Friday, January 20, 2006
VIDEO: San Jose Mercury interviews CBS.COM chief Larry Kramer in Q&A format
Posted on Sun, Jan. 08, 2006
headline: CATCHING UP WITH LARRY KRAMER: The Internet takes center stage at CBS
By Michael Bazeley
The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
The mainstream media are under pressure, their future cloudy as people turn to a wider and more diverse variety of sources for their news.
But from his perch on the third floor of CBS's San Francisco offices, news veteran Larry Kramer isn't worried. As the recently named president of CBS Digital Media, the network's Internet division, Kramer is quickly reshaping CBS' news and entertainment operations to reflect the new world order, in which the Internet has emerged as a major source of information.
Since Kramer, the founder of financial news site MarketWatch.com, came on board as president, CBS News has rebuilt its Web site into a 24-hour news operation, with original video and reporting not found on its TV news programs. The company is now streaming news and entertainment video to mobile phones. It will stream NCAA basketball games on the Web this spring. And it's experimenting with putting episodes of prime-time TV sitcoms on sites such as Google Video and Yahoo.
On Friday, Google and CBS announced a partnership that would make some CBS video programming available on a pay-per-view basis through a new Google Video Store. k ramer considers CBS Digital to be the ``cable outlet'' that CBS doesn't have. Kramer's online portfolio is vast, including CBS.com, CBSNews.com, UPN.com, SportsLine.com and a bevy of smaller sites, including StarTrek.com.
The 55-year-old Kramer has been in the news business for more than 30 years, starting as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner in 1974. After stops at the Washington Post and the Trenton Times in New Jersey, he rejoined the Examiner only to leave again in 1991 to start a company called Data Sport. In 1997, he launched MarketWatch.com. CBS invested in the company, and the site was renamed CBSMarketWatch.com. Dow Jones bought the financial news site in November 2004 for $520 million, making Kramer a millionaire. He joined CBS Digital in March 2005.
We caught up with Kramer recently on the first day in his new offices. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Q What is your role now at CBS?
A To put all of that stuff together into a formidable digital group and to grow the digital assets quickly. The idea being, we're not a portal, so we're not going to grow users with e-mail or that kind of stuff. But what we do have is a portal-size audience. We just have them on TV. So migrating them to and bringing them into our world, into the digital world, is the way we're hoping to grow a digital audience big enough to get significant amounts of digital advertising dollars.
Q What did you find when you came in?
A SportsLine was a mature Internet business. CBS.com and CBSNews.com weren't. They were really shoestring businesses meant to support the core, the television shows, the news operations, in a smaller way. What we did was change the outlook of those into real profit-making products. And we went the other way. We actually got the fact that we have a great news division that can support a great news site, and we want to have everybody in the news division work for the news site. And we re-launched that in June.
We have people working 24 hours a day for a 22-minute show basically. So the ability to use them the rest of the day turned out to be not just something we thought would be a good idea, but something they thought would be a good idea. People who work for CBS now get a lot more display on the Web site, and have their video seen. Anybody can go back and see it. They're doing a ton of original content for the Web now, more for the Web than for television.
Q Talk about your vision for CBSNews.com.
A There, we're attracting a younger audience. The average age of a CBS News.com user is 15 years younger than Evening News viewers. So it's our first wholesale exposure to a younger audience. Really important to us. On the other hand, we get the revenues to support the kind of news operation that we could never support on Web revenues only.
Q So you're leveraging the television assets that you have, and layering on or coupling them with digital online assets.
A Right. We've got 1,500 news people around the world. We didn't need to put another (online) reporter next to our reporter in Baghdad. We needed to have the reporter in Baghdad learn to file to the Web. . . . Almost invariably we have much more on the Web than we have on TV.
Q Today, people can get content wherever they want, and there's been a lot of talk about bypassing the mainstream media and the value judgments it makes about what kind of news it thinks is important. You say that people want that news judgment, right?
A I definitely think people want judgement. . . .In the news gathering, in the news operations, the magic is still a combination of things. It's giving people what they want and what we think they need to know. . . .At MarketWatch, it was the reason we never did a (personalized) ``My MarketWatch'' page. Our front page was core and central to what we did. People were getting from us our take on the news. We had a very active news desk. It was our secret weapon. We actually had humans editing and doing the front page on the Web. Everyone else was automating that process. And we had people really manipulating, like we do here, how things appear, based on our opinion of what's important. And that's one of the things you want when you come to our site, is the CBS News we think is important and why.
Q Q What are you learning about the next generation of users who are coming online who you want to target?
A A I think they want the same things. I think we have to give it to them differently. We have to entertain them a little more, we have to make it more visual. They're kids who have grown up in a more visual society, so mixing video and text and interactive graphics is real and it's evolving.We're now on cell phones. We're working on something where what you'll get is a video alert. You'll get 10 seconds, a 10-second video of whatever news just happened.
Q Q Talk about that. I'm personally skeptical that people are going to want to watch very much video on a tiny screen (like a cell phone). Why am I wrong?
A A It's all relative. I don't think it becomes the pre-eminent place to watch video. But it's all about your time. So if I'm sitting on an airplane or I'm sitting on a runway, will I watch a TV show on an iPod? If that's my only choice, I will. Would I rather see it in front a flat screen, or a 50-inch screen sitting at home on a couch? You bet. But I'm making concessions in my life. I'm doing a million things, I'm traveling a lot. Kids are moving around a lot. They live on cell phones.I don't think anyone, honestly, will sit here and watch an hour-long show on a cell phone. But it doesn't mean when it's 10 o'clock night at Logan Airport and you're waiting to come home, and it's late and nothing is open and nothing is on, that they wouldn't do anything they possibly could on here.
Q There's been lots of talk about moving legacy media such as print and TV onto the Web and whether or not it can pay for itself.
A We're doubling advertising on CBSNews.com every year. And advertisers, for the first time, are supporting video on the Web. I can't put enough video up. I'm sold out. . . . Our Web business is a significant business by outside standards. It's less significant by CBS standards. It's just 3 or 4 percent of CBS' revenues. But we're bigger than MarketWatch. . . . (CBS Digital) is profitable, it has good margins and the margins are growing.
Q Internet search is a big way that people are beginning to find video. How do you see that playing out?
A That, to us, will be a big business, because you'll be able to go on Google and say, ``I'm doing a report on Jackie Robinson for school.'' And you can go and find out that ``60 Minutes'' did a piece on him in the '60s. And you can go get it, and now see it for a buck, if that's what we decide to do. Or you can see it with commercials. I'll be able to sell entertainment programming from Paramount. And maybe it will cost you, or maybe we'll inject ads. Those are dollars we wouldn't have been able to take in before. We could have never matched that buyer with that content without a search mechanism.
Q Have there been discussions with Google to make your video more find-able?
A Everybody. Google, Yahoo, MSN.
Q There have been predictions that Google and Yahoo will begin to build up news staffs. Do you see them becoming content- providers?
A Yahoo is obviously further down the road there, and they're wrestling with that question...And I do not believe that they've made that decision that question that they want to go big. Right now, they don't think they can. They don't expect to be CBS News or CNN. But they do want to do more and more programming of their own. Because the problem is, they were dependent totally on partners for content. And guess what? The partners are starting to get stingy because they want to build it themselves on the Web. There's a built-in conflict.
If you take that to its logical conclusion, Google buys CBS. They've got the kind of money to buy someone or a content-creation machine. (But) that hasn't gone well historically with technology firms.
LARRY KRAMER PROFILE
. Age: 55
. Birthplace: Hackensack, N.J.
. Position: President, CBS Digital Media
. Previous jobs: Reporter at San Francisco Examiner and Washington Post,
metro editor of Post, editor of Examiner, founder of Marketwatch.com
. Education: Bachelor's degree in journalism and political science,
Syracuse University; MBA from Harvard University.
. Family: Married to Myla Lerner, with son Matthew and daughter Erika.
. Residence: Tiburon
Source:Larry Kramer, Mercury News research
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LARRY KRAMER
1. He got the first interview with newspaper heiress and kidnapping
hostage Patty Hearst after she was released by her captors.
2. At 31, he was the youngest Metro editor ever at the Washington Post.
3. He gave TV political pundit Chris Matthews his first job in journalism.
4. He left work early on the day of Marketwatch.com's initial public
offering so he could coach his daughter's basketball game.
5. He was once a photojournalist whose first assignment was shooting the
Woodstock music festival.