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Monday, March 06, 2023

Fast Forward Awards 2023: Bill Rouhana — AVOD Pioneer

Cos Cob, CT - Bill Rouhana walks into the conference room of his modest office suite in Cos Cob, Conn., out of which he runs Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (CSSE), the biggest AVOD network not owned by a major media or technology conglomerate.

A spry 70, he extends his hand and flashes a warm smile, the sincerity of which is echoed in his piercing blue eyes. He appears genuinely glad to meet a visitor. It’s this trait, along with a sharp mind and a keen, strategic vision, that has helped keep him relevant in media and telecommunication circles for more than 40 years.

A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Rouhana began his career in entertainment law, developing new financing models for film producers such as Blake Edwards. Later, he founded Winstar Communications, an early broadband services provider known for the huge promotional blimp that flew over trade shows. After going public in 1994, the company saw a 600% stock gain, only to collapse during the dotcom bubble. In 2008 he bought a small book publishing company called Chicken Soup for the Soul, the cornerstone for the pioneering ad-supported streaming network that includes Crackle, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Popcornflix. Chicken Soup also acquires and distributes video content through its Screen Media and 1091 Pictures subsidiaries and produces original video content through the Chicken Soup for the Soul Television Group. Last August, CSSE acquired Redbox, which brought it more than 145 free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) channels, a transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) service, and a network of more than 34,000 disc-rental kiosks, all supported by original film and television production and distribution divisions.

For his groundbreaking efforts in AVOD as well as his legacy as an innovator in media, tech and broadcast, Rouhana is being honored with the fifth Media Play News Fast Forward Award, which is given out to people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

“Bill is an amazing executive with the foresight to accumulate a disparate set of puzzle pieces and assemble them into an aggressively competitive model enabled to support the future of media content and distribution,” says Mark Fisher, president and CEO of streaming trade association OTT.X. “He also has the instincts to assemble a super-talented leadership team to support and further develop his vision for Chicken Soup for the Soul.”


“Bill Rouhana has assembled an interesting group of companies whose combined potential portends a sweet spot of growth,” adds Amy Jo Smith, President and CEO of digital entertainment trade association DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. “We’re all looking forward to seeing what the Chicken Soup for the Soul team does next.”

The Redbox acquisition, Rouhana says, was a key cog in his overall game plan, which is “to build the best AVOD network that there can be.”

“And that means the greatest quality of content, the best user experience, serving people what they want to watch, instead of what they might want to watch, and creating an experience that is really seamless and perfect for the consumer,” he says. “So that’s our overall game plan.”

AVOD is currently on a roll, with usage skyrocketing and both Netflix and Disney+ recently rolling out cheaper, ad-supported streaming plans to complement their existing subscription streaming models. A report released last November by British research firm Digital TV Research projects that global AVOD revenue for movies and TV series will soar to $91 billion in 2028, up from $38 billion in 2022.

“If you look at the history of the media business, it’s been crystal clear that you need a variety of sources of revenue in order to have a sustainable business, one that’s able to deliver quality on an ongoing basis,” Rouhana says. “And advertising is a key part of that. When the subscription video players decided to abandon the advertising business and think they could replace that with just subscriptions and avoid monetizing content in other ways, it was obvious that wasn’t going to work. It was only a matter of time before that became obvious.”

Some observers question the longevity of AVOD, noting that for years consumers have been weaned off of watching commercials, first through the videocassette rental business and, later, through DVD, Blu-ray Disc, TVOD and subscription streaming. But Rouhana remains confident he’s on the right path.

“I’d argue with the premise that we weaned people off of watching commercials,” Rouhana says. “Some people stopped watching commercials, and that’s fine. But even the people who are watching subscription video services were also watching other services with commercials on them all through that period of time. No one’s been weaned off of watching content with commercials — you need to pay for the content, and there’s got to be a way to pay for it. We can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. We need advertisers to help. It’s really critical.”

The $375 million Redbox acquisition, Rouhana says, was prompted by a desire to acquire more high-quality content, as well as the company’s diversified revenue stream and huge database of value-conscious consumers.

“That was an obvious fit from the very first time we saw it,” Rouhana says. “We first started talking about this over two years earlier. And if you looked at what Redbox had and what they were building, and compare that to what Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment had, you could see it was a perfect fit. There were operating synergies, there were capital savings, there was an acceleration of the business plan implicit in it. Plus, I believe the kiosks are really a perfect way for us generate working capital and cash flow that will help us grow the AVOD business over time.”

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter agrees. “We don’t cover CSSE yet, but their model is unique,” he says. “I don’t see disc rental going away as long as there are people behind the tech curve and as long as the studios keep making them, so they [CSSE] have a good source of cash for the next several years.”

Integration plans are proceeding smoothly, Rouhana says. Last November, three months after the acquisition of Redbox closed, entertainment and streaming industry veteran Phil Oppenheim was appointed to the newly created role of chief content officer. He is charged with leading all facets of content strategy across physical and streaming brands, including Redbox and Crackle. Then, in January, former Redbox CEO Galen Smith, who had helped engineer the sale, left the company, paving the way for further streamlining.

“The first thing you’ll see is that we will have the Redbox app — what I call the ‘super app,’ the app that has TVOD in it, the free live-TV channels in it, and the Redbox AVOD service — also include the Crackle, Popcornflix and Chicken Soup for the Soul streaming services,” he says. “They’ll be inside of that app as well. They’ll also all be available separately, as they are today, on all the different as we call them touch points, places where people can go to watch television. But the first thing you’ll start to see is we’ll have that super app have even more stuff in it for people, and it’ll be an even more valuable app.”

Rouhana’s blueprint for building Chicken Soup for the Soul into the premier AVOD network is built around the premise that the No. 1 mistake paid-subscription streamers have made was “abandoning the window strategy that people use for content to maximize the value of content. When they tried to accelerate everything onto subscription services and avoid other ways of monetizing their content, they made it economically unviable. It couldn’t be done. You can’t run it that way. You need to maximize the return on content in every way possible. You see them coming full circle now — you see them starting to emphasize the fact that they need to monetize their content in different ways. You can’t be in the content business without getting as much money as possible from every single way it’s exploited.”

Rouhana maintains Netflix “never had a viable business plan to begin with, if you want to get right to the heart of it. There was never a way to get a return on an $18 billion-a-year content spend, when the content would be watched for two months, and then not be watched ever again. That’s not a viable business. And yet that was the business that Netflix was in. I don’t care how many countries you go and do it in, you’re not going to get a return on your investment. You can’t do it.”

Netflix’s rise to dominance, even over traditional Hollywood, “is basically Wall Street’s fault, because Wall Street does this all the time,” Rouhana says. “Wall Street overfunds fads, big, fad ideas. They reward behavior that’s not fundamental, that’s not long-term; they get excited by eyeballs, or monthly active viewers, or whatever metrics they find that get them excited, that get their juices flowing, and they overpay. And that causes managers to not think long-term, too, because they want the stock to go up today. They want it to go up tomorrow. And it’s really a problem in business in general.”

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Rouhana says, “has taken a very different approach to growing our business, which has been to grow it in a very thoughtful and methodical way without paying much attention to what the current view is of what we’re doing, Redbox being the ultimate example of that. We scared our investors to death when we bought Redbox because they had no idea what it really was. They didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand how it fit. They didn’t understand what it did. All they could see is DVDs, and that has to be going away in their minds because they live on the coasts and all that matters is what people do in their neighborhood. So it’s a very different philosophy we’ve had from the beginning.”

He pauses. “I want to come back to the physical media thing, because I have some friends who really like vinyl records, for example. And those people have brought this full circle — we’ve gone from digital streaming of music, the end of the record business, and back to vinyl records being current.
“There’s a value to physical media that doesn’t go away. So let’s not lose sight of that just because it’s not fashionable to talk about it.

“There is a value to physical media. It actually delivers a higher-quality product. And that’s been true, really, for all time. And it’s been proven to matter in the music business. But forgetting that for a moment, the Redbox kiosks are a critical part of our future. They’re a place where we can generate meaningful cash flow, we have a marketing capability that’s represented by those 34,000 kiosks across the country, and that group of people are perfect adopters for our AVOD business. So we are using the customer loyalty program to reach out to those people, learn what they like. And to try to give them the opportunity to find the kinds of things they want to watch in the digital world more easily than they would otherwise is really the key to this. The biggest problem that there is in VOD is it’s hard work to find something to watch. And that’s not why people watch TV — they don’t watch TV to do work, they watch TV to enjoy, to be entertained. We managed to make a big mess out of that, the VOD guys. Discovery is horrible.”

As a result, he says, consumers turn to Google, “and the problem with that is that you have to already know what you want to watch because you’ve got to put something in to get the search back. You can’t just say ‘good TV show.’ I mean, you can, but you’re not going to get much of a response from that. A good VOD system would show you, when you came to the home page, only choices that it already knew you liked — things that were interesting to you because they were in the genres you like that you’ve shown from prior experience that you were interested in. In order to get to that, we have to know a lot about the people, and we have to have the artificial intelligence, and we have to have a dynamic home page that actually can be created, so that you get a different home page than someone else with different tastes.”

Big subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Rouhana says, have a basic problem: “They know what you do on Netflix, but nowhere else. And I’m pretty sure that nobody lives exclusively on Netflix, despite their hope that you would. People engage in reality in a lot of different ways, not just through Netflix — and you also watch and consume entertainment in a variety of ways. All Netflix knows is what you consume on Netflix — that’s it. So the best they can do is give you stuff that they have that’s like stuff you’ve consumed with them before, but it’ll never be complete. They’ll never have a root view of what you actually like to see because they’ll only see one subset of your life. One of the great things about the Redbox acquisition for us is the customer loyalty program, the kiosks, TVOD, AVOD, FAST —we see what people are interested in across a whole series of viewing experiences in a way that most people never see. If we learn how to handle that information, we could deliver a dynamic home page that was much more in tune with what you like to watch. But that’s a big if — we have a lot of work to do. Everybody does. But that’s our goal.”

Bill Rouhana

William J. Rouhana was born June 23, 1952, in Brooklyn, N.Y. His father was an importer and distributor of fine wine. As a boy, Rouhana loved baseball and fantasized about one day playing professionally. “But I couldn’t hit, so that would be a limiting factor,” he says. “And I couldn’t pitch. So that would be pretty fatal to that aspiration.” He decided to pursue a career in law, instead, and after earning an undergraduate degree from Colby College in 1972 Rouhana set off for Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a law degree in 1976. He went into business as a founding partner of the New York City law firm of Beinhauer, Rouhana & Pike, and for the next eight years maintained several partnerships and private practices in the Big Apple.

His entry into entertainment, Rouhana says, “was an accident. I never really thought about it one way or the other. I was a lawyer. I was practicing law in Manhattan. A friend of mine became the president of Blake Edwards Entertainment — Blake Edwards being the famous director of the “Pink Panther” movies, Days of Wine and Roses, 10, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, just a fantastic director. He called me one day and said, ‘Bill, I’ve got to get $200 million for Blake, can you help me?’ I said, ‘Well, first of all, what are you talking about? Blake Edwards, who’s that?’ I had no idea. He explained it to me, and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll get you 200 million bucks.’ I was in the corporate finance law practice, so I knew lots of investment bankers. But I had no idea what I was taking on. But it turned out that at that moment in time, and this is a long time ago, HBO and Showtime were competing for programming. And they needed really top-notch movies to come through their systems so that they could attract viewers. And so they were both willing to compete to get Blake’s movies on their networks. And we used that, with a company called First Boston Corp. that was subsequently called Credit Suisse First Boston, to raise the money for Blake. And once that got done, the next thing I know, we had a parade of people who wanted money to make their own movies coming through my door in New York, and I was an entertainment finance lawyer from that moment forward.”

Rouhana was on the cusp of a new way to finance movies. “Well, it was interesting,” he says. “The idea of breaking up rights in movies — it was just beginning to happen for the first time.

“Up until that point, the studios made movies, and rich people made movies. But nobody ever made what you call independent films because there was no way to finance them.

“But as a result of the work we did, foreign pre-sales started to happen on independent films, pre-sales to cable started to happen. And then pretty soon thereafter, there was this idea called home video that came along. And the next thing we knew there was another revenue stream we could tap into, so we could fund independent movies that way, too. So it was a gradual breaking up of rights into various windows that allowed the financing of independent films.”

One day in 1984, Rouhana recalls, a lawyer friend, Peter Dekom, called and said, “You know, one of these days, you’re going get all of your movies over your telephone.” “And I’m looking at my phone and thinking, ‘I don’t see how I’m going to get movies over this thing — this is like a little black, circular thing,’” Rouhana says. “So I asked him, ‘Peter, what are you talking about?’ and he said, ‘They’re building these big networks all across the country that are capable of moving all kinds of information, and these things are going to be huge. This is going to be the future.’ I said, ‘OK, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but let me think about it.’”

Rouhana had already decided to shift his focus from law to investing, and was in the process of starting his own merchant bank. After several months of research, he says, he began to dabble in media investments. Some five years later, he says, “I started this little initiative inside of my firm to understand how you would take these big networks that were being built across the country, and actually connect them to people.

“They were going from one big switch in a city to another big switch in a city. Unless you were a switch, you had no broadband. So the question became, how do you extend this to people? How do you extend this broadband network — it wasn’t called that, back then — this big pipe to where people actually were living and working? And it was pretty clear that it would take 100-plus years to actually extend it if you tried to do it with wires because you’d have to undo the cities — you’d have to break them up and dig stuff and put things under them. So I was trying to figure out how you would accelerate what they call that the last mile.”

In 1993, Rouhana says, “I came across some licenses in a super high frequency called 38 gigahertz. And as a lawyer, of course, I had no idea what that meant. But in reading the business plan for them, there was a line in there that said, ‘This is the functional equivalent of fiber optics in the air.’ That’s what I had been looking for. And the more I investigated the super-high frequencies, the more it became clear to me that you could use them in a different way than people thought — and that was to extend this fiber optic network to at least big buildings and businesses.”

Rouhana bought the licenses and created Winstar Communications, which he says “became really the cutting-edge company in the use of wireless to deliver broadband. Today, pretty much every handheld device that you have is a grandchild of what we did at Winstar because we were looking at and creating the ability to use wireless to extend broadband. And it started as super-high frequencies and it came down — the frequencies — until finally it arrived at the places where cellular would work. And we drove every bit of that — we were an integral part of that from 1993 to 2001.”

Winstar went public in 1994. The following year, the company acquired a home video distributor, Fox Lorber Home Video, from New Video and became a familiar presence at the annual Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) convention, generally held in Las Vegas, where its huge promotional blimp (think Goodyear) would tower over the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Ultimately, Winstar owned and operated a broadband network in 60 major markets throughout the United States and another 15 markets in Europe, Asia and Latin America. The company ended 1999 with a market capitalization of more than $4.4 billion and revenues of $445.6 million.

The end came in 2001. Despite its impressive growth, Winstar wasn’t generating enough sales to cover the huge capital expenditures incurred in building out its infrastructure. The company turned to outsiders for money, including banks, investors and other large telecoms, including Lucent Technologies. When Lucent pulled the plug on a partnership agreement, the company had no choice but to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2001. That same month, Winstar filed a breach-of-contract suit against Lucent and laid off half its workforce. The cuts weren’t enough, and in January 2002 the Chapter 11 filing was converted into a Chapter 7 liquidation.

In December 2005, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in favor of Winstar and awarded the bankrupt company $244 million, plus other costs. His ruling was based on his finding that Lucent had induced Winstar to purchase unneeded telecommunication equipment. But it was a hollow victory, Rouhana says, both too little and too late.

The whole saga, Rouhana says, “was so unnecessary and so sad. When I first met Lucent’s CEO, they were the third-most-valuable company on Earth. And they gave us $2 billion to help us accelerate the rollout of our business because they really believed in our business plan and thought it was fantastic. We used that to build a major network in 70 countries and 100-plus cities. We had millions of customers, we really had a good, good business going. And then they got into trouble. And they never told anybody. The way they handled it was by not meeting their commitments. One of their commitments was to us, and when they didn’t meet it, they destroyed us. And while we ultimately won the lawsuit, it was too late to bring the company back to life.”

Rouhana still looks back with pride on Winstar Communications.

“It was truly an innovator,” he says. “We had a lab in Vienna, Virginia, with about 1,400 engineers. And in that lab, in 1996, 1997, 1998, you could have found video conferencing equipment, you could have found small cell phones that were capable of video conferencing, you could find prototypes of pretty much every single device that you use today. We had an amazing engineering team, fantastically talented people, and a view of the future. And that’s something that really matters in business — you have to have a view of the future. You have to know you’re going somewhere, and you have to know where that somewhere is.

“And I think we’ve deployed that same concept as we built Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment. We had a view of the future, that AVOD would be important, and that it could be just as good as any other part of the media business and more valuable and more accessible for consumers, being free.

“And I really think that if you do this right, you can create value from the advertising, not just cash flow.

“Over time, AVOD should give us the ability to deliver people only ads that they are actually interested in seeing, good ones, and they should be more interactive, more value adding. We have the ability to create a superior customer experience over broadcast because broadcast doesn’t have the capability of creating a one-to-one relationship between the viewer and the programming.”

The Winstar blimp

After the unceremonious collapse of Winstar in 2001, Rouhana says, “I spent a good number of years, probably three or four, trying to buy another company because I really enjoyed building Winstar. There’s something about building a business that just makes me feel great. I like it. I enjoy it. You put the team together, you create the resources, you have a plan, you do a lot of great things. I wanted to start with something interesting, so I looked around telecom, I looked around media, but it was very hard to buy anything. Between 2002 and 2007, these things were incredibly expensive. Companies were really overvalued, and there were a lot of crazy things in the economy.”

Then, in 2007, Rouhana says, “I was invited to a barbecue at one of my wife’s friends’ houses. I was drinking a glass of red wine in the backyard, watching a guy cook the lamb chops on the barbecue. He started telling me about Chicken Soup for the Soul. And he said I can buy Chicken Soup for the Soul. And I didn’t exactly know what to say. … Congratulations? Shortly thereafter, he made it clear what and why he was telling me — he wanted to buy the company, but he didn’t have the money. And that’s when I realized I had been invited to the barbecue because I’m a potential source of capital. And that was great, because I was looking for something interesting.”

The two sat down and had a serious conversation about Chicken Soup for the Soul, which at the time was a small book publishing company that also owned a pet food line. “It’s the craziest thing in the world — books and pet food,” Rouhana says with a laugh. The more he researched the company, he says, the more he found that “not only has it been a source of so much inspiration and hope and reassurance for people, but it was also a decent business, with millions of books sold every year, profitably, and a big pet food license.”

With an eye toward a connected world that would consume more and more content, making brands “increasingly important because they would help people filter what it is that’s coming at them,” Rouhana wound up buying the company himself, in April 2008, just before the collapse of the housing market and the Great Recession.

“We leveraged it, and about six weeks later the world came to an end,” Rouhana says. “Lehman collapsed, the dollar was worthless, everything was worthless, nobody went to stores anymore. We all thought the world was coming to an end, the thin veneer of civilization was deteriorating, and we didn’t know whether we were going to live together, kill each other, or what we were going to do.”

Bill Rouhana (left) with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Don Cheadle at the 2011 Global Creative Forum.

The first few years of owning Chicken Soup were tough, Rouhana says, “because even though people needed Chicken Soup for the Soul more than ever, they also didn’t go to stores and spend money, and so we struggled. Happily we were able to right-size things, get things going, and gradually build from there.”

At the time, Rouhana says, he knew he wanted to grow the company, but he had no idea into what. “I certainly didn’t think we were going to be in the media business the way we are,” he says. A chance conversation with Peter Dekom, the same entertainment lawyer who had sparked Rouhana’s concept for Winstar, set the wheels in his friend’s head spinning once again.

“He calls me one day and he says, ‘You know, all these guys have these subscription companies, and they’re not right. Advertising is the answer.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about, Peter?’ And he says, ‘You know, this video-on-demand stuff. You’ve got to do advertising.’ I said, ‘Nobody’s doing that.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to do it.’ So I hung up, and I said, ‘Peter’s always right, so let’s figure it out.’ And on a very high level, a billion feet, he’s always right. It’s just that there’s a lot of distance between the billion-foot level and Earth, and making things real is really tough to do.

“But as I looked around, I began to believe that, in fact, he was right once again because, if you look at the media business, you just can’t get around the fact that you have to have multiple ways to monetize content to stay in business. And advertising is just a part of it. The more I looked at the SVOD business model, the more convinced I was of that.

“There is not a business model that supports just putting content straight on SVOD and never monetizing it anywhere else. That business model does not exist.

“And so that caused me to really start to try to understand what AVOD would look like, and to construct a company that I thought would be sustainable. So I set out to find the right pieces of the puzzle.”

The first piece, acquired in 2017, was Screen Media, a film distributor with a more-than-20-year history, a library of 1,300 movies, and a solid distribution network. The plan, Rouhana says, “was to use that monetization capability that they had to sell things in all media across the globe as a way to reduce the risk of stuff we have to eventually get for our own AVOD services — which, by the way, at the time only existed in my head. But I knew what I was trying to build. And so we bought Screen Media, and that turned out to be an unbelievably good deal. We paid $6 million for it, and last year it generated $40 million of EBITDA for us.”

The next big purchase, in March 2019, was a majority stake in Crackle, which Chicken Soup for the Soul acquired from Sony Pictures. The two companies established a new joint venture, Crackle Plus, to house the ad-supported streaming service, which would be bolstered by the ability to license movies and TV series from the Sony Pictures Entertainment library and also incorporate six of Chicken Soup’s own ad-supported networks, including Popcornflix and Truli.

Sony had been wanting to sell Crackle for some time, Rouhana says, and yet getting the company to the negotiating table was a challenge. “We were a new company, and nobody had even heard of us,” Rouhana says. “But it turns out we actually had a good plan for Crackle once we saw the books and realized we could run it more efficiently, that it could be run in a different way, that it could be grown, and that with our library and our ability to monetize content and our ability to make things happen, maybe there was really a big opportunity there. And we convinced them to basically become our partners in the company they owned.”

The next big acquisition was in April 2021, when Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment bought the assets of Sonar Entertainment, the production company built by Robert Halmi Sr., for $19.5 million. According to the deal announcement, about $1 billion had been invested in film and TV projects controlled by Sonar.

Its current series include “Mysterious Benedict Society” on Disney+ and Prime Video’s “Hunters.”

“That’s another really interesting company, a terrific, first-class production organization with a beautiful, deep library of award-winning movies and television shows,” Rouhana says.

“But they were in trouble because of the way the industry had changed. The company had been built on the premise that you could deficit-finance television and still make money doing it. And as the market shifted on them, they were out over their skis.

“And so we were lucky enough to get to be the people the bank chose to work with to work through that and create value out of that set of assets. So we ended up with all that library, basically for free. I think the most interesting thing about that transaction was not only was it great financially, but it gave us the base on which to start our Chicken Soup for the Soul streaming service. We always viewed the Chicken Soup for the Soul streaming service as a combination of Lifetime and Hallmark and HGTV — you know, good, wonderful, nice movies, combined with a lot of really cool unscripted programming, and travel and home and family and things of that sort. And there were 700 Lifetime and Hallmark movies in the library of Sonar. So that gave us a great base on which to launch that network.”

A little more than a year later, in August 2022, Chicken Soup for the Soul acquired Redbox, which had gone public in the fall of 2021 and soon encountered a series of financial challenges that sent its stock price plummeting. An acquisition made sense, Rouhana says, because not only was the price right — $375 million — but Redbox also was in the process of a digital transformation that played right into Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment’s strategy of getting gobs of content while minimizing the risk through monetization diversification.

What’s next? “We will always keep an eye on acquisitions, so long as the industry is in the state of flux that it’s in,” Rouhana says. “It really comes down to opportunities. Whenever there’s disruption, there are winners and there are losers, and we are trying to be on the winner side of that as much as possible. If you take a look at every transaction we’ve done, it’s kind of remarkable in that we were always taking advantage of some abrupt change that was causing the sellers to need our help in some way. And then getting compensated in the way we purchased these assets, for bringing help, really goes all the way back to Screen Media — every one of them has been a similar formula. In the case of Screen Media, we bought a company for $6 million that people were looking at for $100 million-plus a year earlier. In the case of Crackle, we were helping somebody straighten out something that was hard for them as an organization to get right because of cultural issues. The studios are not entrepreneurial, venture-funded type organizations, and that’s the kind of culture they needed in Crackle. In the case of Sonar, we were helping mid-cap straighten out a balance sheet issue that needed somebody else to help.

“And in the case of Redbox, we did the same thing, didn’t we? We went in at a time when Redbox needed help because it had been in default on its bank line, because the SPAC transaction that they engaged in didn’t work, and because of COVID. We provided the pieces of the puzzle they needed to be OK, which we are, we’re OK, we’re in good shape. But it required a combination of assets and a moment in time to be able to do that transaction and the way we did it. We had tried two years earlier to buy it. And we had offered to pay much more money for the company. We ended up buying it for less and getting it at a better moment in time. Just because we took advantage of the disruption, it was good for everybody.

“You notice I never say take advantage of the seller because that’s not really what we’re doing. We’re actually helping the seller in these situations. But the disruption has done something to damage what they’re selling. And we’re able to help them reposition it in a way that it’s valuable. It’s worked well for us. So the answer is, of course, we’re going to do more of that. If we can find more of that, we’re going to do more of it.”

Topics: Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Fast Forward Reward, Bill Rouhana, Fast Forward Reward 2023