Tom Rowland, Vice President International Meredith Corporation, on challenges in content licensing

For prominent publishers who boast large and successful magazine brands, licensing content is often a core part of their revenue generation strategy. However, as the type of content those brands create has evolved, so has the nature of the deals.

Tom Rowland, Vice President International Meredith Corporation, who oversees the licensing of the company’s 30 iconic brands, has also had to deal with both the challenges, and in many instances opportunities, created by the acquisition of Time Inc. by Meredith Corporation last year.

At DIS 2019 Tom will talk about the key elements of brand extensions and how customising the approach to each individual market is such a crucial element in Meredith's licensing strategy. Here, he focuses on the opportunity for his company in video, explaining how PeopleTV has been rolled out globally.

***Take advantage of our offer for DIS 2019, taking place on 25 to 26 March in Berlin. By signing up for DIS 2019 by March 12th you will save €200 on final delegate rates. Sign up here***

You have a background as a lawyer. How did you end up working as an executive for a media company? Is media something you have always been passionate about?

Yes. As a lawyer, you work across any number of industries, and your job on each is to learn what you have to about the industry so you can effectively do your job. Media was always something I enjoyed working on. Early on, I enjoyed sports and entertainment but have really come to appreciate news and lifestyle. I came to Time Inc. about 11 years ago and was the lawyer for international deals for nearly 10 years. About 18 months ago, I volunteered to move to the business side in International, and fortunately it has worked out so far.

Time Inc. was acquired by Meredith Corporation in early 2018. What have been the biggest challenges since the takeover?

I have been impressed with the integration. Meredith Corporation and Time Inc. were two, well-established, large publishers. Identifying the overlapping systems and setting up teams to bring those systems together on various platforms is complex, but the integration has gone exceedingly well and watching Meredith go through this transformation has been impressive.

And how did the acquisition affect the partnerships you had created? What new opportunities did it deliver?

Shortly after the acquisition closed, we took the opportunity to combine the international business of Meredith and Time. It has been great getting to know the Meredith international businesses and licenses, and it is very exciting having such a powerful and well known portfolio to represent. Both companies’ existing partners were pleased with our expanded portfolio and the additional content verticals we’re now able to provide them. As an example, our Shape licensee in Singapore is now able to incorporate Health content into its current offering in the market.

When you are looking at brand extensions - what are the key criteria you consider?

We have one rule: it has to be good for the brand. The new business must help grow the brand value. With that in mind we try to be flexible market by market. What might work in China may not work in Mexico, for instance. In each territory, and for each opportunity, we listen closely to partners and prospective partners to learn from their expertise, their success and their failures.

And how has this worked in the case of the way that you have developed OTT/TV opportunities for People?

The company has invested significant resources in expanding video, so the quality is excellent and we now have both OTT and standard television deals in place for the network. We are finding that a number of markets are looking for lifestyle and celebrity video for television and digital, and so the timing seems to be good. Naturally, content that works well in the US may not be suitable in certain markets overseas, and so we need to be able to review and edit our feeds, as do the partners. And we remain focused on consumption habits and how they may vary from market to market.

What were the key problems you had to overcome?

We were a traditional magazine company now showing the world in recent years that we make great video content that can travel with our brands across any platform – wherever and whenever our customers want. This is transformative and anything transformative is challenging. It’s still early days, but from my perspective things are very positive. One issue arose when we launched PeopleTV as a linear channel on StarHub in Singapore. In this case, because it is a linear channel, we had to fit our playout to the licensees specs which required identifying a third party service to transcode all of our programmes.   

How does the process of customising the brand for local markets happen?

It depends on the content and the market. For PeopleTV we have an internal team that reviews our shows for usefulness and suitability overseas, and we work closely with our partners to help identify any content that might cause an issue in particular markets. We also, of course, have the ability to use a third party for dubbing or subtitling as needed. Additionally, we have a number of shortform video channels and brand verticals that we can provide partners overseas.  In that case, our partners can pick and choose what they use. For our longform television show documentaries, our partners choose whether or not to translate or customise (with our cooperation).

What do you think is the future for licensing? Is there an emerging new platform, technology or format you think could play a major role in the future?

That is the million dollar question. Right now, I don’t see any single platform or technology that would play a major role across multiple territories, much like print did 15 years ago. Right now we are focused on matching great content with great brands, and being able to deliver those on any platform our audience requires.

***Take advantage of our offer for DIS 2019, taking place on 25 to 26 March in Berlin. By signing up for DIS 2019 by March 12th you will save €200 on final delegate rates. Sign up here**