HRTS Member Profile: Ronit Koren
Ronit Koren is Director of Marketing for SingerLewak LLP, an Accounting and Management Consulting Firm headquartered in Los Angeles. I recently had a chance to sit down with Ronit to discuss Israel, Ultraviolet and the importance of brand.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-the interesting thing is that I wasn’t geared towards entertainment when I moved to Los Angeles. I came here for to work for an athletics company and later this opportunity presented itself to me to work at FOX. Having moved to LA after grad school in Santa Fe New Mexico, this opportunity in the land of glitz and glamour was a really compelling incentive for me to get into entertainment. Because of my background I had been so engrossed and enthralled by television and media all my life, I loved it so this was a real opening for me to work in the industry.
I grew up in both Israel and the U.S., but summers in Israel meant that you only have very limited TV viewing options since television was highly regulated by the government. Shows from Hollywood would become these huge events for Israelis when they aired on weeknights. We had DALLAS and DYNASTY and SOAP, which were just iconic for us and I hate to say it but LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE was just huge in Israel at the time. When those shows came on Israeli television everything just stopped, the streets were dead, and if you walked anywhere on the streets you could hear all the theme songs playing outside the apartment windows in Tel Aviv. Appointment television at its best! Everything was just so big and grand on these shows that we all paid so much attention to it, you were such a part of it. I just remember my relatives saying “wow, this is Dallas, look at America, look at how much money and glamour there is and the beauty of these shows, like mini-movies”. Keep in mind, the only other programming in Israel in those days, was Arab television which was not as sophisticated or, arguably, as interesting. You can imagine the influence and the impact that television had on me as a kid growing up in two cultures. A certain element of television was always such a part of my life and I was fascinated by it.
When I had the opportunity at FOX it was a unique situation since I was such an unlikely candidate. I didn’t start in the industry as an intern or an assistant, I came into FOX Television Studios to be a marketing coordinator. It was a fledgling studio at the time, they had only been around for a year, and they knew they needed somebody in marketing to sell-in the content to ancillary revenue channels to maximize profit margins. I really had to learn everything around the industry from the ground up, and then to understand what my opportunities for content distribution were within NewsCorp and also with 3rd party distributors. The woman who hired me told me that I was a dark horse candidate, but my passion for entertainment was so evident that she wanted to take a chance as she believed in my capabilities. That said, I ended up working with David Madden on the movies and mini-series side and with Rich Vokulich for the series FtvS produced. Luckily, I was there to be able to be that change agent when the studio was at the tipping point in industry growth and I was able to help generate over $10 million in ancillary revenue through content distribution for the productions. As my luck would have it, we were really at the height of the home entertainment industry and international television demands – so those two opportunities as well as strong relationships with Mike Dunn and Marion Edwards really helped to maximize the ancillary revenue potential for FtvS.
I loved it, I loved working on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, THE SHIELD, our movies and miniseries. I have to admit, Bryan Cranston was fantastic then and now and so was Linwood Boomer. The irony is that Linwood Boomer was on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE which I watched in Israel, and then cut-to several years later and I’m working on his production. It was a really fun progression for me.
Q: How did you first get involved with HRTS?
-it was in 2003 when I went to my first luncheon, Tom Tyrer was doing our corporate communications at the time and had an extra seat. He took me to my first HRTS event and I remember watching the industry magnates on the dais and listening to them talking about the state of the industry. I was just riveted as I watched and listened and remember thinking “these are the stalwarts, the decision makers for the industry - sitting here talking to a room full of executives and people that want to know where we’re going”. They weren’t there for idle banter or chest beating, but to give insight and trends on the emerging markets, the emerging opportunities for content and distribution, insights into new vs. traditional media. I was just drinking it all in and thinking “this is where we need to be, this is what I need to look into for FtvS and our productions. How do I make that happen?”
Now, even in my current position as the head of marketing for SingerLewak LLP, Media & Entertainment is a driving industry group and one of our core strengths. We are constantly working on marketing in order to stay on top of things and be relevant for the entertainment industry. The HRTS was something that was really important for me to get on the Firm’s radar as well. Our goal to maximize our exposure and services to the entertainment industry demands that we are in front of the people that make decisions and can give us the 360 degree perspective on what’s hot, what’s topical, what’s up-and-coming. It was really important for me to get the partners involved in HRTS for the same reasons I was drawn into it: for the content, the candid conversations, the industry updates and the networking – there’s nothing else like it out there.
Q: What is the importance of brand in the modern marketplace?
-a brand is all about trust, a brand translates into trust, a promise, reliability. Once you have an established brand, the viewer, the client, the consumer, whomever, is going to know that there’s a certain service level, a promise, and there are expectations that will be delivered with that brand and the brand standards. Anything that is branded is always going to communicate the fact that there’s a certain quality behind it, there’s a service expectation that will be met or exceeded with quality and trust.
Here’s a perfect example: when Peter Liguori came to FX he reinvented that network. He built a brand to leverage the network in the cable channel universe – something that no other cable network had dared to do at that time. He was a marketer and a brand champion before arriving at FX, so he understood the importance of the brand message in order to build viewer awareness and confidence. He built a fledgling cable network into something that today has the strength and programming dominance of subscription channels like HBO and Showtime. It’s a classic case study of successful brand building such that other networks like TNT, AMC and Comedy Central have since followed suit.
Q: How do you build an established brand versus a newer one?
-one of the things that has always been an industry struggle is the gap between the marketers of a program/production or a network and the writers of the shows. There’s always been this chasm where on one side the marketers will package and on the other, the writers will create the content. Consider the model of BREAKING BAD - that show is brilliant, it’s not just about refreshing the season marketing campaign, it’s about refreshing the characters. The character that Bryan Cranston represents, from when the series started to where he is right now, that’s a brand refresher because you’re just riveted about where are they going next, how does he come from an ailing teacher to someone who has now really reached a dark side. The rebrand is really about reinventing the character, the show is almost a brand new show.
It’s a merger between the packaging and the content, because if you deliver a fresh product every season, something different, something new, then that’s refreshing your brand right there.
Q: What sorts of consulting services do you offer?
-as a firm, we provide services to production companies, studios, talent agents and high-net-worth individuals for back office accounting, we’re personal CFOs, we’re media and entertainment experts. We help navigate all the financials and all the accounting issues for these companies, all the issues that they don’t have time for since they need to focus on the creativity and productivity.
Personally, I have kept another foot in the industry with my interest in the content distribution and marketing extension opportunities for some projects that I have been championing. I am a staunch advocate for industry changes in the realm of Digital Rights Management and digital distribution. We will soon see that the Ultraviolet initiative is about to create a significant paradigm shift here within the industry.
The reason that Ultraviolet is so compelling to me is that this is an initiative that Sony took on with the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), which is now called Ultraviolet. It’s essentially the Digital Rights Management where they’ve created a digital locker where you can buy, store and access your movies and TV shows. The piracy issues of the past decade and all the obsolete home entertainment models like DVDs on the shelf are now merging into technology that is burgeoning and proven secure, which is the Cloud. Mitch Singer and Rich Berger at Sony spearheaded and created the architecture for this new capability that has major technology, entertainment and retail participants; the consortium is truly impressive. The model is very unique and further addresses another significant issue of our time - our new “multiple screens” age. People are watching content on their iPad, TV or computer – and now will be able to get their entertainment at any time, on any device that is UV compatible. I really see this as something that’s creating a tipping point for an industry change.
Another project that I currently am championing and that has been building momentum is called MONSTERWOOD. It’s a wonderfully fresh and creative transmedia intellectual property that crosses over to a lot of different areas, which is really important nowadays in terms of brand extensions - you’re not on one platform, you hit multiple platforms. The groundswell is being built on its capacity to be a series of graphic novels, a full-length feature, a launch into a TV series, and also for its licensing and merchandising opportunities from its many unique and highly engaging characters. We have award-winning talent behind this property and it will be making an impact soon.
Q: How do you see the industry changing over the next few years?
-the industry really needs to think of more creative ways to reach the audience, whose attention span is shrinking and is feeling less important with a dilution of audience attention. For the next generation of viewers there’s a certain feeling that we want things to be a little more personalized at this point – Social Media is now a great universe to reach out and touch viewers in an inclusive way that has not been available in previous generations.
That said, the opportunity here is to personalize the viewer experience, to create real-time product sponsored chatrooms where a select twenty or so people can have access to the talent and chat with the show’s celebrities during significant episodes such as season finales or series premieres. These could be sponsored by the big advertisers and the call to action would be for exclusive VIP access. The personalization of the experience opens up the connection of entertainment to viewer in a way that new generations are craving. Today it’s about access and connectivity.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-I would like to see how the industry can continue to build out production platforms so that they are more “transmedia space”, connecting the revenue extension opportunities and marketing extensions to the unique needs of the viewer and consumer. The times have changed – everyone is more connected and accessible and entertainment has the opportunity to take advantage of this new space.