Savvy Seacrest To Add A Cable Channel To His Empire
Ryan Seacrest’s resume already includes TV host, radio personality, series producer and brand ambassador. Next, he’ll add cable channel owner.
Seacest is in the initial talks to launch a new channel, tentatively named AXS, in collaboration with talent agency CAA and entertainment company AEG. The business venture, which was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, will pull content from AEG’s concert and live venue assets. Our sources tell us the network won’t position Seacrest in the way that the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will Winfrey, but rather will leverage both his experience and connections. Though a Seacrest spokesperson declined to comment, my colleague Chris Helman has many of the exclusive details straight from AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke’s mouth.
Though there are obvious challenges to launching a cable network, the most significant of which is distribution (see Epix’s struggles), news of Seacrest’s involvement shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has charted the 35-year-old’s meteoric rise. Sure, he lacks the traditional Hollywood skill set that catapults a Johnny Depp to no. 1 at the box office or a Lady Gaga to the top of the music charts. But as we wrote in our June profile, “The Man Without A Shtick, Seacrest is more than just the hardest working man in Hollywood; he is also one of the savviest.
And for that matter, one of the more ambitious. “The plan,” he told me during a visit to his office this spring, “is to build something that doesn’t require me to stand there and do it.” (In typical Seacrest fashion, a cable venture is one of many projects he has in the works — and a reason both his $51 million fortune and his spot at No. 44 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list are expected to rise next year. )
But what will the man best known for his American Idol duties really bring to the table?
Massive Marketing Muscle
When Idol is in season, Seacrest has a staggering 35 hours of weekly airtime to connect –and shill– to his audience. Factor in other mediums like Twitter (3.6 followers) and Facebook (242k fans), and the Seacrest brand reaches some 84 million people a week. What’s more, he knows how to leverage his many projects, be them series (E!’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians franchise, ABC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution), endorsement deals or a potential cable network, across each of those platforms. Take Microsoft, among the latest blue-chip companies to get into the Ryan Seacrest business. For an estimated $2 million a year, Seacrest makes sure the company’s year-old search engine, Bing, is everywhere he is: on his radio show (logos on the microphones); website (displayed on every video); and twitter feed (mentioned in tweets). He’s done much the same with the Kardashian shows, promoting their latest episodes on his Twitter feed, interviewing their stars on his radio show and discussing their various plot points on his E! News show.
A Finger on the Pulse
He lives and breathes pop culture — and he’s as much a curator as he is a lover of it. It’s how his E! show became a go-to destination to debut music videos and his radio show a must-stop on the movie star circuit. It’s also the reason he recognized –and heavily promoted– Justin Bieber’s star quality early on and deserves much of the credit for the phenomenon that is the Kardashian family. (Earlier this week, E! announced another installment of the top-rated Seacrest-produced franchise, Kourtney and Kim Take New York.)
But it is more than knowing what his audience wants; it is also about knowing how to reach them – on the radio, the TV and the Internet. Recognizing that ability, Microsoft invited Seacrest to sit on a closed-door panel at a three-day conference in late May with Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz and Facebook’s second-in-command, Sheryl Sandberg to discuss the latter. He talked about using outlets like Twitter to chart trends, stay connected and gauge stars’ appeal for casting purposes. (Among leaders that included Jamie Dimon, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Seacrest was the only rep from Tinseltown.)
A Rolodex the Envy of TMZ
Thanks to his various hosting gigs –E! News, On Air with Ryan Seacrestand American Idol– it’s hard to imagine there’s a Hollywood personality that Seacrest hasn’t cozied up to (and then befriended) over the years. In fact, it’s that status that earned him a scene-stealing cameo in the 2007 flick Knocked Up. Playing a fed up version of himself, he unleashes an expletive-laced tirade on the E! News set: “I’m more famous than half the people we talk to anyway,” he fumes. The irony is it’s largely true, and a part of what makes Seacrest the king of the carpet. In addition to his charm, pop cultural fluency and comfort on camera, he is calling on people he rubs elbows with in other settings. He counts stars like on-air nemesis Simon Cowell as close friends, and as a frequent nominee himself, if he weren’t asking the questions he’d be answering them.
A Knack for Luring Talent
As his boss Ted Harbert, president of the Comcast Entertainment Group, told me at the time, if you put Seacrest in a room with somebody, he can sign them. He did it with Denise Richards; and then again with the Kardashian clan. “If you need him to get on the phone with someone and try to get something done, he’s indefatigable. He wont give up and he’s not very good at taking no for an answer,” says Harbert of a skill he likes to call good-natured perseverance. “He can give you 10 reasons why you should work with him, but he’ll do it in a way that you know you’re going to have a good partner.” It’s a good quality in a producer; but an even more valuable one for someone looking to line a network schedule. It was also one of many qualities that lead Harbert to add, “He’s got an empire now, but I think it’s only a matter of time before Ryan has most of the hemisphere.”