Otter Media has named former airline and telecomm executive Virasb Vahidi as CEO, and just-departed YouTube executive Tom Pickett to head a new group under Vahidi running niche online-video channels CrunchyRoll, KDrama and Creativebug.
Otter is the joint venture, announced earlier this year, between The Chernin Group and AT&T. Today’s announcement finally begins to provide structure and clarity to a series of other moves by the joint venture, including last week’s deal to acquire Youtube multi-channel network Fullscreen for a reported $300 million.
Under the new structure, Vahidi will run Otter with a particular focus on customer service and loyalty, based on his experiences at AT&T and as Chief Commercial Officer at American Airlines, helping lead the airline’s restructuring as it made its way out of severe financial crisis and back to health. He also will serve on Otter’s board with two representatives each from AT&T and Chernin.
Pickett will run an as-yet-unnamed unit of Otter that will include a string of so-called “over-the-top” video channels, including anime-oriented Crunchyroll, the Korean soap-focused KDrama and Creativebug, which shows crafts and other arts programming.
Pickett, whose recent departure from the role of VP, YouTube Content made a splash in Silicon Valley, had been with Google since 2004. He was a key figure in YouTube’s rise, overseeing the launch of its YouTube Spaces, content partnerships and more.
The other unit of Otter Media will be run by Fullscreen CEO and founder George Strompolos, another veteran of Google and YouTube. Fullscreen claims more than 50,000 creators in its YouTube network of channels, including the Fine Bros., Connor Franta, O2L, Andrea Russett, Lohanthony, Devin Supertramp and Jack and Jack. It also has a significant talent-management unit, run by CAA veteran Larry Shapiro, that has a client list of more than 100 online creators, including recent creator signings such as JennXPenn.
The Chernin Group controls 75 percent of the Otter Media venture. As part of the Fullscreen deal, the big advertising/marketing holding company WPP remains a strategic investor.
OTTER MEDIA ANNOUNCES TWO EXECUTIVES TO KEY LEADERSHIP ROLES
Former American Airlines and AT&T Senior Executive Virasb Vahidi Named CEO, Otter Media
YouTube Veteran Tom Pickett Named CEO of a New Otter Media Controlled Company Focused on Building Targeted Video-on-Demand Channels
LOS ANGELES and DALLAS, Sept. 30, 2014 – Otter Media today announced that former American Airlines Chief Commercial Officer and AT&T senior executive Virasb Vahidi has been appointed CEO, Otter Media. Vahidi will leverage his deep experience and proven results in creating innovative business models to build customer loyalty and deliver value in industries undergoing transformation. Bringing that diverse expertise to Otter, Vahidi will lead Otter’s general operations and overall strategy, along with The Chernin Group (TCG) and AT&T.
Google and YouTube executive Tom Pickett has been named CEO of a new company controlled by Otter Media. This new company will focus on building advertising and subscription-based targeted video-on-demand channels, and includes existing online video assets Crunchyroll and Creativebug. Peter Chernin, who serves as Chairman of the Otter Media board of directors, announced the appointments today.
Otter Media was formed in April 2014 by TCG and AT&T* to acquire, invest in and launch global over-the-top (OTT) video services. Otter Media has an equity interest in two distinct companies today and will pursue additional initiatives over time. The two existing businesses are: the new targeted video-on-demand company led by Pickett; and Fullscreen, a youth media company headed by George Strompolos. Otter announced on Sept. 22 that it has agreed to acquire a majority stake in Fullscreen, which works with more than 50,000 online creators to create entertainment experiences across online and offline platforms. Today these companies together reach an audience of over 175 million people worldwide.
Otter Media is currently executing its targeted channels strategy through the company that Pickett will lead. Today, three channels are available, including Crunchyroll, a leading global subscription and ad-supported video platform for Japanese anime; KDrama, a streaming service for Korean content; and Creativebug, one of the top go-to sources for high-quality online video classes for arts and crafts enthusiasts. Pickett, a seasoned digital and technology executive with extensive background in online video content management, will launch, invest in and/or acquire additional channels concentrated on specialized, niche programming that serves passionate audiences worldwide.
“Virasb and Tom are joining Otter’s executive team during a time of tremendous opportunity in the OTT space. Their consumer-focused experience and superior leadership abilities are the perfect qualities to help steer our efforts, grow our existing businesses and expand the Otter portfolio,” said Jesse Jacobs, President of The Chernin Group, the majority investor of Otter. “Virasb’s expertise in navigating industries that are going through transformation, along with his outstanding managerial skills, will greatly benefit our portfolio and partners. And Tom’s proven track record at YouTube and his insights and working knowledge of the evolving video-on-demand space will be instrumental as we further explore opportunities to expand our relationship with content partners and consumers. These are two world-class executives.”
As Chief Commercial Officer at American Airlines, Vahidi was a principal architect of the most successful restructuring in the aviation industry. Under his leadership, American expanded the reach of its global network and broadened its partnerships. He led the modernization of American’s fleet, with the industry’s largest-ever new aircraft order, and renewed virtually every aspect of the customer experience, including the innovative design of cabin interiors and American’s iconic brand identity. His diverse business and leadership experience also includes four years at AT&T, beginning in 2002, as senior vice president, corporate strategy and planning.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to help build Otter Media as a leading online media company,” said Vahidi. “Otter Media is tapping into exploding demand for content available anywhere, anytime on any device. We’ll take a customer-centered approach to create innovative offerings to grow this exciting business. I look forward to working with our owners, The Chernin Group and AT&T, and my new colleagues to build on the great foundation they have created.”
“I am really excited to work with an amazing team and build on the success of Crunchyroll and Creativebug in the rapidly growing OTT video space. I see a big opportunity to create new models that enable passionate communities to come together around great video experiences. I can’t wait to get started,” said Pickett.
Pickett has served in a variety of leadership roles at Google since 2004, and became integral in developing strategy for and building out YouTube’s global content operations. Most recently, he served as Vice President, YouTube Content, where he was responsible for the development and growth of YouTube Content Partnerships and scaling content operations across the globe. During YouTube’s explosive growth he oversaw business development and partner management operations; the global expansion of the YouTube Partner Program; large-scale business operations; and the launch of YouTube Spaces in LA, London and Tokyo. Prior to Google, Tom was an engagement manager at Booz Allen Hamilton and a former F/A-18 fighter pilot and “TopGun” graduate in the US Navy.
The Otter Media board of directors includes Peter Chernin and Jesse Jacobs of The Chernin Group, John Stankey and David Christopher of AT&T, and Virasb Vahidi.
About Otter Media
AT&T and The Chernin Group formed Otter Media in April 2014 to acquire, invest in and launch global over-the-top (OTT) video services. With more than $500 million in funding committed to the venture, the alliance positions both companies to take advantage of the rapid growth of online video services, with each party bringing significant and complementary strengths.
The Chernin Group, LLC (TCG) is a privately held, independent media holding company founded by Peter Chernin and based in Los Angeles, CA. TCG has built, managed, operated and invested in businesses in the media, entertainment and technology sectors around the world since 2010. TCG’s assets include Chernin Entertainment, which produces feature films and television programs; a majority stake in Hong Kong-based CA Media, which builds, manages and operates media, entertainment and technology businesses across Asia; and strategic investments in digital media companies including Pandora, SoundCloud, Flipboard, Scopely, MiTú, and Medium. Providence Equity Partners LLC; Qatar Holding LLC; Victor Koo (founder and CEO of Youku) and Chengwei Capital; and other shareholders are strategic partners of and investors in TCG.