“I’ve spent the entire last 20 years of my career being at what was next and new in digital video. I was fortunate to be at the beginning of streaming and at the beginning of subscription video and at the beginning of mobile video and the beginning of what became aggregated bundled subscription on demand content at Hulu and at the beginning of branded content at Vice.”
There are few executives who not only preceded the video boom but have consistently led the way in emerging media formats. Kliavkoff has been two steps ahead of the media trends since the late 90’s when he was a part of the first streaming businesses and then on the team launching one of the first SVOD services, at MLB Advanced Media. He then led Hulu into its first breaths as a business, drove investments in Buzzfeed and Vice, among others alongside Neeraj Khemlani during his tenure at Hearst, and now is leading one of the hottest VR companies of the day — Jaunt.
“[My interest] in video started when I was an attorney and I had a client called Real Networks,” founded in 1995 as the primary tech in audio and video streaming, it was a business where Kliavkoff would get his first tastes of the early digital video boom as the company’s first business development executive.
At the time, video was just beginning to take off at the height of the 90’s tech boom. During his 5 years with the company Kliavkoff structured and rolled out the company’s online media and subscription service. And, despite infrastructure and audience behavior lagging to meet the pace of innovation being made in video, RealNetworks IPO’d in 1999 credited with creating the first internet streaming infrastructure for video.
Without it, Kliavkoff’s next big move to MLB Advanced Media might not have been possible as he oversaw the licensing technology and online, mobile and international distribution of MLBAM’s products, and ultimately the first streaming play for baseball.
At the time of accepting his role, Kliavkoff told SportsBusiness Daily that “ as more people have more access to the Internet and as wireless nets are upgraded to support video, there is the promise that consumers can access any content they want, irrespective of where they are physically.”
A decade and a half later and that consumer expectation has driven business strategy for every media company whether traditional, digital or mobile. But at the time, the VOD approach was experimental for Kliavkoff and the team at MLBAM, ultimately resulting in the first online and mobile streaming service in sports.
“We did a lot of break through stuff at MLB, I was fortunate enough to work on the first scaled video service — MLB.tv,” which launched in 2003, “and I oversaw that subscription business and baseball’s move into mobile video,” he said.
And it was the time building and learning from MLB.tv that Kliavkoff was later able to drive innovation inside of NBC as its Chief Digital Officer, including a game-changing push to increase NBC’s single stream of the Olympics in 2006 to a full blown multi-platform activation.
The move proved “economically successful” as NBC was “able to sell a number of ad and sponsorship deals that covered the investment. For Kliavkoff, streaming the Olympics online and with live commentary streamed from the SNL Studio in New York across devices was, “a very exciting moment in digital because we embraced distribution on all of the then-available digital platforms in a very scaled way.”
And, it would be that activation that positioned Kliavkoff and the team at NBC Universal to structure a very interesting streaming co-venture with Fox and Disney/ABC — one that launched with the name “Newsite,” was nearly called “Cream” and has become a staple streaming brand today — Hulu. Kliavkoff led that business until Jason Kilar was appointed as the business’s first CEO in 2008.
“I was fortunate to be at the beginning of streaming and at the beginning of subscription video and at the beginning of mobile video and the beginning of what became aggregated bundled subscription on demand content at Hulu and at the beginning of branded content at Vice,” said Kliavkoff.
And so, after nearly 8 years leading investments in companies like Vice and Buzzfeed for Hearst Digital Ventures, Kliavkoff is on to the next emerging format — virtual reality and immersive video. It’s a format he’s betting on as the next big trend as cinematic VR finds its way onto the media landscape. As cinematic VR studio and distributor Jaunt’s CEO, Kliavkoff is excited about the prospects of the format: “In my career I’ve not seen an opportunity bigger than immersive video.” Still in a nascent state, VR and immersive video has struggled to take off, much like video in the late 90’s and early millennium.
“All new technologies go through the same kind of pattern. They show up early and nobody knows what they are, then people realize the potential and almost inevitably they are over-hyped,” said Kliavkoff. “Ultimately there’s a froth and excitement in the market and probably too much investment [and expectation] going in. Then pining reality catches up and there’s a trough of disbelief,” which is where Kliavkoff believes VR is currently at in the market.
But, given he’s been two steps ahead of the format shifts over the arc of his career, Kliavkoff’s interest in VR might just be the only signal the industry needs to believe in the future of the format.
But in the event it’s not signal enough:
“Part of my job at Jaunt is making sure that we come out of the trough. We allow the market to catch up to the technology we’ve built and the storytelling expertise we’ve developed and we’re there when it becomes a large sustainable business.”