I’ve Lived Three FIVE Lives (So Far)
As I write this, Frederator Networks’ Channel Frederator is distributing more than 3000 channels, making it the world’s largest animation network. Our Cartoon Hangover channel has launched several hit shows (with a record breaking Kickstarter at that). If that’s not enough, Frederator recently merged with the Vancouver studio Rainmaker and Toronto’s Ezrin Hirsh to form WOW! Unlimited, where I’ve added the title of WOW!’s Chief Creative Officer to my Frederator/CEO duties. It seems like as good a time as any to pause and refresh my bio.
This biography used to be called “I’ve Lived Three Lives,” but since it was written I’ve added a few more lives. I just can’t seem to stop living! Here’s a rundown of all that I’ve been doing:
Life # 5 — Internet Network Executive
I’m the founder and CEO of Frederator Networks where we’re building the future of global video networks, and the co-founder of Thirty Labs, a technology start up studio exclusively focused on innovating video products.
I’ve always been drawn to community, whether it’s rock’n’roll (MTV), kids (Nickelodeon), or cartoons (Hanna-Barbera, Cartoon Network and Nick). Today the internet is the new town square, the place where people with fresh ideas are meeting and collaborating and creating a brave new pop culture. As television began to be possible in this world I knew I had to be part of it.
In 2006 I got together with a bunch of like-minded media mavens and created Next New Networks. Quickly, we began one of the leading video programmers online, helping to create the entire concept of multi-channel networks (MCNs), and in March 2011 YouTube acquired the company.
After the acquisition, I turned right around and formed Frederator Networks to continue the work started at Next New Networks, helping to creating the future of television. In rapid succession, we successfully launched Cartoon Hangover (one of select few partners in YouTube’s Original Channels Initiative), and started distributing independently owned animation channels on our newly formed Channel Frederator Network (as of now we’re at over 2500 channels, making us the world’s largest animation network). And with our audience asking us for more about videogames, TV and movies, we’ve started The Leaderboard Network and Cinematica.
Several years ago, a young former Frederator intern, David Karp, was working out of our New York office and developed the Tumblr platform. I became one of the company’s early investors and proudly served on its board of directors until Yahoo! acquired Tumblr in 2013.
Working with engineer Emil Rensing on Next New Networks and David Karp on Tumblr, gave me a taste of the amazing talent who worked developing new technology. So, in April 2014, I led Frederator into a partnership with Betaworks, Advancit Capital, Jon Miller, and Yoel Flohr to form Thirty Labs, a technology studio exclusively focused on innovating video products for the new world.
Over the past 10 years, I took some guff from some of my Old Media buddies. They thought I crazy to try such ambitious plans in a fledgling industry. But then, in my lives, I’ve often found that being crazy isn’t such a bad thing.So being crazy isn’t a liability in the Internet business, either.
Life # 4 — Television & Feature Film Cartoon Producer
Releasing its first cartoons in 1998, Frederator Studios is the production division of Frederator Networks.
In 1992 I became president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know much about cartoons when I started out, but I had one simple idea: If you want great cartoons, make them the way the greatest cartoons of all time were made. That’s why we launched Hanna-Barbera’s “What A Cartoon!” shorts project. I wanted to create short, seven minute, funny cartoons with vivid characters and hilarious stories and gags—the way the great cartoonists of the 30s and 40s did it.
A lot of industry professionals thought I was crazy.
That grand experiment gave us 48 original shorts, an Academy Award nomination, two Emmy nominations, and seven original half-hour cartoon series (The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Cow & Chicken, I am Weasel, Courage The Cowardly Dog, What A Cartoon!, and Dexter’s Laboratory). And it had the effect of revitalizing the entire TV animation industry, which was in pretty poor shape when we started.
In 1997, Nickelodeon asked me to use the same techniques to produce cartoons for them. In the last decade my company Frederator has produced hundreds of new characters for Nick at Random! Cartoons and Oh Yeah!Cartoons. Our cartoons feature the work of some of the most talented professionals in the business today and have spawned such award-winning, crowd pleasing hits as The Fairly Oddparents, ChalkZone, My Life as a Teenage Robot, Fanboy & Chum Chum, and Adventure Time. We created Channel Frederator in 2005, one of the first animation channels on the internet, helping to foment a video revolution that’s still unfolding. And on April 1, 2012, our team blasted off Cartoon Hangover, our channel for original productions, into the online universe.
In my lives, I’ve often found that being crazy isn’t such a bad thing.
Life # 3 — Agency Man
After quite a few productive years helping to give birth to TV networks (you can read about that in “Life # 2”) I formed a company with my producing partner, Alan Goodman. A lot of our associates thought we were crazy to leave sure-thing corporate success behind in favor of our own company, but once again, we made crazy work for us.
Because of Alan’s love for mid-twentieth century comedians we called our company Fred/Alan, and set up offices in Jackie Gleason’s former headquarters in the Park Sheraton hotel. Fred/Alan became a successful advertising agency/consulting firm/production company and think-tank for a wide range of new and established clients, including the MTV Networks, CBS, Showtime, HBO/ Cinemax, TBS, A&E, Lifetime, WNET, The Movie Channel, Sassy Magazine, Barq’s Soft Drinks, Comedy Central, and BMG Records. Most significantly, we retained a close relationship with networks we had helped create—MTV and its sister networks Nickelodeon and VH-1.
In 1985, Fred/Alan oversaw the relaunch of Nickelodeon. At the time it was a kids’ network that nobody watched – least of all kids. We redesigned the logo, created a new look, sound, and vocabulary for marketing/on-air promotion, and took Nickelodeon from worst to first in cable ratings in one year. Then we came up with the idea for Nick-at-Nite, creating the first television oldies network. Nick-at-Nite was an environment, a place…we called it TV Land! Our work took a bunch of old black and white reruns and turned them into an immediate ratings and sales success.
Not content with merely enhancing the value of existing shows, we also wanted to produce our own. So Fred/Alan launched Chauncey Street Productions. We won three ACE awards for shows we made for HBO and Nickelodeon.
I’m especially proud of two of the last things Fred/Alan did before I headed for Hollywood. We made up the name and wrote the original branding and positioning for a new comedy channel—now known to the world as the successful and influential cable network Comedy Central. The next time you watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, South Park or any of Comedy Central’s other fine and funny shows, remember that it all started at Fred/Alan. We also helped relaunch MTV’s sister channel, VH-1, in 1991. We dubbed it The Greatest Hits of Music Video, and the network’s ratings rose in 24 hours! That was the first time in history that VH-1 had turned a profit.
Life # 2 — Cable Pioneer
In 1981, I was director of on-air promotion at The Movie Channel. My boss there asked me to help launch a fledgling cable network that would do nothing but play music all day and all night. It was going to be called MTV: Music Television. Back then very few people had cable. A lot of industry professionals thought the whole idea was crazy.
I thought cable was a coming thing, and developed a strategy: If we could burn the MTV logo into viewers minds – literally ‘brand’ the network – it would create a sensation. Young rock fans would demand their MTV. The result was the now-famous “I Want My MTV” chant and the constantly mutating MTV logo, as changeable and fractious as the audience the channel reaches. We created hundreds of animated logos with dozens of the world’s independent studios. Our work won a special award from ASIFA, the international animation society, as well as CLIO awards from the advertising world. Adweek magazine named me one of eight “leaders of the new media.” During my time at the network I supervised everything that comprised MTV’s identity—programs, promotions, advertising, contests, premiums, and consumer products. And I am still in business with that network and its siblings in various ways today.
Life # 1 — Jazz Cat
Before all that, I was in the music biz. Not so much as a musician, although I did play out a little in my youth. But I found other ways to express my love of music. While attending Columbia University I became a radio DJ and record producer. In the 70s I formed Oblivion Records, a blues and jazz label, and one of my independent jazz productions got nominated for a Grammy. I also helped make WHN in New York City the most listened-to country station in the United States.
Does it seem strange for a former jazz cat to morph into a TV executive, and then turn into a cartoon producer who sets out to pioneer the new frontier of video on the Internet? Not to me. For me it’s all part of a very clear continuum. I’m attracted to community, to places where disenfranchised people find what they love, and find each other and get creative. I’m attracted to heart and soul and humor, and to things that are wild, weird and unpredictable. I guess you could say I’m attracted to crazy. With any luck I’ll have a few more crazy lives to add to this document in the years ahead.