h1

Rich Battista, President & CEO, Time Inc. To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Time Inc.’s DNA Is Incredible Content And Brands, I Think We Must Find Ways To Leverage Those Brands And Exploit Them In As Many Platforms As Possible, Build New Revenue Streams, And Grow Old Revenue Streams.

July 7, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

“In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.” Rich Battista

“I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.” Rich Battista

“One of the things I will tell you under my leadership here is, we are very open to exploring all kinds of new models. I’ve said this before, “There’s no sacred cows here.” I come from outside the business—sometimes that’s a benefit—and I haven’t been here for ten, twenty, thirty years, and sometimes that’s a benefit. I can come in with a fresh set of eyes and challenge conventional thinking and have people think in new and different ways. We’re doing that at this company.” Rich Battista

Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc. is a man on a mission. He was hired a mere 10 months ago to turn the largest magazine media company in the world around and bring it back to a growth mode as the world of magazines and magazine media continues to change and evolve. He wants to be remembered as the man who did that and made the company the media leader that it once was. In fact, he would like to return the company to the innovative years of Henry Luce, whose news reel “March of Times” earned Luce’s creation the title, “innovation of the year, 1935.”

In the midst of all the news generated about Time Inc. since Rich took over, Mr. Magazine™ wondered how the captain of the largest magazine media ship in the world was dealing with this most coveted and most watched job in the media industry? Was navigating the luxury liner relatively easy in these early months or were there some rough seas he was having to roll through?

In this exclusive telephone interview, I was able to ask Rich about those waters of “Time” he was sailing upon and many other questions about the giant company and the plans for its future.

But first, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interview style, the soundbites, followed by the complete, lightly edited transcript of our conversation. I hope you find this exclusive interview with Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc., another in depth look inside the great minds of magazine media makers. And an informative, educational and fun chat with the captain of the largest ship in the magazine media industry, worldwide.

The sound-bites:

On how he feels being the most watched CEO in media today: I’d say a couple of things. One, I feel very privileged to lead this great company. It’s an iconic company, obviously, with iconic brands, so I feel a real privilege and responsibility to lead this company. That’s the first word that comes into my mind when I think about it. The second word I say is excitement, because I think there’s so much potential and upside opportunity and value to unlock across these brands. I feel like I have the right mix of background and experience to lead the charge, and I think we’ve put together a terrific senior management team and we have world-class people who work here.

On how, during the 10 months he’s been CEO, he has implemented his belief that Time’s trusted, quality brands puts them ahead of some of their digital competitors: I’d say a few things. Some of it is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I feel like I walked into a company that has been creating quality journalism and trusted journalism, for 90-plus years. The good news is, I walked into a company that knows how to do that in spades. I think what I’m trying to bring to the company are a few things. In order to really grow and succeed in this new world, you have to be a multiplatform consumer media company. In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams.

On why people criticize his “multimedia” platform, when Time was always considered a multiplatform company, even during the Henry Luce years: I think it’s an unfair characterization. I think, to be fair, in the last fifteen years our company hasn’t embraced change like it did under the Henry Luce years. We haven’t been aggressive in expanding into the new world. To be fair, I don’t think we did under Time Warner. And I think it’s one of the reasons we spun out, so we could 100 percent focus on Time Inc. as one entity and 100 percent focus on what this company could be, and have people leading this company who believed in its growth. That’s critical.

On whether he feels this new direction is going at the right speed and it’s full steam ahead: I feel like we’re moving very aggressively and quickly. It’s never fast enough for me, frankly. But, I have been thrilled with how this company is willing to embrace the new world and diversify our revenues and think bigger.

On his decision to move Food & Wine’s test kitchen to Birmingham, Ala.: It’s an incredible operation down there. To be fair, we should be leveraging it more than we have. To your point, that is certainly one of the big reasons we made the move. Of course, we’re not going to relinquish our presence in New York with Food & Wine, of course we’re going to keep staff here. It’s very important for the brand. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great headquarters for Food in Birmingham, Alabama, where we have: A) great talent, B) incredible assets. We have twenty-eight test kitchens. We have four studios. And think about the fact that now we can collaborate across all our brands who cover food; they’re now all in one building pretty much.

On why Time Inc. invests so much in bookazines: I’m really glad you brought that up, because we talk a lot about it. I think there are a few reasons why bookazines are showing success. I think, one: a lot of the time they’re timely and pegged to an event. When Carrie Fisher passed away and we put out a bookazine a week later, it was on people’s minds. She was somebody they’d had a lot of admiration for, so you’re leveraging the news cycle. That’s one reason.

On why the bookazine model couldn’t be utilized across the board for the magazine industry: We think about that a lot; we talk about that a lot. At the same time, we have incredible, loyal readers, we have incredible advertisers who support our print products. We still make a tremendous amount of money from print advertising, so I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I think it’s challenged, and so declining over time. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, but I think you are right; there are other models you can explore, particularly if you have a title that maybe is more challenged.

On whether Time Inc. would ever team with a partner to bring a magazine to the marketplace: Just to be clear, we have one very successful partnership with American Express, with our Departures magazine, and it’s basically a licensing deal; we create the book for them. It’s been very successful. So, absolutely, I think we are exploring and looking at opportunities. Frankly, I think this company has missed that. I talked about us being inwardly facing, and that’s a perfect example of where this company wasn’t thinking enough creatively; particularly this company, which has by far the most resources in the magazine business and the biggest asset base. If someone wants to partner on a magazine, there’s no better company to do it with than us.

On anything he’d like to add: In addition to obviously creating what we think is the best journalism, we pride ourselves in not just covering and reporting news, we often feel as though we drive the conversation. And we create news. I think a great example is the work People did during the tragic Orlando shooting. We had a two-page spread where we listed the phone numbers of everyone in Congress, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. And that helped to drive the conversation and create debate about a topic. I think whenever we can do that, we’re offering a service to the community.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I would say that we returned Time Inc. to a growth story.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening after work: I would probably be either reading a magazine, looking at news on the web, or watching a documentary. One of those things.

On what keeps him up at night: I think I hit on it earlier. I would say speed. Just being sure that we’re staying ahead of the change; that we’re innovating and moving quickly; that we’re embracing the new world, while respecting our legacy and heritage. That this company is becoming a real player in the new multimedia ecosystem. Every time I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels and I want to make sure that we’re pushing the envelope. I tell people that I’m a real believer in that if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Rich Battista, president & CEO, Time Inc.

Samir Husni: I truly appreciate you taking the time for this interview. You’re the CEO of the largest magazine media company in the world, Time Inc., which has to also be one of the most coveted positions in magazine media. I just did a search, and Time Inc. has been mentioned in the news over five million times.

Rich Battista: That’s good news for Jill (Davison – VP, Corporate Communications); it keeps her busy.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So, how do you feel being the most watched CEO in the media today?

Rich Battista: I’d say a couple of things. One, I feel very privileged to lead this great company. It’s an iconic company, obviously, with iconic brands, so I feel a real privilege and responsibility to lead this company. That’s the first word that comes into my mind when I think about it.

The second word I say is excitement, because I think there’s so much potential and upside opportunity and value to unlock across these brands. I feel like I have the right mix of background and experience to lead the charge, and I think we’ve put together a terrific senior management team and we have world-class people who work here. I believe we have tremendous raw material and tremendous assets to take this company into the 21st century and to really turn it into a growth company again, which is what my mandate is.

Samir Husni: You mentioned when you took this job less than ten months ago, that the trusted, quality nature of Time’s brands puts you ahead of some of your digital competitors. How have you put that belief into practice over the last 10 months?

Rich Battista: I’d say a few things. Some of it is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I feel like I walked into a company that has been creating quality journalism and trusted journalism, for 90-plus years. The good news is, I walked into a company that knows how to do that in spades.

I think what I’m trying to bring to the company are a few things. In order to really grow and succeed in this new world, you have to be a multiplatform consumer media company. In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.

So, I’d say that what I think I brought to the company is: A) skill sets and pushing people to think about new ways we can leverage our brands in a lot of these exciting platforms, and B) trying to create a bit more of a nimble entrepreneurial culture.

In order to win in today’s world, you have to be on top of these incredibly dynamic changes that are happening. You have to have a staff and an organization that are excited about embracing change and embracing the new world, and that can move quickly to exploit it. You have to be willing to take some bets, and be an innovator and a pioneer. And I think we’re showing that and doing it in a number of different ways.

Samir Husni: While some media people, without actually studying the history of Time Inc., criticize the company’s ‘digital first,’ ‘consumer first,’ or ‘this or that first’ mindset. I was looking at an article from 1936 in which they named Henry Luce chief innovator of 1935 for the launch of the March of Time, which was a half-hour movie theater reel, right after he launched the March of Time on radio in 1931. So, Time Inc. has that innovation and multi-media history as its basis. Suddenly, when you say you want to be multimedia, that you cannot exist unless you are multimedia company, people directly start saying, “Rich is getting rid of the magazine—what’s happening to Time Inc.?”

Rich Battista: You’re right. I think it’s an unfair characterization. I think, to be fair, in the last fifteen years our company hasn’t embraced change like it did under the Henry Luce years. We haven’t been aggressive in expanding into the new world.

To be fair, I don’t think we did under Time Warner. And I think it’s one of the reasons we spun out, so we could 100 percent focus on Time Inc. as one entity and 100 percent focus on what this company could be, and have people leading this company who believed in its growth. That’s critical. And, to be fair, I don’t think this company had that for a lot of years, before we spun out. And as a result, people thought of us as slower, less willing to change and less willing to embrace the new world.

Samir Husni: As you drive this big, huge cruise ship in a new direction; are you going the right speed and it’s full steam ahead, or do you feel like you are still in slow mode?

Rich Battista: I feel like we’re moving very aggressively and quickly. It’s never fast enough for me, frankly. But, I have been thrilled with how this company is willing to embrace the new world and diversify our revenues and think bigger.

Also, partnerships, too. One thing I was surprised by when I got here is how inwardly facing the company was. The company didn’t do a lot of partnerships and didn’t look at creating lots of new relationships. It was a very inwardly facing company, and I was really surprised.

I think that’s one discipline I’m absolutely trying to bring to the company, is making us much more outwardly facing and much more open to partnering, as well as looking at new opportunities and thinking differently. That’s something that I’ve tried to bring to the company. So, I think that we’re moving quite quickly in that regard. You see what we’re doing in some of these new spaces—we really are one of the innovators and pioneers. You look at what we’re doing with snap and Snapchat, right? Where People is one of the first 11 new channels they put on the Discover platform.

Now we’ve launched two other channels, EW and Essence. And we have other pop ups, one day pop-ups with half a dozen other brands. We’re doing great work with Facebook; we’re aggressively looking at creating more content with them. We announced with Twitter that we’re doing live video content with them, with Essence. We’ve launched our new OTT service, the People/Entertainment Weekly Network —which is a long form, video network that, I’d say, can compete with any network on the dial.

In the audio space, we’re being a very aggressive first mover. We just announced with Amazon their new Echo show product, which is audio, but with video as well. We’re one of the early companies that has partnered with them with our People brand. I have to tell you, I think we’re doing a fantastic job in moving quickly and embracing change. It’s never fast enough, but—relatively speaking—if you asked people in the community, they’d tell you that it’s definitely a new Time Inc. here.

Samir Husni: One thing for sure that I hear from a lot of people is that you’re not shy or hesitant about some of the changes you’ve made. For example, your latest decision to move Food & Wine’s test kitchen to Birmingham. Media people were asking, “What is he doing? This is Food & Wine, it should be in New York,” without even going and visiting and seeing the test kitchens in Birmingham.

Rich Battista: It’s an incredible operation down there. To be fair, we should be leveraging it more than we have. To your point, that is certainly one of the big reasons we made the move.

Of course, we’re not going to relinquish our presence in New York with Food & Wine, of course we’re going to keep staff here. It’s very important for the brand. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great headquarters for Food in Birmingham, Alabama, where we have: A) great talent, B) incredible assets. We have twenty-eight test kitchens. We have four studios. And think about the fact that now we can collaborate across all our brands who cover food; they’re now all in one building pretty much.

And that’s really powerful when you’re trying to leverage the scale and resources of this company, and it’s the kind of thing we never used to do with the company. We used to be set up, literally, as if every brand was their own mini company. We weren’t sharing content. We weren’t creating best practices. We weren’t, frankly, leveraging our purchasing power and creating efficiencies in how we operate.

Now, we’ve gone to this enterprise platform approach at the company, which I think is a game changer for us. You need to be nimble and entrepreneurial in today’s world, you have to operate much more on a platform basis. You need to have the speed to move, and if you have 22 different content management systems, with 22 different brands, it’s hard to decide to make a technology move and have it run through all those brands. But, if you have one or two platforms, you can do it instantly—literally, in a day.

Samir Husni: In April, I took a group of my students to visit the test kitchens in Birmingham.

Rich Battista: That’s great.

Samir Husni: And when I heard the news that you were moving Food & Wine’s test kitchen there, I said, “Why did they wait that long?”

Rich Battista: Also, to be fair—I love New York, I work here every day and New York’s an incredible city, but not everything has to be in New York to be successful. I think we’ve shown that we can have headquarters in other parts of the country and have had great success in that regard. And Birmingham’s certainly a perfect example of that.

Samir Husni: As we look at the state of the magazine industry, I have noticed—and it cost me a lot of money to notice this—that Time Inc. is partnering, and doing a lot of bookazines. It’s almost like you are publishing four or five titles, if not more, per week, with a $12.99 or $13.99 cover price. Yesterday, I bought twelve bookazines, published in just the last two weeks, and it cost me $280.

Rich Battista: Music to my ears.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So, while the regular magazine business model is, as you said, declining and struggling; on the other hand, we see Time Inc. investing a lot in bookazines. Why do you think that’s the case? Is this the future of print?

Rich Battista: I’m really glad you brought that up, because we talk a lot about it. I think there are a few reasons why bookazines are showing success. I think, one: a lot of the time they’re timely and pegged to an event. When Carrie Fisher passed away and we put out a bookazine a week later, it was on people’s minds. She was somebody they’d had a lot of admiration for, so you’re leveraging the news cycle. That’s one reason.

Two: they’re often collectables, right? These are often special collectors’ editions. People like having things that feel special or that are tied to events. I think that’s been well received.

Then, the third thing is, we think we’re doing a good job of covering topics in a fulsome way that are important to people today. I think our most successful bookazine, or one of the most successful, is on mindfulness; it’s one of the Time’s bookazines. Now, I wouldn’t have guessed that or predicted that ahead of time, but that, I think, is our number one bookazine right now. I think we’re printing a bunch more now.

So, if you can find a topic that is appealing to a mass audience and you cover it in a fulsome, strong way, and it can help their lives be better and be useful to them and create service for them, then I think you’re going to see people willing to pay. If they think something is of value to them that can help their lives; they’re demonstrating that they’re absolutely willing to pay.

Samir Husni: Why can’t we move that model, and start applying it to create a new magazine business model that’s less dependent on advertising and more dependent on customers?

Rich Battista: We think about that a lot; we talk about that a lot. At the same time, we have incredible, loyal readers, we have incredible advertisers who support our print products. We still make a tremendous amount of money from print advertising, so I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I think it’s challenged, and so declining over time. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, but I think you are right; there are other models you can explore, particularly if you have a title that maybe is more challenged. Maybe there’s a different model you could look at; maybe you charge a higher price and you reduce your sub-base and your ad base, but maybe because you charge a higher price you are able to make economics work.

So, one of the things I will tell you under my leadership here is, we are very open to exploring all kinds of new models. I’ve said this before, “There’s no sacred cows here.” I come from outside the business—sometimes that’s a benefit—and I haven’t been here for ten, twenty, thirty years, and sometimes that’s a benefit. I can come in with a fresh set of eyes and challenge conventional thinking and have people think in new and different ways. We’re doing that at this company.

Samir Husni: We see Hearst, Meredith, Condé Nast, all teaming up with celebrities and other partners to launch new print magazines. Would we ever see Time Inc. teaming up with a celebrity chef, a partner, or some other celebrity?

Rich Battista: I’ll applaud my sister companies; I think they’ve done a really nice job in that regard. Just to be clear, we have one very successful partnership with American Express, with our Departures magazine, and it’s basically a licensing deal; we create the book for them. It’s been very successful. So, absolutely, I think we are exploring and looking at opportunities. Frankly, I think this company has missed that.

I talked about us being inwardly facing, and that’s a perfect example of where this company wasn’t thinking enough creatively; particularly this company, which has by far the most resources in the magazine business and the biggest asset base. If someone wants to partner on a magazine, there’s no better company to do it with than us. We also have incredible marketing power; we’re bigger than everybody else, so we can actually market these titles better than anyone.

So, we are looking and exploring some of those opportunities. I have nothing more to say about it at this time, but we are absolutely looking. And I do applaud my sister companies. I think in general they’ve done a nice job.

Samir Husni: If you were to grade yourself from September 13, 2016, when you became CEO, until today, what grade would you give yourself based on everything you’ve done so far?

Rich Battista: It’s a little early for me to say right now, but maybe at the one year mark we can talk again.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rich Battista: Two things I’d like to add that I think is interesting. In addition to obviously creating what we think is the best journalism, we pride ourselves in not just covering and reporting news, we often feel as though we drive the conversation. And we create news. I think a great example is the work People did during the tragic Orlando shooting. We had a two-page spread where we listed the phone numbers of everyone in Congress, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. And that helped to drive the conversation and create debate about a topic. I think whenever we can do that, we’re offering a service to the community.

When you look at the kind of covers that Time Magazine has done over the last six to nine months related to the election and the presidency; almost weekly I was getting kudos from people who would tell me what a terrific job we were doing covering the White House and the election. As you probably know, our second meltdown cover was Cover of the Year. And I want to just reiterate that we do believe our titles continue to be important in the zeitgeist, certainly in the U.S.

That’s A). B) is one of the interesting things that we’re doing with our brands is a tremendous amount of television and long-form now. We’re going to do 40 hours of television programming with our brands. I think we’re working with about 15 different networks, broadcast cable and digital players.

And what we’re doing, especially with our more newsier brands, such as People, Time, Sports Illustrated, EW and the like, is in Hollywood, where I lived for 25 years, production companies and the networks will sift through People magazine every week for story ideas and develop those ideas for television shows and film. So, we have this unbelievable set of journalists here who are obviously great assets to this company. And these folks are unearthing amazing stories, particularly human interest stories and the like, and writing great pieces because they’re great storytellers. And we were never capturing any of that value when it came to transitioning it to television or film. Other folks would take our articles and then they would figure out how to make a TV show or a movie out of it. So now we’re going to take it into our own hands.

For example, we’re creating TV movies with Freeform network, from stories that were in People Magazine. We’re partnering with famed documentarian Morgan Spurlock to create similar pop culture versions of the 30 for 30 documentaries that ESPN does, with our EW brand, and we’re doing them for a major cable network.

We’re doing a two-night, four-hour, prime time special with ABC on the life of Princess Diana. You might ask why ABC is doing that with us, and the answer would be that we’re experts on the Royals; we have incredible access to that world. Princess Diana was on the cover of People Magazine more than anybody, 57 times. We have incredible promotional and marketing assets, so before the show comes out, we’re going to promote it across all of our platforms and get very excited about it.

My point is, not only do we sell magazines so that people can read great stories every week and great content, but also we’re taking that great content and finding other ways to maximize that revenue; maximize that asset base. And that’s something we’re really proud of . And what I love about it is our editors are now getting to work in other platforms. We have our first hit show on the Investigation Discovery Network called People Magazine Investigates. Again, it’s based on all of these incredible true crime stories that we find at People Magazine. And now all of the crime writers who work for us, they’re involved in the show. They’re writing and developing the story ideas; they’re interviewed on the show; they’re helping to produce the show. And that’s really exciting and it gives people a much more expansive job responsibility.

Another great example is the Essence Fest, which just ended. More than 470,000 people went this year. And it used to be that we did music concerts; now it’s a full three days. During the day we have unbelievable programming and a curriculum of activities around business, health and wellness, sports; just all over the map. Again, we leverage that brand and our editorial experts; we leverage our relationships and the content that we create and turn it into this incredible three-day event. It’s one of the largest festivals in the U.S. And we had great social media response from that festival, so that’s really exciting.

So, I wanted to make that point too, that we really look at our magazines as kind of a foundational platform and that’s really helping us when we go into these other platforms and create new revenue streams.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Rich Battista: I would say that we returned Time Inc. to a growth story.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Are you on an iPad; cooking; sitting and reading a magazine with a glass of wine? What’s your end-of-day “me” time?

Rich Battista: I would probably be either reading a magazine, looking at news on the web, or watching a documentary. One of those things.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Rich Battista: My dog who lays in bed with us.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Rich Battista: No, I think I hit on it earlier. I would say speed. Just being sure that we’re staying ahead of the change; that we’re innovating and moving quickly; that we’re embracing the new world, while respecting our legacy and heritage. That this company is becoming a real player in the new multimedia ecosystem. Every time I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels and I want to make sure that we’re pushing the envelope. I tell people that I’m a real believer in that if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough.

I worked for Rupert Murdoch in his organization for almost 20 years. And that culture is about taking calculated bets and getting behind those bets. It’s about thinking unconventionally. It’s about not always following the pack. It’s about sometimes being a contrarian. And that’s the kind of culture I’m constantly looking to infuse here, and that my senior team is also looking to infuse here. I think that’s a really important success factor in navigating today’s world.

And I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I’ve had more than 10 magazine subscriptions throughout different points in my life. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: