I gave a short speech a couple nights ago at a gathering organized by Pat Mitchell and the newly named Paley Center for Media. I was joined by some august guests, including California State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who wore, and I’m not joking, green alligator skin boots); along with Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google – and a little known fact, my very first boss at Sun), and Terry Semel (CEO, Yahoo!).
After dinner, I found myself talking to a group of media company CEO’s. I asked a simple question, “do you have a general counsel reporting to you?” The answer was universally, yes.
I do, too. Mike and his team are central to the evolution of Sun (as I’ve said, we are nothing less, or more, than an intellectual property company – it’s hard navigating those waters without a great legal team).
But then I asked a harder question: “Do you have a chief technology officer reporting to you?”
I do, and I talk to Greg at least every day. He plays a central role at Sun. Central as in nervous system. He’s involved in every major strategic decision I make (and a ton of minor ones, too).
But in repsonse to my question, the answers from the group were more dismissive than substantive – most did not. And in my view, if you have a general counsel reporting to you, and not a CTO, you’re saying legal advice is more important to you than technology counsel. Which seems backward for a media company. Why?
Because convergence isn’t a legal phenomenon. It’s a technical and social phenomena first and foremost – that’s why you can’t talk about media without talking about software (what is an MP3? AAC? Java? Flash?). You can’t talk about distribution without talking about free media, social networking or mobile devices (technical assets that reach more of the planet than all other network outlets). Ask Eric or Terry (or Steve or Mark if they have CTO’s reporting to them. Of course they do, they’re media companies using technology to win. Or vice versa. It doesn’t matter, they’ve converged.
Which brings me to a simple, and heretical conclusion – for which I’m sure I’ll be apologizing for years to come. But I’d rather be honest than polite.
Media company CEO’s without a CTO on their staff should prepare to be acquired or broken up – they are fighting the future rather than monetizing it.