Michael Eisner Sees Web's Future in Storytelling

At Microsoft Advance '08: Strong Content Also Needs Interactivity, Community

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SEATTLE (AdAge.com) -- According to Michael Eisner, story-driven online content is the next big app. "YouTube is to the internet what a nickelodeon is to the movies. It's the preliminary installment of what is to come," he said So what is to come? "Great, creative storytelling."
Michael Eisner
Michael Eisner Credit: Jeff Frank

He continued: "YouTube is filed with stories. ... It's the encyclopedia of everything moving." And while some are wonderful, he said, the vast majority are skateboarding cats or high-school antics. What's missing is creative storytelling that capitalizes on a unique aspect of the internet, such as interactivity or community. He said that's because video search is unsatisfactory, and advertisers tend to be timid when it comes to risks.

'Risky business'
Mr. Eisner recounted getting egged by protesters as he announced the much-vaunted opening of Euro Disney in the 1990s, when he was CEO of Walt Disney Co. "It was not exactly the reception we had hoped for. ... Creativity is a risky business, but it is nearly always worth the risk it takes."

Mr. Eisner gave a glimpse of one of his latest projects, a steamy-looking promotional video for author Robin Cook's "Foreign Body," about medical tourism. ("It costs $60,000 to get a hip replaced in the U.S. and $2,000 in India," he said. But "we might not have had as big of an audience as we would have with people jumping in and out of bed.") The video will air 50 days prior to the book's launch and is partially financed by the publisher, he said. Honda is an advertiser.

"It's a completely new way to use the internet, story-driven programming and the real world," he said.

He talked about "Prom Queen," his first big made-for-web series. It cost $1,700 a minute to create and was "respectfully profitable."

Crafting synergy
In addition to his thoughts on the web-content conundrum, Mr. Eisner also had a prescription for corporations trying to craft synergy. When someone asked him why Time Warner hasn't been able to make synergy work, Mr. Eisner responded: "You want the one-minute or four-hour answer?" He ended up settling on about a four-minute response: It all comes down to the company DNA.

He said late Time Warner CEO Steve Ross' strategy was to buy companies and let each company run its own division, with no discussion between them.

"I simply ordered that every division had to work among every other one," he said. "We had a brand, and the Disney brand had to work through every division. ... Walt Disney was the most synergistic guy of all time."

He continued: "If Time Warner doesn't do it -- and they are starting, by the way, because I've been negotiating with one of their companies -- they're losing out."
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