Jordan Hoffner knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career in television. The son of Larry Hoffner, a longtime ad-sales chief for NBC, Jordan recalls the thrill of sitting in the network's production truck during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade when he was 7 years old. He even knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: legendary NBC president Brandon Tartikoff.
“I remember reading that he was such a fan of the medium that even as network president, he didn't want to see the latest episode of St. Elsewhere [in advance],” says Hoffner. “He wanted to experience it with everyone else and be part of that water-cooler experience. It was that kind of enthusiasm that I thought was amazing, that I still have about TV.”
That enthusiasm led Hoffner to join NBC, where he spent more than a decade rising from news producer to digital programmer. And it also led him to leave the network behind for the next frontier in television: broadband video.
For the past year, Hoffner has been something of a network president for YouTube, the online-video site owned by search giant Google. As head of content partnerships, he has forged ties with networks, station groups and other media companies to bring their content to YouTube's passionate audience.
Hoffner began his career at NBC as an intern for CNBC while attending Vassar College in New York, and managed to parlay that into a gig as an NBC Sports runner at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But in the fall of 1992, he headed to Los Angeles, where he worked as an assistant to talent agent Marty Hurwitz in hopes of breaking into entertainment.
After a year and a half, Hoffner returned to NBC as a researcher on the Today show under then Executive Producer Jeff Zucker. He moved up to associate producer, and in 1997 jumped to primetime as a producer for MSNBC's Big Show With Keith Olbermann. When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, he went to Washington, D.C., to produce reports for Olbermann and CNBC's The News With Brian Williams.
Back in New York, while working as broadcast producer for Williams, Hoffner enrolled part-time in business school at New York University. With the dot-com boom in full swing, he left NBC in 1999 to produce multimedia for eFit.com, a health-and-fitness startup that fizzled the next year. After completing his M.B.A. in 2001, he returned once again to NBC in January 2002, this time working for the company's corporate development team.
There, Hoffner worked on financial projects like NBC's integration of Telemundo and its 2004 acquisition of Universal. He and fellow analyst Mike Steib also conceived and launched NBC Weather Plus, a 24-hour digitally broadcast weather-news service.
Ion Media Networks President/CEO Brandon Burgess was Hoffner's boss at NBC corporate and recalls his “unique ability to bridge the business community and the content community. Weather Plus was a perfect example of his skills in dealing with news talent in-house and the business leaders on the affiliate side.”
After a year at Weather Plus, Hoffner “started to see how the Internet was kind of coming back on an economic basis.” Consulting once again with Zucker, he jumped to NBC Universal Digital, where he began as a strategist and ended up running NBCU Digital Studios.
It was there that Hoffner, like much of the media world, became aware of YouTube when the Saturday Night Live video “Lazy Sunday” hit the site and became a viral smash. Inspired by the phenomenon, Hoffner and his team of producers created their own short-form content and uploaded it to YouTube. Their first effort, “The Easter Bunny Hates You,” in which a bunny-suited bully hilariously attacks unsuspecting New Yorkers, garnered some five million streams in a month.
In 2006, Google came calling and enticed Hoffner to join in September to oversee premium, archival and information content for its nascent Google Video. A month later, Google announced the $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube and put Hoffner in charge of the site's content partnerships.
While headlines in the past year have tended to focus on YouTube's copyright disputes with content owners—particularly Viacom's $1 billion infringement suit—the company has struck a series of content- and revenue-sharing deals that reflect Hoffner's desire for YouTube to be regarded as a valuable distribution partner that respects copyrights.
After launching branded channels for networks like BBC and Sundance, the company reached a watershed agreement in June with the Hearst-Argyle station group to create channels for individual stations to supply local content. Partnerships with LIN TV, Oprah Winfrey and Tribune stations have followed, and Hoffner says new deals “with some major brands” will be announced at the Consumer Electronics Show, held Jan. 7 to 10 in Las Vegas.
Hoffner says he draws on his years at NBC to “speak both languages: the Internet for people out here, and the media language for people out there.”
His old boss Zucker, now president/CEO of NBC Universal, has taken note: “I've always had great respect for YouTube and what they do,” he says. “And I think Jordan has brought a great sense of professionalism and knowledge of the more traditional media companies to how they interact with the larger world.”
From his perch in San Francisco, where he lives with his wife (a former Today show publicist) and their young son and daughter, Hoffner marvels at how much—and how fast—things are changing in the TV business. So, does he still want to be Brandon Tartikoff when he grows up?
“In some ways, I have a better job,” he says. “It's working with all content owners, big and small, from all over the world. It's engaging audiences and providing content that hits them on a personal level. That didn't exist with the three-network model. It exists now—and it's really fun.”
To see a gallery of Fifth Estater caricatures, click here.
To see video of Jordan Hoffner addressing the question "Who's making money off online video?" click here.
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