We can debate the financial viability of “Grantland” all day long.
But we cannot debate the fact that the site was synonymous with Bill Simmons, and without him it’s toast.
Unlike the “Wall Street Journal”‘s digital coverage. Did you see the paper held a tech conference in Laguna with even more heavyweights than Recode? Illustrating that talent is king only if it’s bigger than the enterprise, and Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg are not. Bigger than the WSJ, that is. Which took its sweet time to turn the boat around, but is now dwarfing Recode, which I expect to go extinct.
So, do you invest in people or infrastructure?
ESPN thought it was pulling one over on Simmons by calling the site “Grantland.” Everybody knew it should be “Simmonsland,” but enterprises like to screw talent, they like to show talent who’s boss, only in this case ESPN lost. Who’s running that show again?
When the execs start believing they’re bigger than the talent, you know you’re in trouble. It screwed the music business. Come on, where is Tommy Mottola today? Does anybody under twenty five know who Tommy Mottola is? No one knows who Bob Morgado is, but he made the worst mistake in the history of recorded music, he parted ways with Jimmy Iovine.
That was not Morgado’s only mistake. He kept changing heads at Warner Music, ineffectively, Doug Morris was fired on his watch, but what Morgado is most famous for is buckling under pressure, getting rid of Interscope because of “dangerous” rap lyrics.
Never heed the press. Don’t even heed the shareholders. Smart people know that controversy fades, if you listen to your critics, you’re toast.
So Doug Morris went to Universal and made a deal with Iovine and Interscope and the rest is history, Universal rules music today. Iovine was an exceptional record executive, don’t confuse him with the guy running Apple Music ineffectively. Furthermore, it was Ted Field’s money, but it was Jimmy’s expertise. Where’s Ted Field today?
Where’s Apple today? Did you notice they’re giving a $50 discount on a Watch if you buy an iPhone? Do you ever remember such a deal?
And it’s not available everywhere, but if it’s available anywhere, people find out online.
Without Steve Jobs Apple is history. They’ll ride the iPhone as long as they can and then another company will steal their thunder. It’s the way of the world.
The world runs on talent. And executives hate this. Talent is mercurial, doesn’t heed deadlines and other corporate mores. But talent is the fuel of success. Sure, a record label doesn’t need a specific act to hit, but it needs one! Kinda like Al Teller made a profit on Irving Azoff’s MCA acts, but when they started to fade, there was nothing in the pipeline to replace them, MCA went into decline and Teller lost his job. The most important person at a label is he who finds and signs the talent, everybody else is superfluous, remember that.
Just like a great manager without a hit act is worthless.
And a great promoter with a stiff act is on his way out of business.
But not every talented person can run his own show.
Nate Silver has been right about the election months ahead of everybody else. He said Biden had no chance because it was too late months before Biden said the same thing. But the rest of the press kept on singing the VP’s praises, kept debating his entrance, wasting our time.
Just like Nate Silver told us Trump’s unfavorables were so high he could never win the nomination. But the press loves debating Trump’s chances months later.
Nate Silver is talent. The “New York Times” let him go. If he was still at the Grey Lady he’d be the most important person in political reporting, at his own site he’s a sideshow, although Paul Krugman did give him props last week:
Proving that it’s a dance. You can go your own way, but you might not be as successful. Meanwhile, the establishment you worked at just doesn’t get it, and you’re frustrated.
So we lionize the innovators.
But pay fealty to the MBAs who run the ship. They’re the ones making the most money, those who run America’s big corporations. Come on, how great was Jack Welch anyway? You can argue he cooked the books at GE, how else could the numbers keep getting better? And now Jeffrey Immelt has to dismantle what Welch built.
And then there’s Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos. Lauded everywhere, there’s no there there.
But we love the cult of personality. But too often it’s not deserved.
But sometimes it is.
Like at HBO and Netflix, which are burgeoning because they say yes to talent when everybody else says no. There are no notes, they’re investing in genius. Such that we revere the end result.
So, if you’re talent, know that…
Platform is everything. I.e. without reach you’re history. We live in a cacophonous world where it’s nearly impossible to gain people’s attention, never mind keep it. If you’re starting all over today, good luck. Hell, Trent Reznor left Interscope saying he could do it alone and then he returned to the major label system. Forget Arianna Huffington, forget all the victors of the past. We live in a new era. Never give up your audience, it’s all you have.
If you’re the executive, know that…
Talent is never going to be manageable. If you want the trains to run on time, go work for the railroad. Talent is as insecure as it is boastful. You embrace talent, you give it wings. This is how Jimmy Iovine succeeded at Interscope, it’s how Mo Ostin and Joe Smith succeeded at Warner, you want to be a magnet for talent, not an adversary. Only cut bait if you’re losing money and you see no way to make it back in the future. As for difficult personalities, it goes with the territory. And when it comes to art, talent is sui generis. There’s only one Paul McCartney and one Max Martin. You can hire someone controllable, you just won’t get the results.
So don’t believe new institutions are going to topple the old. Starting up is too hard. The landscape is too cluttered. But that does not mean every institution has to maintain. We don’t need every newspaper, just a few.
Bill Simmons had it right. He got fired from ESPN and hitched his wagon to HBO, he did not start over on his own, that’s an old paradigm.
As for the aforementioned Arianna Huffington, she’s a blowhard in the rearview mirror, because her only talent was generating attention. And if you think that has legs, you probably believe the YouTube stars are gonna last for decades.
There’s very little talent out there. And the more you try to tell it what to do and how to act the more you’re going to alienate it. The job of the exec is to get talent to produce, and you don’t do this by threatening with spreadsheets, you do this by coddling people.
No one at “Grantland” could make it run without Bill Simmons… NO ONE!
And Apple can’t seem to come up with a new hit product without Steve Jobs.
And there’s only one Adele.
Distribution is king. If you can’t see or hear it, it doesn’t exist.
But distribution without talent is a complete failure.
Talent first, never forget it.