Finding the Voice of the Web, Part 1

Max Robins, Editor in Chief at Broadcasting & Cable, interviewed Lloyd Braun on the opening day of February's iMedia Brand Summit in Coconut Point, Florida. Here's the first third of that conversation, started off with introductions by iMedia President Rick Parkhill:

Rick Parkhill: Our first keynote guest this morning is Lloyd Braun. Lloyd has been responsible for masterminding all kinds of great programming, including "The Bachelor." By now, I think you have probably all read the news about Lloyd Braun, you know that this is the next move by Yahoo! to connect with the Entertainment and Content community. You probably know that they have leased about a gazillion square feet of space in Santa Monica so they can be right there in Hollywood to work with the programmers and content czars in Hollywood. You have probably heard that Lloyd's new title is Head of Yahoo! Media. That's no small task. In a recent interview, Lloyd said, "My job is really to define what internet content is going to be." Wow! That is a big, big mission and it's great that he's here this morning to talk to us about it. 

You know, to learn more about Lloyd, I've been reading the press releases and his history at ABC, and the many, many shows that he's done including: "My Wife and Kids," "According to Jim," "Alias," "Extreme Makeover," "Eight Simple Rules," "The Sopranos," "Just Shoot Me," "Lost," and the list goes on and on. We're honored to have him here this morning. As I did a little more research about Lloyd, I did the natural thing when you are going to research someone. What do you do? Audience … ?

Audience: Google him.

Parkhill: Right, I Yahoo!'d him (laughter) and this is what I found out: Lloyd is actually a "Seinfeld" character. Who knew? He plays George Castanza's childhood nemesis. He worked for the mayor, or something, and then he went on to be a successful computer salesman for George's dad. George hates the guy. So, now he's head of Yahoo! media -- that's fabulous. 

Max Robins is here today from Broadcasting & Cable. Max is the Editor in Chief at Broadcasting & Cable, which is a sister publication to Variety. Before Broadcasting & Cable, Max was at TV Guide for several years, and prior to that he covered the TV beat for Daily Variety. He's one of the foremost journalists in the television broadcast space. He's here to interview Lloyd this morning. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm, warm welcome to Lloyd Braun and Max Robins.

Lloyd Braun: Are we on?

Max Robins: We are indeed. We're going to get to what's on everybody's mind here, first. Lloyd, how did you become a "Seinfeld" character?

Braun: Yeah, little did I know when that all happened that I would be living with that for the rest of my life. That was actually the result of a golf bet that I lost to Larry David. I used to be Larry's lawyer. (Excuse my voice, I'm a little under the weather.) I was Larry's lawyer and we became good friends and I used to take Larry golfing all the time. And, one of the real challenges when you take Larry golfing -- for any of you who ever watched "Curb Your Enthusiasm" you won't be surprised by this -- is occasionally, if he's not playing well, he sort of wants to quit. So, it became a running joke among my friends and I when we played with him -- "Are we going to be able to get Larry through eighteen holes?" And, if he started to play badly it really got difficult. 

And, I was playing with him alone one day, and I was actually playing well for once, and he was an absolute disaster, and I didn't want him to leave because I didn't want to play alone for the rest of the time, so I'm trying to think of everything to keep him to stay. And, finally he's literally about had it after the sixteenth hole and I said, "You know what? Why don't we just bet for the last two holes?" "Okay, what do you want to bet about?"

Robins: That's a very good Larry David.

Braun: Oh, I can do a great Larry David. So, anyway, we bet for the last two holes. I gave him a shot a hole, and he ties me on the first one, which is embarrassing enough. And, we get to the second one and wouldn't you know it, I hit out of bounds. I get about a nine. Larry beats me. And, the bet was, if I had lost he was basically able to do anything he wanted with me on the show. I figured he'd forget about it. Well, about four or five months later, I'm sitting in my office when I get a call. It's Larry. He goes, "So, uh, Lori (his wife) says I had to call you, because I'm using your name in the show." "What do you mean you're using my name in the show?" "Oh, I'm using your name in the show." "Well, when are you taping it?" "In an hour." "Well, why are you telling me then, Larry?" "Well, Lori says that, you know, if you want it out, I should take it out." I said, "How you gonna' take it out if you're taping it in an hour? How many times is it in the show?" "It's in the show … a few times." "How many times?" "Uhhh, maybe about eighty." "Eighty times?"

Well, to make a long story short, the gag of course was, if you have seen the episode, it's not just "Lloyd," or "Mr. Braun," it's "Lloyd Braun." And, that was the thing: how many times could Larry pound me with the name in the episode. And, then, as if that wasn't enough, he said, "Well, you know the writers, everyone loved it. The character was so great. He was very handsome; you have to admit he was very handsome. He was also, by the way, insane. I mean, literally, he was a psychopath. And, they did two more episodes with that character. So, three episodes in total and somehow I've been able to survive it … barely.

Robins: Well, that helps me out learning that, because I was going to ask you … I mean, I've been covering this business for twenty years, and usually somebody who's been a network president, entertainment president, they leave that job, they go become president of another network. Or, they become the head of a studio. Or, they put out their shingle and they start making television programs. You did something very different. I think you did it just to get away from situations like that where people would make fun of you.

Braun: No.

Robins: But, seriously, what I wonder about is, this is a pretty big leap. This is a real new, new chapter in your life, and I wonder about why now? And, before we get to that, if this had been two years ago, would you have looked at something like this, this kind of an option serious to get into the new media business?

Braun: Right. Well, that's a good question. I'm not sure, quite honestly, two years ago that I would have done it. And, it's, for whatever, for a bunch of reasons, this seemed like the right opportunity at the right time. Sort of a moment in time where all of this felt to me like it was about to just explode. And there had been, you know, we all remember a few years ago when the internet world was the talk of the town and everybody was going crazy. But, the truth is, back then I remember the first time I had seen like a minute of something streamed, some animation streamed online, and I looked at it and I'd say, "Well, I guess it's kind of cool that this is on the computer but, God, why would I wanna watch this? I mean, if I'm gonna want to watch animation, I'd rather watch the "Simpsons," or "Family Guy," or something on television where it's executed really, really well. But, I guess it will be interesting to see where all this develops." 

And, when it didn't develop as quickly as I guess people thought it was going to, all of us started to wonder, well is the promise of this medium ever really going to be realized? I certainly asked myself that question five years ago. And, it's really been in the last two or three years as all of us, you know -- I'm one of you really in terms of, I didn't have any more internet experience, my guess is, than most of the people in this room. Actually, you all probably had more than I had. I played around for sure, but I was by no means an expert. But, when I found myself all of a sudden addicted to this, it all sort of started to become clearer to me. 

And, I have four kids, ages seventeen, down to … oh nineteen (sorry, Amy), down to eleven, and I noticed some really profound changes in their habits over the last couple of years. I mean, when I grew up, I remember I always used to -- my first move was to turn on the television (which my parents always loved), and I'd go right to NBC. That was just my channel of choice -- a little plug for Mr. Zucker. But, I always, that's what I did, I went to NBC. My older girls, my nineteen and seventeen-year-old, they turn on the TV, they go to the WB, or MTV, or VH1. They don't care that they're on cable. Cable's not the stepsister to them. 

Well, my thirteen-year-old? My eleven-year-old? Their first move? They turn on the computer. And, I said to them, a couple/few months ago, "If I had to take away your computer or your television, which would it be?" All of my kids said, "Take the television away." That's an unbelievable thing if you think about it. 

So, I had started to feel that this was really coming of age now, and then I met Terry Semel (Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Yahoo! Inc.). And, when I heard Terry's view of where this was, and when he told me the breadth of what Yahoo! really was doing now, which by the way, I also did not fully appreciate, it really was -- it was simply in that first meeting where I felt that I had to do this. And, I tell you, every day I've been at Yahoo!, I've only been more convinced and felt more fortunate about having made this choice because it's as dynamic and amazing a medium as you could hope to have, and the future is absolutely limitless.

Tomorrow: Advantages and opportunities of online media.