Transcript: BlogHer spoke with Julia Boorstin of CNBC
Megan Smith- Hello, I am Megan Smith, television and YouTube editor for BlogHer. Today I am pleased to be interviewing CNBC’s media entertainment reporter Julia Boorstin.
Julia’s job allows her to cover issues as varied as the projected opening for films like Dark Knight and Mama Mia to interviewing the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Julia joined CNBC in May 2006 as a general assignment reporter and by December of that same year, Julia was reporting from the Los Angeles bureau on the intersection of media and technology. She also writes a blog for CNBC.com called “Media Money.” Before joining CNBC, Julia was a writer and reporter for Fortune magazine. During that time, she was also a contributor to Street Life, a live stock market segment on CNN Headline News. In 2003, 2004 and 2006, the Journalist and Financial Reporting Newsletter named Julia to their list of thirty most promising business journalists under 30 years old.
Julia, welcome. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Julia Boorstin- Entirely my pleasure. Thanks so much for talking to me.
Megan Smith- Great. Let’s get to our first question. First, tell me a little bit about your job at CNBC. What do you enjoy most about it?
Julia Boorstin- Well I think that I couldn’t have a more fascinating beat. I mean, the area of media is constantly changing. I think it is changing more now then it ever has before and it is just very exciting to cover something that's just so dynamic. The story is never the same. I never have to worry about it getting boring or repetitive. I am really looking at the intersection of entertainment and technology at this period of unprecedented change and technology is changing faster then ever. It is always fascinating to think of how we are going to be consuming media tomorrow or five years from now and looking at how print publications and newspapers are struggling to adapt to change and how the music industry, in a way, failed to adapt to the new technology and how the movie and TV industries are trying not to fall prey to what happened in the music industry. I am looking at how everyone is scrambling to keep up with the new technologies and then looking at the little guys, these smaller start up companies that are maybe potential acquisition targets that could be the ones to really revolutionize the way we all consume media. So this is really an interesting and diverse landscape.
Megan Smith- That is a good comparison when you talk about the music industry, because they missed the boat when it came to online downloading of music because they wanted to try and keep their hands in the total pie of the record industry and it just did not work for them. When we talk about media these days, we are talking about television, movies and the internet. What do you think has been the biggest media story of the past twelve months?
Julia Boorstin- Media, in addition to television, movies and internet, is also newspapers, magazines and all of these print publications, websites, and it is also the music industry because the music industry now is very different then what it used to be. I think that the main issue for the media industry is how the old media companies are transitioning to this digital future. In looking at the biggest story of the past year, I think this issue and this child can really be epitomized in the labor conflict that dominated Hollywood business over the past year. There was a one hundred day writers' strike and in fact a work stoppage as a result of the actors strike, this is estimated to have cost as much as $3 billion to the LA economy, if not more. This is obviously a huge issue and this labor conflict was really all about how much writers and actors, these guild members, should be paid for the digital distribution of their content. The media giants and the content graders, the guild members, are really battling over the future revenues streams to come from media. The interesting this is right now, the media giants aren’t making all that much money in digital distribution yet. They are using the web. They are experimenting with a lot of new distribution forums but nobody knows what is going to work but everybody knows that this is where the business is headed and this is the big battle. So the media giants are struggling to figure out how to squeeze money out of digital distribution and to make sure that their content doesn’t just become pirated, that meanwhile the writers and actors are trying to make sure that they get an adequate piece of that revenue stream. So that, I think, really sort of touches at the heart of what the big conflict is. It is interesting that that was the issue that dominated Hollywood and we are seeing it even in the fall TV season, there are ongoing affects of this strike and the labor conflict.
Megan Smith- And everybody is afraid of not being involved online and that is why they are all jumping in so quickly and without, as you said, without really knowing what it is going to be.
Julia Boorstin- I think there is a lot of experimentation going on. I mean I talk to big executives all the time. Who say, Yeah, we are going to try this and this because who knows, maybe it will work and there is a sense that you have to experiment because you don’t want to be so resistant like the music industry that ended up getting pushed to the side when a player like Apple comes in with iTunes and redefines the rules of the game.
Megan Smith- Exactly. What do you think the big media story of the next twelve months will be?
Julia Boorstin- You know, I think it is going to be more of the same. I think the technology is evolving and the experimentation is evolving and I think that one big question now is online advertising. You know, media is all defined by, or a lot of media is defined by advertising and big advertisers like General Motors, like General Foods, are devoting more and more of their advertising dollars online and for good reason because there is accountability, there is measurability and there is targeting. Sometimes you want to put an ad on TV during the Super Bowl and reach all of America and sometimes you want to reach women age 18-34, so you might go to a certain style website. So, the issue is how much is online advertising going to be affected by the economic slowdown. We are seeing the entire ad market being hurt by this but maybe in this economic environment marketers are going to think strategically about their ad dollars and be more likely to advertise online. So, can we really see a renaissance in online advertising and what does that mean? So, I think it is online advertising. It is what we call the battle for your living room where you have both technology companies like Sony and Microsoft trying to distribute content through their video game consoles. You have companies like Comcast and Direct TV and Telecom company all trying to own your living room and make sure that they are the ones distributing content. Then you have the content creators wanting to make sure that they can figure out the timing of distributing their content and whether they should release movies on DVD versus in theaters to make sure that you are going to keep on paying whether it is through a subscription service for something like HBO or video on demand or go to a move theater that you will keep paying for content instead of trying to get it illegally from the web.
Megan Smith- Now what do you think is the relation to advertising dollars. What do you think about user generated web sites like YouTube and Twitter. How do you think that is going, how do you think they are going to grow going forward in relation to advertising dollars?
Julia Boorstin- Well I do think that advertising on YouTube has been relatively slow to take off and Twitter, obviously, is a much more nascent service. Because I think advertisers are confused. They are reluctant to advertise blindly on user generated sites because they do not want to associate their brand or their product with something that they are not really sure what they are associating with. But I think that YouTube is a very different site now then it was when they originally launched. The original launch was all homemade videos and now, as we see media companies being more experimental, we do see them distributing their content on YouTube. CBS distributes tons of its content on YouTube. So, an advertiser, sure I feel totally confident, just as confident advertising on CBS YouTube as they would on CBS on TV and this way they can now exactly how many people saw it. So I think YouTube is really growing its ad presence and YouTube is experimenting with a lot of new different types of ads. They have these ads now in the lower third, what they call in video ads, that you can click on it and watch the whole ad. So it is more interactive. They think YouTube, which has a combination of professionally generated and consumer generated content is going to have a much better chance and it is already much more successful at growing its ad dollars than something like Twitter, which is incredibly personalized. And Twitter might do well with sort of the equivalent of like local, Twitter, your cell phone company can identify where you are based on what cell phone carrier you are using, so maybe Twitter, and I am not familiar with their ad model right now, but maybe Twitter can be somewhat more like city search ads. Like you’re in downtown San Francisco, here are three different, and Twitter picks up that you mentioned pizza in one of your twitters, here are three pizza parlors near you. So there is a lot of potential because Twitter is also associated with Mobile and your Mobile location but I think that it is only going to be certain types of companies that are going to want to make that kind of judgment that they are willing to advertise on people’s personal content and their personal commentary.
Megan Smith- Okay. At BlogHer we are very conscious of the increase of women online, writing blogs, reading blogs, shaking up the status quo when it comes to media and advertising expectations as to where women can be found. Excluding Oprah and Martha Stewart, because we all know about them, who would you say are the five of the most powerful women in media right now?
Julia Boorstin- You know, there are a number of women in the movie industry. There are several in the movie industry. I wouldn’t say a ton. There is Amy Pascall, who is co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and she is basically co-head of the studio, which is a significant job and then you have over at DreamWorks, Stacy Snyder is co-chairman there of DreamWorks, but I would say the most powerful women in Hollywood are really in the TV industry. Ann Sweeney, at Disney, she is the co-chairman of the media networks for the Walt Disney Company, or maybe she is chairman, no she is president of Disney ABC Television Group, so she runs ABC and all of Disney’s cable channels, ABC’s cable channels. Then you have Judy McGrath, who is the head of MTV Network. You have Nancy Tellem who is President of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group and then you have Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment. Just the other day I interviewed Dawn Ostroff, who is the CEO of CW. I was talking to her about the launch of 90210, which is starting tonight. And there are a lot of women in television and you also have Sherry Redstone, who is President of National Amusements, which is the movie theater chain. So there are women, I think you have women like Oprah and Martha Stewart who are so closely associated with their brand that we are familiar with them, but there are a number of women running the TV networks that we watch everyday.
Megan Smith- When you talk about TV and movies, this year, in the movies, Mama Mia and Sex in the City were very big hits at the box office and very women-centric movies, obviously, but still when it comes to movies and TV, TV seems the place to be if you want to see good entertainment starring women, focusing on women characters. Why is it that the movie industry is still so far behind when it comes to doing more movies by women and about women?
Julia Boorstin- Well I think when it comes to the blockbuster, like the huge, what they call the summer tent poles, the $150 million movies that cost another $150 million to market, studios rely on teenage boys to come out in droves to those movies because it is the teenage boys who are going to line up opening weekend at midnight the night before it opens, they will see the movie two to three times, they will bring their friends, they will drag their girlfriends, so when it comes to those, what they call the summer tend pole movies, it is going to be the comic book movies. It is going to the Dark Knight. It is going to be Spiderman. It is not that women don’t go to those movies, but those movies really rely on a huge opening weekend driven by 13-35 year old male audience and maybe women don’t need to see fancy computer graphics and digital animation and maybe they are more interested in seeing dramas and comedies that do not cost $150 million to make. So I think there is a sense that when you are making a really expensive movie, it is younger men are the ones that come out to see that but I do think that in terms of big budget movies being driven by women, we saw a huge shift this summer. I mean, Sex in the City and Mama Mia. Sex in the City brought in $380 million in world wide box office and a budget of only $65 million. Obviously it cost millions more to market it but this is a movie that was successful because women came out in droves. And successful because it became an event film for women to go in groups with their friends just the way that teenage boys go in groups of their friends to see Spiderman in movie theaters. And I think the same thing can be said of Mama Mia, that was $339 million in world wide box office so these two films showed that, women can make smaller movies successful but these two films showed Hollywood that women, if it is the right property with the right built-in audience like Sex in the City was, can be just phenomenal hits and thinking forward, I think that we are seeing women-driven films and the question is was Juno about women? It was about a young woman. There are movies that have female stars and movies that are clearly focused to sell women and on September 12, not that long from now, The Women is opening and I don’t even know if there are any men in that movie. It stars Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes and Time Warner Picture House is promoting that movie as the next Sex in the City. They are saying, make an evening of it. Plan a party around it. They are spending a lot of money on it, I think, in hoping that it can become the next Sex in the City.
Megan Smith- It will be interesting to see what kind of money it does and also how good it is. Because Sex in the City wasn’t the greatest movie but it was a good movie and if you were a fan of the show, it gave you what you wanted, so it delivered.
Julia Boorstin- And the thing about Sex and the City, there were a lot of people who were fans of the show who probably didn’t care how good the movie was. They were just fans of the show and fans of the actresses. But it is interesting, in September, in looking at the lineup, on the 12th you have The Women and on the 19th Paramount Vantage releases The Duchess starring Keira Knightley, which is a historical drama. Then the next week Warner Brothers releases Nights in Rodanthe starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Obviously these movies were all in the works before Sex in the City was a big hit but these movies are clearly targeting women.
Megan Smith- Right, exactly. Now I have a couple of questions from the BlogHer community. BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page submitted a question for you. She wants to know if you think cable companies will supplant movie and television studios as producers of original content with so many cable hits on television these days?
Julia Boorstin- In the cable studios do you mean like TBS and TNT producing original programming?
Megan Smith- Right.
Julia Boorstin- I think there is definitely been a shift from the TV networks like ABC, NBC and CBS as more and more viewers are just statistically watching more TV on the cable networks like TBS, TNT, obviously HBO and Showtime. Now even AMC, which never really had original programming before has a big hit, Mad Men. This was a trend, this has been a trend for years and then this year in particular with the writer’s strike, that gives more reason for people to flip over to their cable channels to watch. It is interesting, as this year’s upfront, which is a week in May when the TV networks go and sell advertising ahead of their fall TV season. For the first time ever, TBS and TNT did an upfront and they featured all of their original programming and actually a lot of that original programming features women as driven by female characters, like The Closer. So these are shows that have strong female characters and people are tuning in and it is really, the thing about cable, is it is really a much more targeted entertainment experience, which I think is, that fracturization of entertainment landscape is really the trend.
Megan Smith- That is what you were talking about online.
Julia Boorstin- Yeah, people can get exactly what they want. They can find a community that is right for them whether that is online or on TV. If you are a big fan of home and garden programming, you can get a magazine that is just for you. You can find a web site online or you can watch HGTV. So it makes a lot of sense in this environment that there is not, it is a diverse America and people want to have programming that is targeted just to them instead of just watching the sitcom with the laugh track that might not appeal to them specifically.
Megan Smith- We are starting to see more variety of women in the media. Different body types, women of color, etc. BlogHer community member Linda from New York would like to know if there are any rumblings in the entertainment industry about enhancing the image of older women? You mention The Closer and I was thinking of Damages and Saving Grace, and they are kind of women who are not out of the “cookie-cutter” Hollywood mold. So Linda is interested in knowing about the possibility of images of older women.
Julia Boorstin- I think definitely. I think women who were young, sexy, young, hot things 15 years ago are now over 40 and they are still attractive. They are still compelling and dynamic and they are still starring in movies and TV shows. I think Saving Grace, Damages and The Closer are perfect examples of that. In Indiana Jones this summer, a number of women commented to me on how happy they were to see Harrison Ford actually play opposite a woman who is close to his age, Karen Allen, they brought back the same actress. They did not replace her with someone two decades younger. I mean, you see people like Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton who continue to star in movies and I think it is just these same actresses are compelling even if they are ten years older now then they were before. I remember at the Oscars last year, we talked about how amazing and sexy Helen Mirren was. She was 63 at the time. So 63-year-old Helen Mirren, she did not play a sexy character in The Queen but she certainly was at the Oscars and I think that is the perfect example. I mean even looking at Diane Lane. When she became a star, she was already a bit older then the usual starlet and now she is continuing to play opposite Richard Gere. So I think 40 used to be some sort of arbitrary cut off but it does not seem to be at all anymore. Look at Madonna.
Megan Smith- Angela Bassett also is going to be starring on ER this fall as well and she is another one I think, she is, you know, very much past 40 and still doing quite well. Very Good. Now I would like to get personal for a moment. You have quite a pedigree in entertainment and as a writer, your dad, Paul Boorstin is a writer and producer of TV documentaries and your late grand-father was Daniel J. Boorstin, a Pulitzer prize winning historian. Not only that, your mom was a screenwriter and a restaurant critic. Did you always feel that you would end up in the media?
Julia Boorstin- You know, I did not think I would end up in media but I was always, in high school and college I would always work for the newspaper. I was a writer and editor of the newspaper and I worked for The Daily Princetonian, which was quite a serious organization and I always was really interested in journalistic craft. I majored in history in college, which is journalism of a different era. But it never occurred to me, I mean I never thought I would go into the entertainment industry and be a screenwriter or anything like that, I always though it was such a crazy industry, seeing it growing up in Los Angeles, that it never occurred to me to want to do that. But I suppose it makes a lot of sense now that I am here.
Megan Smith- And being on the air? Did you ever expect that?
Julia Boorstin- Not at all. I did a lot of dance when I was younger and a tiny bit of acting but mostly ballet and modern dance. So I was used to being up on a stage in front of a lot of people in a leotard. It was just sort of like what it is to be on TV only you are not in a leotard. So it is easier.
Megan Smith- Absolutely. You got married last December and your husband, Couper Samuelson is also in entertainment. With both of you in high powered careers, how has life changed for you since getting married?
Julia Boorstin- It hasn’t changed much since getting married. We were long distance for awhile and we moved in together in Los Angeles around the time I moved out here. So, it is not much different being married but we both do travel a lot. So, he right now is on his way to Toronto for the film festival and so, it is hard both being on the road quite a bit and so I think we are in the same place, we just make an effort to plan quality time because there are weeks when I am getting on a plane somewhere different once a week and it is exhausting. It takes sort of being on top of things and planning, taking a good look at the calendar when we are both at home.
Megan Smith- Business reporting also is still very male dominated these days. Has that ever been an issue in your career?
Julia Boorstin- Not really. I feel very lucky. I mean looking at CNBC, just turn on the television and you see there are women anchoring almost every single show. Starting off at Fortune magazine, I was very lucky to have a great mentor and I don’t think that women need to have female mentors. My mentor is currently the managing editor at Fortune, Andy Sewer and when I started at Fortune, I was 21-years-old and they assigned me to do some reporting for him and he treated me the way, you know, he has two daughters, and he treated me the way he would want someone to treat his daughters and he gave me amazing opportunities and he actually was the one who encouraged me to go on TV for the first time. He really did treat me as any man with daughters would want their daughter to be treated and I feel really lucky because sometimes I just can’t even believe how lucky I was to be given these opportunities and to get this great mentorship from him.
Megan Smith- That must have felt great to have that support behind you.
Julia Boorstin- Yeah. It was really, it is great to feel like you have a little family in your first job.
Megan Smith- Now what is next for you up at CNBC? Do you have some exciting stories coming up? What are you looking forward to covering?
Julia Boorstin- Well we will see what happens in the news. You know, every day is a different story. This fall, well, tomorrow I am off to the Virtual Worlds Expo and I am talking about how big businesses are spending real money to establish a presence in the virtual world. So it is sort of a quirky story. I expect stories like that are always fun and in a couple of weeks I am heading off to New York for Advertising Week and doing stories about upcoming slates of movies. So, there are just different things. My schedule is a combination of things that are planned months in advance and stories that come up that morning. But, various conferences and interviews and I will be talking to the head of Disney’s studio about some of their movies coming up and about their strategy and so just various things. It is going to be an interesting fall. It is always busy in the fall and is just now starting to pick up now that it's September.
Megan Smith- Well that is great. The Virtual Worlds Expo, especially sounds like a lot of fun.
Julia Boorstin- Yeah it will be great.
Megan Smith- Okay, well Julia, on behalf of the BlogHer community, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. We hope our listeners will check out Julia’s blog: Media Money, on CNBC.com and also look for her entertainment report on CNBC. BlogHer is a website where our readers and listeners can find many stories of extraordinary women like Julia Boorstin. To learn more, be sure to visit www.blogher.com. Thanks so much Julia for talking to me.
Julia Boorstin- Thank you, my pleasure.
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