By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynne Segall Returns To Sanity
(Almost) Everyone she knew told her not to take the job with MMC, which is dominated by Nikki Finke and Deadline Hollywood. But they were willing to pay her a lot… others didn’t have it to pay…. there was heat around the brand… and it was a chance for Lynne, who had virtually zero experience with selling a web-only product, to learn the new medium.
It took her less than a month to realize that what everyone had said about Nikki was true. (I believe she is on good terms – at least until her exit – with Jay Penske.)
It took her just under 15 months to get out.
Lynne did crack the seal on the studios spending on Nikki. There were some buys in years past, but last year, most of the players turned up on Deadline at some point or another. Lynne created the print product that will be repeated again by Deadline this year, even though it didn’t turn out to be a home run for anyone. Lynne dragged in Pete Hammond to give her something (anything!) to sell as Oscar content.
But the question at Deadline/MMC is whether any of this offset the cost of the many expensive hires – including Lynne – that have been made and are now in ongoing doubt. The core of Finke/Fleming/Andreeva is not under threat from being fired… though some might be dreaming of exit strategies. But Penske has a bit of a problem on his hands. While Deadline remains a media darling of sorts, the Finke brand continues to be watered down by the domination of the site by her top two employees and her own inability to remain exciting/horrifying on a regular basis.
In other words, they wanted to be a trade. They are a trade now. And fewer and fewer people care. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter has pushed a higher-class version of the button that made Nikki famous. Some trade news, sure… but there’s plenty of TMZ and Smoking Gun and high-gloss at The Hollywood Reporter.
And at Deadline… there a HOT trailer from YouTube… someone changed agencies… someone else was cast as the second lead of some show at Fox EXCLUSIVELY! And every once in a while, Nikki calls someone an asshole for crossing one of the studio heads that feed her information that she dutifully prints with exclamation points.
There is another problem for MMC. They have shown that two trade reporters and one obsessive screamer is all you really need to be “a trade” in this town. So others have come. And more will come. It ain’t brain surgery… it’s a Rolodex of familiar names and a willingness to write their stories up as the trades have done for years. Transcription more than reporting.
Nikki never has to go away. She is scalable, as an individual. Her blog can run for under $20k a year. But the overhead – meaning writers and other staff – not so scalable.
And this is the story of the internet and journalism. The scale is the high and the low. There is the potential for virtually anything. But there is also the reality that no matter how well a niche is served by content, it’s still a niche and as long as advertisers can pay for imdb or MSN or others to get EVERYONE, the niche is still just a niche. Except during awards season… which is why there is such a frenzy for those dollars.
But even having some success bringing in those Oscar and Emmy dollars, a ton of uniques and a ton of traffic to one page is not scalable. No one who reads Deadline reads Deadline only. No one ever will. The expansion has been an attempt to sell a buffet in an a la carte world. The Hollywood Reporter is serving a la carte… but with more dishes on the menu and those dishes are cooked to be attractive to a much wider potential audience.
Lynne Segall is back in her wheelhouse. Good for her. There will be more real pressure in the new job than in the last job because the stakes are much higher. She had her hands tied by the product at MMC. She has all the weapons she could ask for at THR… and now needs to grow the business by a significant margin this year and next.
And we’ll see how Nikki and Penske deal with the corner they have painted themselves into. Fleming and Andreeva should realize that they are now in a power position. The site, as it has been grown, joins a long list of also-rans instantly if either of them leaves. And make no mistake, there are a lot of people who will be happy to feed on Nikki’s venomous carcass the second she seems vulnerable (or as soon as they can convince their bosses she is not worthy of first-placement status).
Penske would probably have a healthier business model spinning FlemDreeva off, with some support, to a trade business and putting Nikki back into the daily screeching business. The duo is dynamic and professional. They could actually do better without Nikki floating above, even though not having the 800 lb gorilla ready to vomit out the verbal version of an Anthony Weiner phototweet might be scary at first. That way, he could sell both, though I think anyone who gets it knows that the ads on the FlemDreeva site would sell better than on a Nikki site.
Or Penske could double down and buy Variety. Of course, Nikki couldn’t begin to run an operation that size. So that’s dangerous too. She might scream him to death and demand that he sue himself.
Congratulations, Lynne. Can’t wait to hear the screams all over town as you take on your former staff at the LA Times with a loaded weapon.
Wait? Did everyone not get that? Hollywood Reporter is not competing with Deadline or The Wrap or even Variety. LAT is the real target.
And here we go…