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News: New Media

Member Spotlight: Jesse Albert

Friday, January 8, 2016   (0 Comments)
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"We live and work in a fascinating era of perpetual beta in the convergence of Hollywood and technology and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.”

Jesse Albert began his career in the music business, touring with multiple bands, including Guns ‘n Roses and Aerosmith. Before long, he accepted that music touring was a young man’s game and realized that the wise move was to get a college education in something more dependable.

"I was reading newspapers cover to cover when I was 11, and actually sold them in front of a tube station near our home in London when I was 7, so it was the obvious choice to parlay a lifelong passion into a journalism degree at USC.”

Two years after graduating and working in public relations, Albert moved into what was then the early stages of the web, helping a number of large corporations develop strategies for their first forays online. He soon led Hans Zimmer’s Media Revolution, one of the first interactive agencies in Hollywood.

"It was an exciting time to be working in digital marketing. We were doing things that had never been done. As I recall, we convinced Twentieth Century Fox to put a URL on a television ad for one of the ‘Independence Day’ film campaigns. That’s crazy to think of now.”

Hollywood Content Moves Into Digital Media

After several years and much success, Albert took a buyout and decided it was time to learn how to actually produce movies and television rather than simply create interactive marketing campaigns. He chose to revisit his alma mater USC for a Masters degree in the Peter Stark Producing Program in the School of Cinema and Television.

"For my required internship, the program placed me at UTA working for Jeremy Zimmer and Dan Aloni, two of the smartest guys in the business. It was a learning experience that continues to pay dividends to this day.” While at UTA, Albert helped launch the agency’s first online division. He then moved to 19 Entertainment to oversee Digital Entertainment. He worked for Simon Fuller’s company on ‘American Idol’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and for their various music artists including Daughtry and Carrie Underwood.

"Again, I fell into something at a completely opportune time. ‘Idol’ was at the top of its game. We did the first iTunes deal and produced the first ‘Idol Gives Back’ and the ‘Songwriter contest. Daughtry’s first album was launched with a huge digital effort and Jordin Sparks won. Everything was digitally focused and I was in the middle of it all.”

Albert returned to the talent agency world where he served as a Sr. New Media Agent at ICM, covering everything from initial forays into large budget original digital content to working with Silicon Valley start-ups and video game publishers. There were also the agency’s key clients, such as Beyonce and Chris Brown, who required digital handholding and strategy.

"Working at ICM was like working on ‘American Idol’ in that you saw everything and every company and technology wanted to be in business with your clients.”

Silicon Valley and Hollywood

Today, Albert is an expert bridge between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

After leaving ICM, he explored his entrepreneurial side by producing content projects in the OTT space and consulting for start-ups and studios, including a long term engagement with Entertainment One Television to build a digital originals practice.

"It’s easy to say OTT has become TV, but the reality is that business models often change every 6 months, which keeps it interesting, but also requires a certain amount of knowledge beyond ‘just’ television. I remember one deal with a major OTT player that went from 5 to 11 to 22 minute episodes, all for the same title.”

"Silicon Valley start-ups often view Hollywood as a problem to be solved technologically, which completely ignores the creative aspect. An engineer once told me algorithms could identify likely buyers for a specific title, track them via Wi-Fi signals to their optimum location (such as a doctor’s office waiting room), serve them a trailer and hopefully get them to purchase and download the title and/or share it then and there. That’s scary - We need a better give and take between the tech and content worlds and they both need to do a better job of learning from one another.”

Xpansive Media

Albert more aggressively moved into the start-up world through his consultancy Xpansive Media, which helps companies navigate capital fundraising and strategic introductions. He most recently worked to complete a VR camera company’s successful $5m seed round. He’s involved with start-ups looking to enter Hollywood via technology incubators, including the Canadian Film Center’s Ideaboost.

He also has a fair number of television series in development.

"It’s the life of the producer and entrepreneur that we’re often gambling and taking risks with our time. For the short attention span generation it’s more normal and honestly fulfilling to work across mediums and even industries. I also have a personal philosophy to try to work on projects that I’m interested in with people that I like.”

And then there’s giving back.

"I do a lot of speaking and panels for conferences around the world, which is fun. Best of all, I’m back at USC where I teach a course on Digital Media and Entertainment in the Peter Stark Producing Program. I get to teach students with so much potential and with such a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences.”

In this position, Albert feels a responsibility to provide a foundation in the digital eco-system that enables his students to understand and adjust with the marketplace faster and better than most.

Albert is also in his first year as an NMC Board Delegate. "I love it because it’s another opportunity to give back and teach professionals. The board puts on great panels to educate guild members about new media and its potential. We help to set the agenda for the industry, and of course I’m working with a truly great group of people.”

Question of the Month: 2016 seems to be the year of VR for many people. What are the obstacles to seeing it take off?

"VR has enormous potential and momentum. But, there really is no easy consumer distribution model and, perhaps more importantly, no real revenue model. I’m working with high profile directors to define how we tell a narrative story with VR, but that’s going to be a very tough nut to crack. Right now the work is often done because a company like Google gives millions to fund research, which is just not a sustainable model.”

"When we created the digital eco-system, we set ourselves up to fail long term. We accepted reduced digital CPMs as opposed to fighting for TV CPMs, but the money is not nearly enough for robust content with high production values. Likewise, major OTT players are in a competitive subscriber race with models predicated on rapid customer acquisition rather than a sustainable reality. We need to make sure we don’t replicate early mistakes with VR or anything else.”

"If we want top talent to work in VR, the marketplace is going to have to be able to pay them.”