The Recipes of Pixar

In the animation world, Pixar has been king for the past decade.  After spinning off from  Lucas Film in 1985, being bought by Steve Jobs, and eventually going public, the company found its footing in the mid 90’s and became a dominant player in CGI animation.  Pixar’s string of hits started with Toy Story in 1995, and has followed with commercial and licensing successes for nearly all its major releases since:  A Bugs Life in 1998, Toy Story 2 in 1999, Monsters Inc in 2001, Finding Nemo in 2003, The Incredibles in 2004, Cars in 2006 and more on the way.

On January 31st, Ed Catmull co-founder and former President of Pixar, one time CTO of Pixar and now head of the joint Pixar Disney Animation Studio (following Disney’s $7.4b acquisition of Pixar last year) spoke at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business Entrepreneurship Conference.  


In his presentation, Dr. Catmull spoke about process and culture at Pixar; Effectively, things that are part of the company’s recipe for success that have been learned with trial and error.  Many of these points, along with others made in an interview with some students (found here) translate across business markets and seem smart managerial practice. 

While he gave the speech some time ago now, there are 4 management lessons I took from his speech and interview which  I’ve been wanting to put to paper:

Look for what’s wrong, not just what’s right:

Early on, Pixar created a structure with programmers, animators and producers that differed from standard practice in the industry.  The thought was a more equal peer system coupled with an “open door” “easy access” process would make for a healthy culture.  Turned out, there were problems lurking and they were almost missed. 

Click to Read More

Ticketmaster & Echomusic

Last week Ticketmaster announced the purchase of a majority stake in Nashville based music marketing/fan-club/fan-ticketing company Echomusic.   The terms of the purchase were not disclosed.

Echomusic, which  provides musician fan-websites, marketing, sponsorship services and direct-to-fan ticketing, will help with Ticketmaster’s (a division of Interactive Corp.) efforts to move into broader promotion, and non-traditional ticket sales (resale, dynamic pricing, direct-to-fan).   It will also give Ticketmaster more tools for building relationships with bands and promotions and  that may increase revenue opportunities from channels beyond the ticket-fee charges that account for the bulk of their revenue.   (Ticketmaster earned $279.1 in revenue for Q4 2006, up 10% over ’05). 

Despite the benefits of the deal, the deal is, arguably, as much defensive  for Ticketmaster as offensive. Click to Read More

Tornante: what is it?

High profile executives aren’t unlike many professional athletes when it comes to retirement; neither stay quiet for long.   It doesn’t matter whether departure was voluntary or forced, or whether success was motivated by love of the game, or the ego stimulation of being a celebrity.  The thrill of competition and the excitement of a big deal are powerful stimulants and tempting lures.

On September 30, 2005 Michael Eisner resigned from Disney a year before his contract expired.  Mr. Eisner seems to have spent much of the time since doing the corporate equivalent of autograph signings: he’s been a fixture on high profile speaking tours.  He’s also been host of his own MSNBC talk show.

It now looks like Eisner is quietly setting the stage to get back into the game through his current business entity The Tornante Company.   The small, Beverley Hills based, company seems to be something of a private equity firm focusing on New Media and Entertainment properties.  (Whether Tornante is capitalized solely by Eisner, or with other investors is unclear.)

Since April 2006, Tornante has made two publicly announced deals. Click to Read More

2 Trends in Event Tickets

With the Summer concert tours approaching and ticket sales and presales beginning, seems a good time to look at a couple trends in event ticketing:

Trend #1 – Paperless Ticketing:

Airlines realized the cost effectiveness of paperless ticketing a decade ago.  When flying you now check in online, print a boarding pass at home or get it at the gate.  It saves some trees and costs.    The event ticket industry is embracing similar concepts.  

The ticket industry is motivated to go digital not just by cost savings but also, with some offerings, a desire to gain access to the previously lost business opportunity of the secondary ticket markets.  Analysts from Forrester Research estimate that secondary resale market at upwards of $10b/year.  Click to Read More

Imagi Growing

To prepare for a ramp-up in production, and meet an internal goal of one film every 8 to 12 months, Imagi Studios has begun assembling a team of experienced Hollywood animation professionals to guide its Hong Kong animation staff (which includes approximately 400 animators and staff).

Brett Feeney whose resume includes Happy Feet and the Matrix Reloaded was hired to work in Hong Kong as Vice President of Production.

Cecil Kramer, whose credits include Shrek, Antz and the Prince of Egypt will be the Executive VP of Production and oversee creative from LA.  Ms. Kramer was formerly the co-head of production at DreamWorks Animation.

Maryanne Granger, a colleague of Ms Kramer’s from DreamWorks (DWA) will join the team to head production for Imagi’s title “Astroboy.”  Lynne Southerland, co-director of Mulan 2 will be the producer for Gatchaman, Imagi’s other in-development title (due in 2008).

The hiring’s mark  an aggressive growth plan being implemented by Douglas Glen, who was hired to lead the company in September.  At the core of the strategy (which I speculated on here) is the use of facilities Click to Read More

When Fans Attack: Marketing missteps

Yesterday I looked at the way marketers have been exploring both interactive tools and user-generated content sites in order to create broad multimedia campaigns.  The couple examples from TV and publishing showed advertisers/marketers creating fake companies, or websites, or aggressively using User-Generated-Content (YouTube etc) sites to hype and promote their products.   There are a multitude of other examples from Film, Television and other products; even luxury car brands like Audi are not immune.   Anheuser-Busch is getting in to the arena too. BudTV, which launched after the Super Bowl, provides several channels of Net TV video content created to help promote Budweiser for user who register to use the site.

The efforts to plug in to the viral marketing benefits of user-generated-content and willingness to embrace new technologies are notable.  Ultimately, I think they help legitimize the technology platforms as much, if not more, than they help promote products. But hijacking sites like YouTube, or MySpace, for advertising purposes (and creating hoax content) borders on problematic.  Today’s focus is those problems:

There is a fine line between content that is entertaining or engaging to fans versus content that irritates potential viewers/customers with misleading information.  Consumers are constantly inundated with marketing materials and have grown sensitive to the tone and nature of what’s directed at them.  A small misstep could significantly harm a campaign, or taint a potential fan/customers reaction.  Marketers needs to ask themselves if their efforts are clearly fun and entertainment, or more likely to be viewed as misleading. 

In 2004, Sci Fi Channel demonstrated what not to do with an effort that was clearly misleading. Click to Read More

Sequel-itis: Summer Movies

The first days of spring are just here so it seems a bit premature to look ahead to summer. But summer is not too far off and with it, come the summer blockbusters – the big, spectacles that often define a movie studios financials for the year.   

In line with Hollywood’s tendency to try and milk as much from established franchises as possible, this year’s scheduled slate includes an unusually high number of sequels.  Among the highly anticipated titles there will be one Part 5, one 4th installment,  at least 6 movies which are  the 2nd sequel (or 3rd installment) and at least two true sequels (2nd installments).

Here’s a brief look at some of these titles which marketing machines have been promoting since before the holiday lights were even put away.   Here is also a look at just how lucrative the franchises have been (e.g. why they keep getting green-lighted for new installments):

(Note: These numbers, from show only the Box Office returns for the franchises, they don’t include numbers for the DVD sales and merchandising/licensing revenue which are (for most of these movies) equally substantial)

Page 1 of 3123