Charlie Collier surprised the industry in September when he exited his perch as CEO of Fox Entertainment for something a bit more unconventional: president of Roku Media. But anyone who knows Collier, or has followed his career, knows the move jibes with the exec’s longtime entrepreneurial spirit.
At AMC, Collier helped turn what was American Movie Classics into a programming powerhouse, with defining shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” while building AMC Studios and expanding SundanceTV. At Fox, he navigated the network’s independent evolution by acquiring new building blocks like Tubi, Bento Box and TMZ, and growing the company’s in-house production units.
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“I see Charlie as a triple threat of strategic thinking, executive capability and creative judgement,” says AMC Networks executive vice chairman Josh Sapan, who was previously CEO at the company while Collier was there as president and general manager. “He has the best kind of impatience, and always leads with action and achievement.”
Now, at Roku, Collier is focusing his attention on the future of streaming. “I loved my job at Fox. I’m so proud of what we did collectively and all we accomplished,” says Collier, in his first interview since officially starting the Roku job last week. “I just love to learn and push myself and others. Roku and [founder/CEO Anthony Wood] provided just the terrific opportunity to really disrupt myself and get on board with a true television- and tech-focus growth opportunity.”
Collier said he got to know Roku as a consumer — it’s the operating system he uses to stream on his TVs. (“It’s a phenomenal product,” he says.) And as he aimed to grow Tubi, which relied on Roku as a partner to reach eyeballs. “I also have been someone who has benefited from the platform and seeing how powerful it was,” he says. “They internally here talk a lot about ‘better television for everyone. I think the opportunity is really clear.”
But Collier said it was his roots in advertising (at outlets including Court TV, Oxygen Media and A&E) that especially piqued his interest in joining Roku. “If you believe, and I do, that the vast majority of television will be streamed, that means the vast majority of advertising will be streamed,” he says. “Tubi, Pluto, anyone who’s got an AVOD business understands the power of Roku.”
In particular, Collier says he was drawn to three elements he didn’t have while running the linear Fox and AMC operations: “With respect to the entire role, and the entire business I’m running, I grew up in advertising before getting into general management and programming and eventually running full ad-supported media organizations. That’s what I did.
“And then I look at this. And I think, I never had a direct consumer relationship, and strong first-party data,” he says. “And I’ve never had the platform, the user experience — the UX — to drive audiences exactly where those looking to engage those audiences with advertising want them to be.”
The exec says he was also intrigued by the idea of working with channel partners and their programming. “I’ve also always just represented my own content,” he notes. “At AMC, I would talk to you about my shows and my things. And what’s fascinating is, while I’ve always had my thing, I now have all of the outstanding content on the Roku Channel in the places where we curate content. But I also have so much of the content I admire across all the other networks and apps… there are 250 content partners here. And we can help, not just my stuff, but all of them grow in meaningful ways through meaningful partnerships.”
And that will include getting to work with Netflix, now that it is introducing an ad-supported tier, to help them grow via their presence on Roku.
“They’re making a shift from thinking every day about subscription and retention,” Collier says of the streaming giant. “And the second they’re in the advertising business, they’re going to want to focus on engagement, viewership, and connecting with passionate audiences. And so, the relationship that I’m looking forward to helping grow is with Netflix and anyone else who has the desire to connect and elevate their relationship with these audiences.”
In his recent Q3 Roku earnings call, Wood also spelled out what excited him in stealing Collier away from Fox to run the company’s media arm.
“I think the big picture around Charlie is just that he’s a very senior media executive with a lot of experience in advertising and in content and programming and the strategy of running a media company,” Wood said. “Our media business is a big business, a very large business. But it’s got so much more potential, and it can be a lot bigger. And that’s why we recruited Charlie to help take us to the next level. So, I’m sure he’ll bring some new insights and strategies and ways of thinking that we weren’t thinking before, and we’ll have to see what happens. But I’m looking forward to working with him to grow the media business.”
Collier’s arrival coincides with the launch of the Roku Channel’s biggest original programming bet to date: “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” The film, from Funny or Die, has earned strong reviews for its tongue-in-cheek take on the origins story of song parody king Yankovic, played by Daniel Radcliffe.
“It’s been really great for Roku,” Collier says. “It tapped a vein and made a lot of noise. It’s driven some great partnerships with T-Mobile as a sponsor. And it’s brought in millions of dollars in free advertising impressions [for Roku], just through word of mouth.”
“Weird” represents the next step in the growth of Roku’s originals strategy, which began with the acquisition of Quibi programs (after that short-lived service was abandoned) and later led to more homegrown commissions, including the Emmy-nominated TV movie “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas.” Roku also recently acquired Season 2 of Nasim Pedrad’s comedy “Chad” after TBS cut it loose.
Collier defers to Roku’s originals team, led by David Eilenberg, in figuring out what the next “Weird”-level bet might be for the service. “It’s been an incredibly opportunistic fan focus strategy. And as I get into the first party data, I think we’ll probably continue to do the same. With first-party data, you can see where you’re engaging with your audiences,” Collier says.
Collier compares it to his early days at AMC, when he arrived and noticed that films based on western, thriller and antihero themes did particularly well for the channel — and then set out to find series that mirrored those kinds of stories. At Roku, “we will continue to build originals that live side by side with what the data shows us the audiences are passionate about.” That not only includes scripted, but unscripted fare like Rich Eisen’s sports talk programming, and originals from Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse.
“You talk about something like ‘Weird,’ where we can work with Vevo, and curate deep libraries of related video and pop culture,” he says.
How much will Roku spend on original content? Collier won’t say, but it clearly won’t be at SVOD levels. “It’ll be an ad-supported business that’s responsible and good for us to be able to do all that,” he says. But it’s not going to be a Netflix-style volume business. “That wouldn’t be right,” he adds.
At Fox, Collier became known for his passional embrace of blockchain, NFTs and the whole Web3 space. Will he bring that interest to Roku as well?
“I hope I bring the things I’m passionate about everywhere I go,” he says. “The kind of people I like to be around are passionate people. And I hope I’m one of them. There’s so many smart people here. I talked to our head of advanced development about Web3 experiences when I got here. And we mind melded on all sorts of opportunities. I mean, truly, there’s so many smart people at Roku and brilliant engineers and problem solvers. In addition to the creative people I’m around and with whom I’ve spent the most time.”
Collier also joins at a challenging time for Roku and the digital space in general. On the plus side, the platform now has 65.4 million accounts and has saw its streaming hours increase in this most recent quarter — including a 90% jump for the Roku Channel. But Roku’s stock price took a significant dive from record highs this year, and in an earnings call, Wood warned that the advertising marketplace was slowing.
Collier says he’s unperturbed. “The core thesis of Roku is so strong,” he maintains. “So, when there is a little more certainty in the macro environment, and when the ad market returns, Roku is poised, not just to reward investors, but I’m excited to see it grow our creative and advertising and channel partners’ business as well.”
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