super Bowl and to see Revolt on the air at the Super Bowl. And that really helped to get us going. So at that point, you have Comcast, you have Time Warner, so you have the foundation. And that foundation was a great foundation. Then we’ve been able to go out and get Verizon, which we’re very happy about, and Suddenlink, and then we’ve had some discussions with some other key players that are in the NCTC and we’ll begin to grow from there. Then we’ll keep talking to our other colleagues. We have two things with Time Warner and with Comcast. We have some background, we have some ways that other carriers can see, wow, this is what these guys can do for them. We have the energy that we bring to it and that’s helped us in our discussion. So the discussions that were kind of frosty at the beginning have started to warm up now.
Across the whole industry, things are—slow might not be the right word, but a little gummy because people are waiting to see what’s going to happen with these mergers and acquisitions. You have the Comcast/Time Warner situation which seems to be going along fine, but still people have to wait and then you have the AT&T/DirecTV situation, which again, you’ll end up after it’s all shaken out, you’ll end up with two huge pillars in the whole communications marketplace and how that affects deals is something that everybody is looking to see. I think the main thing that both of these groups are explaining to the government and explaining to everybody who will listen and a lot of people are listening, is that this level of consolidation will not restrict independent voices, will not restrict the development and innovation among voices coming up. As a matter of fact because we are able to save costs and be more efficient, it will improve that. That is what we’re hoping for and that’s what we’re working for so the thing that we have to do as a network is do what Sean said from the beginning: “Work very hard but pay attention to these young fans.” He has a way of saying that “the truth will set you free.” And the truth, when it comes to music and when it comes to culture, is that the young people, they speak the truth. You may not always like it but you’ve got to find ways to make sure you’re always dealing with them.
ARENSTEIN: So tell me how do you do that? How do you listen? What specifically do you do to listen to the people who are watching Revolt or the people you’d like to have watch Revolt?
CLINKSCALES: I think a lot of the discussions we’ve had at the beginning of what we want Revolt to be—we’ve talked a lot about CNN, we’ve talked a lot about ESPN. We didn’t talk a lot about MTV. Not out of disrespect or anything else like that but because the times are different. There is a different way people consume information now. The thing that struck me most about my time at ESPN was just that everybody who worked there was passionate about sports. Most had at least two sports they were nutso about and some had more than that. But the main thing about it was their ability to really link into that energy and use that energy in every decision that they’re making. What are you trying to do at the end of the day? You’re trying to serve the fan better.
In sports, you have leagues. Leagues serve the athletes and the marketers, and then the fans are served by ESPN. In music, it’s kind of different because there’s not leagues. You have some artists that, like we talked about the Beyoncés and the Taylor Swifts, things like that, that are juggernauts. But by and large you have a sea of parties that, while they have good work, sometimes they don’t have anybody speaking for them, they don’t have a way to go ahead and speak up. It was Sean’s vision to make sure that Revolt could be a soapbox for the artist, to have the ability at anytime, for them to be able to use their phones and their technologies to break in live to the studio. With the proper seven-second delay…
But to be able to let people know this is what we’re working on, here’s who we’re in the studio with, this is what’s coming. The overall vision and the technological infrastructure we put in place is put in place to make sure that’s what we have. So when you ask how do we make sure that we do that, you’ve got to be urgent and to be urgent, your tools, whatever we use to broadcast or put things together, has to be as powerful and interfaced with the tools of the day. With Twitter, with Instagram, with the things that are from Facebook and all the things that are coming. And there are wonderful things that are still coming. So that energy has to be there.
Gone are the days we’re going to put this on TV and we’re going to put this on the Internet. We’re making content. At different times through research and things like that, we’ll find, well, you know this works better, this might be the link that works better on the Web, this works better on the phones. All these things come up. But they shape the marketing process. They shape the process that you use to tell people to go watch things. At the foundation of it, you just want to make good stuff.
ARENSTEIN: You know that’s interesting that you say that because you are, unlike a lot of executives, you’re a contact creator at heart. I mean, you have a magazine, you’re a writer. Tell me how that works and how that you think helps you as an executive.
CLINKSCALES: I’ve been blessed. For most of my media career, I’ve been an entrepreneur so when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to do things that you might not even be equipped to do but you learn how to do them and you either get equipped or you don’t make it, so I got exposed to journalism that way.
During my time at ESPN—I came there at just a wonderful time to be able to go ahead, we made some films, I got to make a film with Spike Lee about Kobe Bryant. I had never made a film before or produced a film before and working with Spike was a kind of indoctrination by fire. But the beauty of it was you could see this man had a clear vision for what he wanted. He went ahead and got a director of photography that he liked, he got the sound guys that he liked, and we went through the logistics of this film where he was going to go ahead and put seventeen cameras into the Staples Center and follow Kobe, just Kobe for a game. Now mind you, when ESPN produces a game, there’s normally about fifteen cameras on the floor and another couple of cameras that are league approved in the locker rooms and things like that. So there’s no shortage of cameras. For this one game, there was upwards of thirty-five cameras, half of them on Kobe, the other half covering the game action and there was some Kobe in there, but it was all mixed together to make this film. And Spike was carrying his own handheld camera and he gets certain shots because he had access. So this process of watching how this film gets made and what we learned from it. We went to Kobe’s house, we were going to start at Kobe’s house, this is what the beauty of ESPN guys: they we’re like, well, we had a pre-production call and we talked with them about, well, we are going to start at Kobe’s house and one of the guys who is a longtime producer of NBA basketball said, “Are you sure he’s going to let you start at his house?” And we’re like, “Yes, of course. We’re all good.” But he knew enough about dealing with these guys to know that might not work so of course, we get to the house that morning, that’s not what’s going to happen. But we adjusted and his management adjusted with us and we picked it up from right when he arrived at the Staples Center and went through his rituals and getting taped and all the different things—he went all the way through the game and it was a game against the Spurs. So it was Tim Duncan and that whole crew. The Lakers were on a good run and actually they had beat them. We got great shots and he gave us a money shot; he didn’t have a great game. He hit about twenty. He was off, but you got everything that you wanted and he stole the ball and made it three at the end of the third. That kind of was a capstone action moment.
So when you look at the film, after—this is Spike Lee, right? After you looked at the film, it was OK but you kind of needed something, you know? The film that Spike had modeled this after was a film about a soccer player named Zidane, which basically was Zidane for ninety minutes of him at a soccer match. It worked, but it didn’t work, it worked but it didn’t work. So Spike was mature enough to say, “You know what? I need to get Kobe to give us a voiceover.” This was the luck of these things. Spike catches Kobe after he had come to New York and torched the Knicks for fifty-five points. He lit the Knicks up fifty-five, so when Spike got with Kobe after this game, Kobe was especially gregarious. Spike was showing him the film and Kobe was writing the background to it and it was an open and engaging conversation that really helped to make that film. From that process, I learned a lot and that’s the blessing of ESPN. There’s a lot of things you can learn about making films but there is nothing like an experience like that that would not have happened if it wasn’t for all the factors they were able to bring. For me personally, ESPN was probably one of the best things in my life in terms of learning how to make content, learn how to make television, learning what works, what doesn’t work, learning the difference between live television and then making it for film and all the different areas of it. And also technology. Now, how do you go ahead and take the content that you make and start moving it across the Web and making it ready for devices and thinking about the future. So that experience with Kobe led us to do some
other films and then ultimately we got to the point where we were coming up on the thirtieth anniversary of ESPN.
ARENSTEIN: Glad you mentioned that because I was about to. This is one of my favorite franchises by the way, and I know you were behind it.
CLINKSCALES: Again, this is about being fortunate. I was put over in the content development area, which handled making films and making new shows. I got to work on the development of shows like “E:60,” I got to work on “SportsNation”—the development of shows like “SportsNation,” and a number of different—there was a famous or infamous decision that LeBron James made and that was on national television.
ARENSTEIN: Yes, yes.
CLINKSCALES: I got to be a part of that. I got to learn about the hard side of news. Sports news is news. Make no mistake. They are very serious about what they do and they don’t like things to be messed with. I learned all those things but the “30 for 30” situation came from—there was a memo, and email that Bill Simmons had written, that spoke about there needs to be a better series of documentaries. He was passionate about it and Bill’s history with ESPN is legend. He’s a great writer and somebody who is extremely creative when it comes to sports and so we were able all to get together and come up with a way to attack this. The “30 for 30” was born out of trying to make sure we had something to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of ESPN, something that looked at sports stories that occurred from 1979 forward. That’s why all the great stories of Muhammad Ali, we had to pick one that happened later in his career; I think it was 1980. Him and I think it was Larry Holmes. We had to pick that one because that was post-1979 so that’s why Clemente is not in the “30 for 30.” That’s why there were other things there because we had to move forward from 1979 because that was what we were trying to commemorate. And then, throughout the whole process, people who were creators—once we got a couple of folks—there were some brand names: Barry Levinson, Peter Berg, people that came forward and worked with the rules of engagement that we were approaching it with. Our goal was to make sure that we gave them an opportunity to do their passion projects. Peter Berg, great director and actor, consummate filmmaker, he had a passion for Gretzky. And he wanted to tell the story of the greatest trade ever, you know, Gretzky from Edmonton to L.A. and all the things that happened along with it. And he had access.
So what we looked for in doing a “30 for 30” was three things: one was an idea, a great idea. Two was access, access to the subjects that are necessary to tell the story. That’s not as easy as people make it seem. You’ve got to have the access. And three was having either through the filmmaker, or a collection of people supporting the filmmaker, the technical dexterity and the moxie to pull it off. I think for the most part for all those story films, we got it right, I would say, probably about 70% of the time.
ARENSTEIN: I was going to say higher than that, but OK.
CLINKSCALES: I mean, by the standards that we put forth. And I think there were some films that were flawed but even though they were flawed, their flaws have become kind of part of the beauty of them. I think the film on Ricky Williams, I think the filmmaker would acknowledge it was a flawed film, not from his work but from all the things we had to do to get it. But when you see it—and they were educational. The film that Mike Tollin did on the USFL. It was an education in sports business. There’s a film by Brett Morgen that—of the series, his film was kind of underplayed but it was June 17, 1994, which talked about—it was a strange day in the world of sports, but it showed everything that was going on that day with the biggest thing being the chase by the police of O.J. Simpson in the white Bronco after being accused of a terrible crime. But that film also showed Arnold Palmer—I think it was his last day at Oakmont or wherever he was. The other thing that happened that day was the Knicks went up 3-2 on the Houston Rockets in the NBA finals. So they were up; they’d just won the biggest game since the 70s for the Knicks so when NBC and all the journalists were coming into the locker room at the time, everybody wants to talk about O.J. And all these players—Ewing and Oakley and guys like that—they were visibly upset because they were playing a game when all this stuff was going on. They don’t know any of it. It was just really a moment.
So that film—I think the series did a great job of taking things in sports, it wasn’t from the field center, it was from outside and filmmakers told great stories. I was very proud to be a part of that, worked with a great crew of folks and Connor Schell and John Dahl, they were very bright guys that worked hard to make sure we got stuff. We argued and haggled and pushed and pushed and pushed things back and forth and more often than not, I think we got good stories. And they were all so passionate. That’s the biggest thing about doing great content. You’ve got to have people that are passionate. When you talk to John Dahl about why something should be edited in a certain way, he was passionate. When you talked to Connor Schell, Connor was a lot more reserved, a lot more cerebral about things, but he would present things in such a way where you would really understand them. This is why this director should make this film and this is why we should let them do this.
We dealt with some very highly charged topics. Some racial topics. When they brought me “The U,” the University of Miami, it was a Hurricane film, about the Hurricanes, and I was concerned about the filmmakers. They were two young white guys who had gone to the University of Miami, but they were young and what did they know about “The U?” But these guys had produced “Cocaine Cowboys,” they were Miami—they had it in their blood and they did an awesome job. They captured the culture, they captured everything and they didn’t pander to it. They did a great job and they dealt with some very sensitive topics that they came up with—the Hurricanes—but in such a way that helped bring it to life. They were awarded for that because they went on to make two other films…
ARENSTEIN: They’re making “The U Part 2” right now, which takes you from the next set of champions.
CLINKSCALES: Through this process, I got to meet some great filmmakers and work on things and be able to see some of the subtleties in the editing and really learn a craft. So over my career, I’ve made more than forty-something films. Since I’ve left ESPN, I’ve made about four or five films mainly because of the foundation of the experience that I got there.
ARENSTEIN: So it begs the question, are you going to do films, are you going to do small documentaries like that at Revolt?
CLINKSCALES: We’re doing them already. We did one on Ferguson that was more of a news special that we added a round table element to it. Again, moving quicker because of the way the audience moves. And then we did one that was inspired by Sean Combs. So we were sitting at his home in Florida and talking about what was going on this summer in Chicago. This was right after a number had been announced for that weekend—the number of the people that had been shot was 71. You know, it struck a chord with him, it struck a chord with all of us because it’s like, OK. There’s no other place in the world—and certainly no other place in America—where 71 kids, people under twenty years of age, can be shot or killed and it not be a National Guard situation. You couldn’t go up in Westchester, New York, and have 71 kids die in a weekend. You could have had ten kids die in a weekend without it being a situation where folks were coming in. So what inoculated Chicago, what did that, we wanted to know. So we went in to Chicago and we met with community leaders, we met with artists that came out of Chicago, we met with people who were active in the anti-violent movement, we were able to speak to police and other people who were dealing with different areas and why does this occur. We were able to make a documentary called “Chicago Love,” that talks about what’s happening. But what I liked about it for what we were doing was that we tied it to a good amount of this violence has occurred through Twitter sniping. Different groups that would go ahead and say, “Well, we’re all this.” And they would say it on Twitter and then the other guys would see that and they would come back and so you’re starting to kind of see the dark side of some of the braggadocio and things like that left unchecked that resulted in tangible deaths. One kid says something and a couple weeks later, the kid is dead and the guys that did it or guys that are claiming they did it are taking credit for it. So you got to see some things in that that were disturbing. But it was tied to the culture. You cannot love the culture and say, “Oh, yeah, everything is good.” You’ve got to be able to deal with the warts and all and try to find the best way to present it so it can correct.
So long-winded answer, but yes, we look forward to doing different films and things like that.
ARENSTEIN: And not necessarily directly having to do with music, obviously.
CLINKSCALES: No, because the beauty of music is the soundtrack to life. There are very few things that happen where music doesn’t have some kind of tie to either to provide emotion or to go ahead and provide context. You remember the songs you heard when crazy things were going on or movies that you’ve seen. I remember when the tragedy occurred in Boston, with the Boston Marathon bombing, the alleged perpetrators, one of the first things that they did was they pulled their iTunes. What are they listening to? What’s on their playlist? Where did they get some of these ideas from? Then it kind of comes full circle when they took one of the guys, they put him on the cover of “Rolling Stone,” and he looked like a cool rock star. There was some criticism that maybe he was being glorified for what it was. Regardless of what the situation was, it is clear that music is the substream which a lot of young people see things. They’re able to get into different things. You go back to the Clinton years. What he did with MTV and having the town halls to reach the audience, the whole rock and roll situation. That helped to energize an audience that put him into office. That is harder to do today although Obama has done a great job. But when you get to 2016, it’s going to be even harder to do. And I assure you, just like with President Obama and on down the line, and President Clinton, music will play a part in it.
ARENSTEIN: Let me segue from there, Keith, to your time at ESPN and a then a little bit about the cable industry and what you see going forward. Let’s talk about the cable industry first, actually. You’ve been in the cable industry, you started on the magazine side with ESPN: The Magazine, but then you went into the video side as you said. A lot of people are saying a lot of things about cable at this point in 2014. What are the big issues for you as the CEO of Revolt and then should it generally—what do you see ahead for cable?
CLINKSCALES: It’s easy to pick on cable because it’s big and it’s too expensive and it’s too this, but again, pound for pound, the cable value—what a consumer gets when you buy a cable package—is pretty good value. You get the channels, you get the opportunity to do different things, you get the mixture and it’s the mixture that allows you to go ahead and bring some things to you that haven’t happened. I think the cable business has to do a better job of policing the wars, so to speak. When Time Warner and CBS are going at it, or when ABC is going at it with Cablevision, because at the end you always wait for one big event. With that you are waiting for, I think it was the Oscars or something like that.
ARENSTEIN: Or the Super Bowl and you black out or you have the threat of a black out.
CLINKSCALES: It doesn’t work with a lot of things, but it works with—there are a couple of things it definitely works with. So that’s how the industry is based on. And then you go ahead before these deadlines and it works. But at the end of the day it causes consumers problems and I think that’s got to change.
The cost is constantly going to be an issue. It’s hard to make consumers understand why the prices have to go up and you can’t buy just what you want. Now, being in the business, you understand you kind of need all those channels there to keep the whole thing moving, but the packaging and how they’re being put together in the age that we are in now has to be looked at. Also the Aereo experiment did not completely work but there are some things about that—Netflix, what you’re seeing with Amazon, all the different over-the-top technologies—that’s not going away. So the cable business has done a good job of being flexible but I think they have to become leaders in this area. They’ve got to be confident enough that their delivery system is efficient and convenient. However, as more and more things come along, it might just be better for certain people and their lifestyles to go ahead and do it. I have young people who work for me who don’t have cable. They don’t plan on getting it. It’s not like, oh, gee, if you just paid me more, I could get cable. It’s like, you know, I have this, I have that, and this is what I watch. And they have their shows that they watch and then, what do you do about sports? I get together with the guys and we go down to the bar and we have a good time. They have different oases to go into different situations. I think the industry has got to pay a little bit more attention to younger people.
When I came out of college, the most important thing to me when I got my first apartment was before I got power, I got cable. It was the most important thing I had to have. I had to have cable. I had MTV and HBO; I had to have it. That urgency with younger people is not there. It’s there very much with adults and things like that so they can make sure they see their things, but it’s just not there with younger people and I think the cable business has had to work hard to make sure that they reach that group. And they’re hard to reach. You asked me three questions on how you reach them. The painful answer is, you don’t know. You pay attention to the cues that you know they pay attention to, but when people come and say they’re a guru at reaching young people, anybody who’s dealt with young people, you’re like, OK. You just can’t understand why some of this stuff works and why some of it doesn’t.
ARENSTEIN: Your legacy, Keith. You’re too young to be talking about your legacy but what would you like your legacy to be in this industry?
CLINKSCALES: I would just like to be passionate about culture; I’ve been blessed to work in entertainment and sports. These are two areas that reach a lot of people, people have a lot of opinions about them but you’re able to go ahead and deal in these businesses because you have to pay attention to people’s passions. I think that’s been a blessing. Throughout all that, there’s different times where real life intrudes and you’re able to really cover some things. So I think being able to grow up in media and be able to touch all of it, I feel very blessed with that. But also, at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity. I think the biggest thing that cable does is that it provides opportunity. There’s a lot of opportunity in cable. There’s a lot of folks that—years ago, putting movies on cable, that’s not what cable’s for. Cable’s for whatever. The audacity—cable is audacious, you know. The more it works with new technologies—you can’t be in cable nowadays and not know about new technology. If you look at “Breaking Bad;” so “Breaking Bad” was a show kind of like a cult show when it came along, but this is like the ball going through Buckner’s legs. Everybody was there. And everybody wasn’t there at the beginning of “Breaking Bad.” It was kind of weird type of thing. But due to Netflix and other things like that, where people can kind of go back and catch up with it, it kind of empowered the show. And people talking about it on Twitter. People just going, this is Heisenberg and all different things like that. That type of thing couldn’t happen seven years ago. So now when you make shows, “Mad Men,” “Walking Dead,” on down the line, you’re making them with a different mindset because you have to go ahead and think about how is this going to play digitally? I love, love “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. I could not tell you—I know it’s on Comedy Central, I could barely tell you what time it comes on. Because I’ve never watched a whole show. I watch the eight minutes or six minutes that go up, then someone links to it, they send me a link or they send me a Tweet or I see it on Facebook, but if somebody asks me, “What is one of your favorite shows?” One of my favorite shows is “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. A show that I’ve never seen. Maybe once or twice, but 95% of the time that I’m watching that show, I’m watching it on a device or in-between something and I consider myself a big fan. That type of mentality is what a lot of younger people are going through and I think the business has to do that so in terms of legacy, I think it’s got to be I can play the positions, I can play the content position, I can play the marketing position, I’ve done some wonderful things with advertising and I’ve been able to do some great deals. So I think being able to play the wonderful space is there.
For Revolt in particular, cable is challenging. It’s kind of like when your family or you dad gives you a car for your sixteenth birthday and you’re like, yeah, Dad, but it’s not a Porsche. You can’t be ungrateful for the car that they give you. You’ve got to take the car and drive it and then one day you’ll get…and that’s kind of what’s happening now. Comcast has given us a car and they called their buddy at Time Warner and their buddy at Time Warner gave us a nice set of wheels and things like that. We’re pleased. However, to really make it in today’s world, you’ve got to have more distribution because our advertising friends, who have jobs—they’re not giving money away for free—they have a job and their job is to make sure you provide advertising dollars to content producers that meet certain thresholds. Those thresholds generally come down to how many homes are you reaching. So we’re kind of in a rock and a hard place because we’re going to the advertisers and saying, “Listen, we have beachfront property here and we’re going to be hot and you know we’re going to be hot and if you’re not in with us now when one of your competitors or somebody else uses us, it’s going to be a situation.”
ARENSTEIN: It’s going to cost you a lot more later.
CLINKSCALES: And it’s also going to cost you more later. At the same time it could cost you the account if we do something with Brand A and Brand B had an opportunity to do it, and didn’t come up with a way to deal with it, those are the kind of things you have to come up with. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to distribution. Now one of the challenges I have, like now I’m running Revolt, and I see sports—so for most of my time at ESPN, I dealt with distribution, affiliate, but not as a job. Kind of like I would go with the affiliate guys and I would learn what they do and I saw different things and every now and then I provide them content. I could not understand for the life of me, why does it take so long to do one of these deals? The deals are, you know, five to seven years, sometimes longer. Then from being in the perspective of I’m in now, now I see it. Now I also see a lot of the deals that my old colleagues at ESPN were making. They’d take a lot of chips off the table so it is difficult for a cable operator to say, “OK, well, Keith, we love this, but we’ve got to make sure we have some room because Turner bought the NCAA tournament and they’re going to ask for a little bit and different networks are coming up—either regional or national.” Then out of nowhere here comes the SEC network and at ESPN you have to have this network, especially when you’re talking about certain states in the Southern area. But everybody has a connection to the SEC nationwide, from Oregon all the way down to Florida. It makes it difficult so now you have to say, now I have a different mental view of sports. I love sports but at the same time, the challenge of what it’s doing to the industry in terms of available programming dollars, is a challenge. It’s a challenge. Flip side: it brings a tremendous amount all the way around.
ARENSTEIN: Keith, I think we’re out of time…