TV/Business NotesSeacrest Assembles TV Empire
By Brian Stelter, The New York Times
- May 1, 2012
Three months ago, when the news, sports and entertainment worlds converged on Indianapolis for the Super Bowl, Ryan Seacrest was at home in Hollywood and feeling uncharacteristically jealous.
He sent an e-mail to Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, whose NBC network was broadcasting the football game. I'm going nuts not being there, Mr. Seacrest wrote.
The next time NBC shows a Super Bowl, in 2015, it's likely that Mr. Seacrest will be there.
On Friday he signed a new contract with NBCUniversal that will have him contribute to the Today show, Olympics coverage, election coverage and other special events. But not exclusively. He will remain at Fox Broadcasting, hosting American Idol; at Clear Channel, hosting radio shows; and, most likely, at ABC, hosting the New Year's Eve special that Dick Clark started 40 years ago.
Already Mr. Seacrest makes well more than $50 million a year from his current jobs, but his busy days are increasingly about businesses behind the scenes, as he tries to do what Mr. Clark did decades ago: build an entertainment empire. (Mr. Clark died in April.)
The exact shape his holding company, Ryan Seacrest Media, will eventually take is unclear to many in the media industry and may even be unclear to Mr. Seacrest, 37, who declined an interview request for this article last week. But he appears to be placing several important bets a few on broadcasting, a couple on cable, a couple on the Web.
He wants to build a major worldwide lifestyle brand with TV production as just one part of that empire, said Richard J. Bressler, a managing director of the private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. That firm, and Bain Capital, which together control Clear Channel, announced last winter a $300 million commitment to work together on investments and acquisitions.
Ryan's a rare breed: a great creative talent but also a very good business person, said Bob Pittman, the chief executive of Clear Channel.
Mr. Seacrest, who started hosting radio shows as a teenager, became nationally known a decade ago when he was named the host of Idol, which became the biggest reality show on television. With Idol as his foundation, he started making more deals: radio shows for Clear Channel, newscasts for E! and a spot next to Mr. Clark on New Year's Rockin' Eve. He was made a producer as well as a host of each, giving him more financial and editorial control.
Then his company started making its own shows. The misses, like Momma's Boys on NBC, have been mostly forgotten, but the hits, like Keeping Up With the Kardashians on E!, have persuaded channels like Bravo and CMT to buy its shows. On Monday E! announced it had ordered another, a reality show starring Kevin Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers, and his wife, Danielle Deleasa.
In this way Mr. Seacrest may be modeling himself on Mr. Clark, who once said he made money from his American Bandstand horizontally, vertically, every which way you can think of.
Mr. Seacrest's production company is developing scripted TV and film projects as well. Eager to gain a toehold in TV production, Clear Channel took a minority stake in the company this year. When its new shows begin (like Bravo's Shahs of Sunset, which started in March, and was recently renewed), Clear Channel's radio stations will promote them aggressively, Mr. Pittman said, describing the cross-pollination as an advantage in this fragmented media world.
Clear Channel is expected to announce that Mr. Seacrest's $20-million-a-year deal there has been extended two more years, through 2015, at a value of more than $25 million each year. The company declined to comment.
His other big deals, with the makers of Idol and with NBCUniversal, will come up for renewal in 2014. For now, his employers have all agreed grudgingly, perhaps to share him.
It's what Ryan wants to do, Mr. Burke of NBCUniversal said. He's driving his own career.
Mr. Burke took Mr. Seacrest's contract at E! and turned it into a broader deal with the channel's parent, reducing the host's role on E! News but creating roles on the NBC network. At Today Mr. Seacrest will be a special correspondent; on the Olympics he will be a prime-time contributor.
He'll be able to try new things and see which ones work the best, Mr. Burke said, adding that NBCUniversal as a whole will try to get as high a percentage as we can of Mr. Seacrest's time.
Idol and the radio shows help him maintain connections with fans and promote his other shows, while the new deals let him experiment.
Because live events are loved by television executives for their social media appeal they are less likely to be watched with DVRs than scripted shows Mr. Seacrest's hosting skills are especially valued right now.
What this NBC deal gives him is diversification, said Gigi L. Johnson, who teaches courses on digital media and media disruption at the University of California, Los Angeles, and other universities. It helps him move from an entertainment brand to a news, politics, sports, and prime-time brand. Bluntly, it could reduce his fluff factor.'*
Mr. Burke said Mr. Seacrest could be at the political conventions this summer for NBC, interviewing attendees about social media and the youth vote.
Off camera Mr. Seacrest is also an investor in AXS TV, a cable-channel venture with the talent agency CAA, the events promoter AEG and the Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The channel will replace Mr. Cuban's HDNet this summer. AXS will be another destination for shows made by Mr. Seacrest's company.
But none of the new investments or contracts have a first-look deal, which would require Mr. Seacrest to offer a show to a particular channel first. His first-look with E! expired in January, giving his production company new flexibility.
As ubiquitous as he is, Mr. Seacrest risks a backlash from the audience one that is perceptible at times on the Web, where jokes about his many roles sometimes double as criticism.
But Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment, media and society at the University of Southern California, asserted that his ubiquity isn't threatening because he's devoid of the latent-monster vibe.
Mr. Seacrest doesn't dish up drama for the TMZs of the world. He popped up on that site on Wednesday, but only because he was so sick that there was a chance that he would miss Idol for the first time in a decade. (He hosted the show that night, despite his illness.)
The usual five-act celebrity narrative is: success; too big for his britches; had a great fall; humility recaptured; the comeback kid, Mr. Kaplan said. But he's frozen in the amber of Act I.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/ar...nyzcpFbxPBnK6A