To say that Shari Redstone is a force of nature is putting it mildly. You might detect a twinge of a Boston accent, but when she speaks, it’s definitely at a breakneck New York pace. You can almost tell that the cofounder and managing partner of Advancit Capital who is also Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Viacom Inc. and CBS, is also a former criminal attorney. And someone whose favor you might want to court, if you’re an entrepreneur: her focus is on early stage in media, entertainment and technology, all of which are literally in her blood. Yes, daughter of media magnate Sumner Redstone, she’s one of those Redstones.
“Running Viacom and CBS in the US and UK, I saw a lot of opportunities to connect with consumers as never before,” she told the audience at the New York Venture Capital Association’s Ingenuity Conference. “I wanted to know, do we know who’s watching Jersey Shore, who they were, and how did we connect with them? It’s all about the ability to connect with your audience.”
That was about the time she decided to quit her day job and start researching and investing. Her focus (along with her cofounder/son-in-law’s): Solutions for the Chief Marketing Officer.
“Percolate and Newscred were our early investments.”
She was all about relationships and connecting.
“For every business today, you have to know who your customer is – and that your customer is more entitled than ever before. Who they are, what’s important to them, what they’re looking at, and how do you reach them. They can be on any platform, so you have to be there, too,” she said.
Coming from the broadcast world, that’s a lesson she has certain learned from experience.
“Everything keeps me up at night,” she continued. “I always worry about people not being smart about how they’re doing things and companies not looking at things.”
Like the global marketplace, for example.
“International markets are really important – we need to take what we’re doing here and applying it there. Look at companies that are being incubated in India, Israel or China. We have to look at those markets. It’s a great way to learn. You have to have an international strategy,” she pressed. “Not to look at the global marketplace is a big mistake.”
Big media is her background, and with the current focus on video and the networks and cable companies eyeing direct online distribution – HBO Go will be available independent of broadcast television next year, and CBS is moving to an online subscription model as well, the topic was naturally addressed by moderator Shelley Palmer.
“Indigenous media is high quality content (produced) at low costs. The problem with content creation was getting money. They’re not a threat to media companies: it’s an opportunity. The media companies should be putting them on alternative distribution platforms. Oyster is about discovery of books – we had great content at CBS & Simon & Schuster.”
Ms. Redstone is an investor in Oyster, and certainly understands the challenges of content discovery.
“The question you have to ask is are you solving a problem that needs to be solved and do you have the team to do it – and can survive the first challenges. Hopefully, we improve almost as well,” she added.
The conversation turned to Hollywood’s worst summer ever, in terms of box office receipts. It’s an industry that has traditionally been recession-proof, but has all of the disruption that’s come with technology – and all of the content and screens available to consumers changed the paradigm?
“The bigger you are, the harder you fall,” said Redstone. “It’s not about distribution – it’s about innovation. There’s a lot of tension between them (traditional outlets and technology). I would hope both sides would need each other. (Content creators) are providing opportunities for media companies. It all needs to come together. People will fall, but people will rise, too. Look at Blockbuster. Why didn’t they figure it out? Netflix did. Companies can’t be complacent. They have to figure out where it’s going. Was Blockbuster (owned by Sumner Redstone) asleep at the wheel? You need to look around you and figure out what’s going on. Look at CBS and HBO – and it’s still about content. When you have fans for your content, they want to see it anywhere and everywhere. Consumers will find it. There are those with their heads in the sand, and those who will continue to grow their businesses.”