The Five Spot: Chris McGurk, Chairman and CEO, Cinedigm

Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk
(Image credit: Cinedigm)

Cinedigm chairman and CEO Chris McGurk says the call that brought him into the movie business came out of the blue. McGurk was happy with his job in accounting at Pepsi and Disney was looking for a chief financial officer for its studio. He interviewed with The Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, who had just accomplished rebuilding the company. “I was a smartass. I asked him: ‘Why would I want to come here? You’ve already won the World Series. The only way to go is down.’  ” 

“I want to create a dynasty like the Yankees and the only way I’m going to do that is if I hire people like you, and you can have an impact on popular culture and impact people’s lives,” Eisner responded. “Of course, I took the job,” McGurk recalled.

He helped Eisner buy Miramax. After Disney, McGurk helped run studios for Universal and MGM while focusing on independent films. Since 2011, McGurk has been CEO of Cinedigm, which has transformed from a technology company putting movies in theaters to one that streams content to consumers’ homes.

McGurk spoke to B+C senior content producer, business Jon Lafayette from Italy, where he was celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary. An edited transcript follows.


Bryan Cranston in 'Breaking Bad'

(Image credit: AMC)

Favorite TV show? Breaking Bad (pictured)
What are you watching now? My wife and I watch The Great British Baking Show.
Books on your nightstand? Final Patrol, by Don Keith, about World War II submarines. I’m going to re-read the Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson, which I think is just chock full of lessons.
Frequently used app? TrueCoach. It’s great because it goes through your whole routine and shows you videos of how to do it properly. If you don’t have the proper equipment, it gives you an alternative exercise. And it keeps track of it all.
Places on your bucket list? I haven’t been to Africa on a safari. My wife isn’t sure she wants to go because she doesn’t want to see animals eating each other. But sometimes it’s eat or be eaten, right? 

Are you a business guy or a movie guy? I consider myself a business guy, but I also consider myself to be a champion and lover of independent film.
We’re hoping [streaming platform] Cineverse can become the Spotify for independent film and TV, and be a place where artists can come and know that their films —  like Terrifier 2 — are going to find eyeballs and not be prevented from distribution by, you know, all the Hollywood gatekeepers like I used to be. 

Has the industry’s shift to streaming come faster than you expected?
I think it came slower. It took a bit longer because of traditional Hollywood clinging to legacy businesses and people trying to save their jobs. The catalyst was the pandemic, which encouraged cord-cutting, and the transition accelerated by two or three years. But now we’re here, and despite all the naysayers and all the B.S. you hear, streaming is the future of the business and ad-supported and FAST streaming is the best part of the streaming business. We transitioned into that in 2018 and we’ve had triple-digit growth for 10 straight quarters and we don’t see anything stopping that.

How does new competition from Disney Plus and Netflix in the ad market affect you? We don’t feel we compete with Netflix and the big streamers. We have our targeted enthusiasts. And now we have Cineverse, which is the independent content they’re ignoring now because they’re trying to improve their cash flow. We’ve got a pretty clear playing field right now and feel good about it. 

The industry is consolidating and Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to get into the FAST business. Are those guys kicking your tires? What would you say if they did? We get our tires kicked all the time but our response generally is we love where we’re at right now. Everything is great about our company, except the stock price like everybody else. So it’s not good timing to do a deal. We’re trying to get up to $100, $150 million in revenue and prove we’re sustainably profitable. And at that point, we’re  in a better position to have conversations with anybody and everybody about anything.

You just signed a new employment contract to run Cinedigm for three more years. Why? I’ve spent 11 years at the company now. It took longer than I thought to get where we are right now, but we’re in a really good spot. We’re rocking and rolling and I think I’ve put a great team of people together. The future is ours and I want to be part of it for the next three years because I think we’re going to do great things. ▪️

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.