INTRODUCING: The 10 people transforming the media business

Business Insider

The media industry is in the midst of a grand convergence: Tech behemoths, telecoms, startups, and storied Hollywood giants are competing to define the new era of entertainment and news.

There are fortunes to be won and lost, megadeals to be made, traditional gatekeepers to be smashed, and new forms to pioneer.

We selected 10 visionaries leading innovation in an industry that has, after a decade of disruption by the internet, finally begun to be fundamentally remade by it.

Read on to see the 10 people transforming media.

Profiles compiled by Jason Guerrasio, Travis Clark, Lucia Moses, and Nathan McAlone.


Jason Blum, the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, has perfected a low-risk, high-reward model to produce a box-office-hit empire

Blumhouse

If you got scared out of your mind at a movie theatre in the past 12 years, you probably have Jason Blum to blame.

From the “Paranormal Activity” movies to the current collaborations with M. Night Shyamalan (“Split,” “Glass”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us”), not to mention successfully relaunching the “Halloween” franchise last year, Blum’s Blumhouse Productions has proved time and again that movies with budgets in the low seven figures can create box-office magic.

To date, its movies have made more than $US4 billion worldwide.

But after more than a decade scratching and clawing to become one of the most bankable producers in Hollywood, Blum is not content.

He’s shown that his tastes are diverse, producing Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” which marked his third movie to get a best-picture Oscar nomination (others are “Whiplash” and “Get Out”). And late last year he signed a deal with Amazon Studios to make eight movies for the behemoth. It was the first deal of its kind done by Amazon.

“The goal is to be independent so we can tell the stories we want to tell without asking permission,” Blum told Business Insider. “Happily, as each year goes by, we get closer and closer to that.”


Alex Blumberg and Matthew Lieber, the founders of Gimlet Media, are spearheading a podcast boom

Gimlet

The New York podcasting company Gimlet Media has skyrocketed to success in a short time and become the gold standard for podcast-content innovation.

Alex Blumberg and Matthew Lieber founded the company in 2014, and it has since produced over 25 podcasts, including “Crimetown,” “Uncivil,” and “Homecoming,” which Amazon adapted last year into a TV series starring Julia Roberts for Prime Video.

And Gimlet’s rise should continue. Spotify bought Gimlet in February for over $US200 million and plans to use it to help in its big plans to shake up the podcasting market.

“To me the driving factor was, will this be better for the work we’re trying to do?” Blumberg recently told Recode of the acquisition. “And will this be better for the employees that have trusted us to come to the company? And then in the back of that there is this like, and if we don’t do this, there is that fear of it could all go up in smoke, and all the work will be for naught.”


David Fenkel and Daniel Katz, the founders of A24, have focused on auteur-driven content to grab the attention of every big name in Hollywood — and Apple

Neilson Barnard/Stringer

A24, the movie production and distribution company started by industry veterans David Fenkel, Daniel Katz, and John Hodges (Hodges left the company last year) has pulled off the remarkable: making general audiences care about independent films in an era when Marvel superheroes and “Star Wars” rule.

From its early releases like Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” to Academy Award-winning titles like “Room” – which earned Brie Larson an Oscar – and the upset best-picture for “Moonlight,” Fenkel and Katz find stories that can grab a wide variety of audiences.

And A24 is about to make the industry even more jealous. Its multiyear partnership with Apple to produce a slate of original titles for the tech giant means more people are going to be watching the unique movies that Fenkel and Katz’s company have become the trailblazers of.


Henry Golding, actor in “Crazy Rich Asians,” is changing what it means to be a leading man in Hollywood

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Before 2018, it’s likely you didn’t know who Henry Golding was.

But the Malaysian actor rose quickly to stardom last year as the lead in “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood movie to feature an all-Asian cast in 25 years. Golding carried the film with a movie-star charisma that is rare these days.

Golding’s rise didn’t stop with movies in 2018. He became the first Asian to appear among GQ’s Men of the Year – the magazine called him the “next Hollywood leading man.” He’ll star in “Last Christmas” this year, a holiday rom-com that will reunite him with “A Simple Favour” director Paul Feig.

“There have been really amazing instances where people have come up to me and it’s like, ‘That film meant so much to me – it really affected how I think of Asians in cinema,” Golding told GQ about the popularity of “Crazy Rich Asians.” “They have been really, really supportive about it. Then you just get the weird ones, who wanna run up to you when you’re having a conversation and eating your lunch.”


Bob Iger, the chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Co., is leading the biggest entertainment company in the world through an industry-shaking merger

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

In Bob Iger’s 14 years as Disney’s CEO, he has guided the company through the blockbuster acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, the owner of “Star Wars.” But Iger is not done. With Disney’s $US71 billion acquisition of Fox last year, Iger has completed one more grand deal.

He will now face his toughest challenges yet as he leads the Mouse House not only through the integration of Fox properties and new executive leadership but also the launch of its streaming platform, Disney Plus.

As Disney triumphs at the box office, it will look to challenge Netflix in the streaming realm, too. Disney Plus launches before the end of the year, and Disney will also likely pursue the remaining 40% of Hulu it doesn’t own. Iger has already cemented his place as a media titan, but has now laid the groundwork to remake Disney for the streaming era in his final years at the company.

“I wish I could tell you that the hardest part is behind us, that closing the deal was the finish line, rather than just the next milestone,” Iger said in a memo to staff after the Fox deal closed.


Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman” and the upcoming sequel “Wonder Woman 1984,” has become a role model to aspiring female filmmakers

Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

Patty Jenkins has just two feature films under her belt, but she’s transformed the film world like few filmmakers have before her.

After her debut, “Monster,” which earned Charlize Theron an Oscar for her portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Jenkins directed TV series like “Arrested Development” and “Entourage” so that she could spend more time with her newborn while working.

But her talents were made for the big screen. After walking away from making “Thor,” she signed on to direct the long-awaited “Wonder Woman,” which opened in 2017, making her the first woman to ever make a movie with a budget over $US100 million.

The success of the movie hasn’t just spawned a sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984,” which comes out in 2020, but has made Jenkins a beacon for aspiring female directors and others who want to break through the glass ceilings in their own professions.

It’s a status she still hasn’t fully grasped.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to shift way from just being a filmmaker. I’m never going to be able to be something else,” Jenkins told Business Insider. “But I do think that I accept and take on the responsibility of carrying that mantle. You can’t turn away from that.”


Tim League, the founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse, has crafted one of the most popular theatre chains in the US

Annie Ray

Sometimes, to reshape an industry you have to go back to the basics. That’s how Tim League made his movie-theatre chain, Alamo Drafthouse, one of the most successful in the US.

Alamo began as a one-screen movie house, in Austin, Texas, which League started with his wife when he was 25. And he has spent the past two decades making it the envy of the movie-theatre industry with his obsession for customer experience, which emphasises the food service inside all the auditoriums to programming some of the most interesting movies ever made.

“The important things for us are also very simple – a very bright and crisp picture, a sound system that is loud but not too loud, and a code of civil conduct,” League told Business Insider. “Things that were the way they used to be in the earlier days of cinema but somehow got lost and went away.”

Building off that foundation, League now has a loyal fan base who can’t get enough of his 36 theatres. His next act: an upcoming Alamo subscription service (now in beta) and the opening of two long-in-the-works crown-jewel locations: a theatre in downtown Los Angeles (opening midyear) and one in Lower Manhattan (set to open end of the year).


Jessica Lessin, the CEO of The Information, challenged conventional wisdom about subscriptions

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Jessica Lessin may seem prescient now that many publishers are chasing subscription dollars, but she was met with sceptics five years ago when she left her tech reporting job at The Wall Street Journal and started The Information, a pricey subscription-only publication that put out just two stories a day.

Today, The Information has a staff of 40, including 26 in editorial, and has stretched its mandate to autos, finance, and media, with plans to expand coverage to every area of business that’s touched by technology.

“We’ll eventually start to experiment with other revenue streams as well, but subscriptions are clearly the revenue that can support the most high-quality news,” Lessin said.

At $US399 a year for its most popular tier, The Information isn’t for everyone. But as publishers strain to figure out a sustainable business model for online journalism, The Information is proof that it can be done without relying on advertising by focusing on high-quality, differentiated stories – and targeting them to people with corporate credit cards.


Lisa Nishimura, VP of independent film and documentary features at Netflix, has helped usher in a golden age of documentary

Dia Dipasupil/Staff

We’re living in a golden age of documentary filmmaking, and you can thank Netflix – and Lisa Nishimura, its documentary boss – for a big part of that.

Netflix’s instantaneous and global distribution solved a nagging issue for documentarians.

Documentary filmmakers “want to be fairly compensated” and they “want to be heard,” Nishimura previously told Business Insider. The problem was that negotiating distribution deals in different markets was difficult and hampered the ability for the doc to have that “global watercooler moment,” Nishimura said.

Netflix has had many of those moments as it’s become a documentary powerhouse, from “Making a Murderer” to “Wild Wild Country” to “Fyre.”

In March, Netflix expanded Nishimura’s role, making her VP of indie films and documentary features (including shorts and limited series). She had overseen comedy, which is now under different leadership.

In a statement on the news, Netflix’s VP of original series, Cindy Holland, praised Nishimura’s “impeccable vision, taste, and style” for shaping the streamers originals docs from the beginning. Nishimura will now put those attributes to work on Netflix’s indie films, a big growth area for the company.


Shonda Rhimes, a writer and producer and the founder of Shondaland, changed the balance of power in the TV industry

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

For over a decade star producer Shonda Rhimes has made audiences tune in to and cry along with her shows.

Rhimes’ “Shondaland” is both the name of the production company she founded and the TV empire she created for ABC, which includes “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Scandal,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

But after conquering TV, Rhimes has turned her sights toward the streaming future.

In 2017 she took “Shondaland” to Netflix, becoming the first mover in a series of industry-shaking hires by Netflix including Ryan Murphy and ABC president Channing Dungey. Rhimes’ four-year deal was worth about $US100 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Rhimes is developing a whopping eight original TV series for the streaming giant, including “The Warmth of Other Suns,” an adaptation of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning book about African Americans during the Jim Crow era. And she has even grander plans than that.

“It would be really amazing to me at some point down the line – not now – if somebody said, ‘There was a Shonda for Shondaland?'” Rhimes told The New York Times in July. “It needs to be bigger than me.”


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