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Candle Media’s Kevin Mayer and Medialink’s Michael Kassan Talk at SXSW

Candle Media co-CEOs Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs have been making waves in Hollywood for the past year as they hunt for content assets to acquire with the help of a bankroll from private executive giant Blackstone.

The pair has mostly kept quiet about the venture, but Mayer sat down this month at the SXSW conference and festival in Austin, Texas, for a keynote session that featured his most expansive remarks to date on the new-model studio that he and Staggs are trying to build.

In the conversation with MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan that was moderated by Variety co-editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton, Mayer answered a number of key questions about how Candle Media intends to function — for one, it’s not a holding company nor an operating entity — and he detailed the vision for “social commerce” activity tied to such 360-media stars such as Reese Witherspoon, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

“We do have a vision for a modern creator economy business,” Mayer said. He pointed to the home-grown potential of “CoComelon” creator Moonbug Entertainment, which Candle Media bought last year for $2.7 billion.

Kassan, a well-known dealmaker in the advertising business, spoke about the reasons his company was just acquired by United Talent Agency for $125 million.

While discussing the relationship between content and commerce, Kassan shared that when he started out in the business, one of the very first panels he participated in was one held by Variety on the same topic 22 years ago.

“We’re not in a conversation now that hasn’t been around for a long time,” Kassan said. “What I think we’ve found is that inflection point where content influences everything, but particularly commerce.”

During the conversation, Littleton asked the two about how the industry and profit models of companies have shifted and changed over the years, referring to the newfound dominance of streamers, and what this means for pay TV models. Mayer, who helped launch ESPN Plus when he worked at Disney, bluntly stated that the subscribers and revenue of pay TV models is currently in freefall and will suffer major losses in the future.

“Soon, the only people well served by pay TV bundles are sports fans,” Mayer, who also serves as chairman of DAZN, the Europe-focused sports streamer owned by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries. “My fear is that it will continue to decline and decline and decline until basically you have sports fans because the only thing that really has to be delivered on a timed basis is sports and news. Other than that, all entertainment programming can be delivered on an on-demand basis through streaming services, there’s no fundamental reason to have a linear channel experience for entertainment. As a matter of fact, people don’t prefer it.”

Kassan said the current work shortage that has been reported on has caused an increase demand across the industry. Kassan also said, in today’s media landscape, having people in the industry who understand the data behind the content is more vital for companies than ever.

“There was a period in the marketing, advertising media business that ‘Mad Men’ were the people you were looking for,” Kassan said. “And today it’s math men or math people. Today you’re looking for people who can actually understand the data. It’s not just about the creative, it’s about understanding the type of creative.”

(Pictured: Cynthia Littleton, Kevin Mayer and Michael Kassan)

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