5Qs with…Vuguru CEO Larry Tanz
Larry Tanz has a history of making quality entertainment. He was LivePlanet’s president and CEO when the company’s “Project Greenlight” received a nomination for an Emmy Award. While president and co-founder of Agility Studios, production on “The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers” landed three seasons on Hulu and critical acclaim. “The Booth at the End” from Vuguru also earned critical acclaim while he served as president.
But Tanz also has a history of working in a multitude of video formats. “Project Greenlight,” with guidance from LivePlanet co-founders Matt Damon and Benn Affleck, had two seasons on HBO and one on Bravo. “The LXD” debuted on Hulu and spawned a number of live performances and short films. “The Booth at the End” started on Canada’s CityTV website and then later moved to Hulu and FX.
But those are just three of his products and only some of the formats. After joining Vuguru as president in 2009, his efforts to maintain that quality on all formats led to his promotion to CEO in 2012. To get a glimpse at the main behind the curtain, VideoInk asked just a couple of questions about how he works.
1. You’ve had an impressive career in both traditional and digital video. Can you identify the moment when you first became excited about the online video industry and what triggered your full-fledged shift into digital?
My digital career started during the late nineties when I worked at AOL, where Ted Leonsis was already pioneering entertainment programming on the internet. Then I came to LA and did “Project Greenlight,” which merged traditional and digital worlds in a new way, in that we crowd-sourced feature films using the internet and covered the experience in a multi-season HBO TV series. When I helped put together “The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers” (The LXD) with John M. Chu I think I finally saw the real possibility of digital programming that could work globally and move from online to theatrical and TV platforms. At Vuguru that’s what we do every day.
2. Vuguru somewhat mirrors the “Old Hollywood” model of production, finance, and distribution. Why and how do you think this has been a driver to Vuguru’s success?
At Vuguru we are hyper-focused on great creative, and by bringing self financing we can make production commitments to talent and distributors which helps make the creative and business pieces really work. And we don’t have to rely on advertisers to fund (and guide) our projects. So in a way we are very similar to a traditional television studio (we develop and finance), and we distribute in a very similar way as well — we get license fees for our titles (unlike the “post and pray” revenue share deals that are all too common in digital).
With AOL in particular, two years ago we put together a premium programming strategy them based on our ability to bring them great projects with the financing in place.
3. Speaking of AOL and the recent debut of Season 2 of “Little Women Big Cars” on the platform, how does Vuguru view distribution outside of AOL? We know you’ve worked with other great creators on YouTube and internationally but does the AOL relationship hinder you from alternate distribution opportunities?
“Little Women BIG CARS” has been a big hit on AOL and season 2 just launched. Our primary goal for our AOL titles is to make them successful on AOL. We also have sold those titles very well internationally, simultaneous to the US run. After the AOL window is up we will find other US distribution opportunities — there are always platforms looking to license great programming.
4. What’s the appetite like for international distribution of scripted programming and do you think there’s a future for content syndication and licensing like in traditional TV and Film? Why or why not?
Every year we see more distribution platforms emerging in TV and digital; consequently, the appetite for quality scripted programming continues to grow. Take “House of Cards” as an example. The international buyers were just as interested in the show coming off Netflix as they would have been a show coming off of Showtime…because it’s really good. It’s a watershed moment when a digital-first series can break through the preconception that a digital-first title can’t be that good. Buyers are now changing their tunes on this (gradually, but it’s happening). Meanwhile, Vuguru has been licensing digital content to international distributors for several years now, and we are seeing new buyers all the time.
5. Many have said 2013 is the year for consolidation and mergers in the online video industry; what do you think is going to define this year, if you had to make predictions?
There will be mergers and consolidations. YouTube channels will merge and be bought, and Hulu will undergo some sort of transaction. But I also believe that this year will be defined as the year that the line really blurred between high-end digital programming and cable TV programming. It’s being driven by the large SVOD platforms — Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Amazon’s upcoming series in particular. Just like over a decade ago when cable birthed shows like “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City,” bridging a longstanding perception gap between cable and broadcast programming. In that same vein, the notion that TV is high quality and digital is low quality will be much diminished this year.