Most people are lucky to enjoy a second act in their professional life. Larry Kramer's on his third. After more than 20 years in journalism, Kramer revinvented himself as an entrepreneur, starting a sports-news and -information business. Now, as president of CBS Digital Media, he is drawing on both his reportorial instincts and his business acumen to help an old-line broadcast network embrace the new-media future.
“Your intuition and the knowledge base you've built in the business is really valuable,” he says. “You have to believe something is there even when others don't.”
Kramer began reporting for Time and Associated Press as an undergrad at Syracuse and, later, while pursuing an M.B.A. at Harvard. After stints as a reporter at the San Francisco Examiner and The Washington Post, he became executive editor of the Trenton Times in New Jersey in 1980. He returned to the Post before rejoining The Examiner as executive editor in 1986.
With the economy in recession, and facing the prospect of presiding over waves of layoffs, Kramer left The Examiner in 1991. As offers from other newspapers came in, he convened a family meeting at the kitchen table with his wife, son and daughter, who encouraged him to pursue his longtime dream of starting a business.
That year, Kramer founded DataSport Inc., a sports-information service that delivered news and stats to a handheld device called SporTrax. The company was acquired three years later by Data Broadcasting Corp., which offered stock information through a similar handheld device. Kramer helped expand the service to provide stock information and eventually financial-news stories to newspapers, including USA Today.
When CBS bought into online sports- news portal SportsLine in 1997, Kramer proposed a partnership with Data Broadcasting to offer stock info that soon led to the launch of CBS MarketWatch later that year. After running the company for eight years and taking it public in 1999, Kramer oversaw the sale of MarketWatch to Dow Jones for $528 million in January 2005.
He was just settling into the idea of taking time off and writing when CBS chief Leslie Moonves called. Moonves persuaded Kramer to join CBS in March 2005 and do for its online properties what he had done for MarketWatch.
“It was basically Leslie being Leslie, which is very convincing,” Kramer says, stressing that Moonves was committed to spending the necessary money.
Since Kramer assumed oversight of CBS' news, sports and entertainment Websites, he and his team have worked quickly to bring each in line with the technological standard set by CBS SportsLine.
Content Meets Platform
In a “watershed moment for the team,” CBS offered free online streaming of this past spring's NCAA men's basketball tournament, drawing some 5 million users and more than $4 million in ad revenue. New broadband sites Innertube and entertainment-focused ShowBuzz followed soon after. Next month, CBS will be the first network to offer a live simulcast of its evening newscast online.
While other networks have been pickier about their multiplatform deals, CBS has partnered with several digital distributors, including Google Video.
“[Kramer's] thinking epitomizes the perfect nexus between the Internet and traditional media,” says Jennifer Feikin, Google director of video and search multimedia partnerships. “Larry just gets it.”
Kramer, who divides his time between home in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Sportsline headquarters in Florida, acknowledges that he certainly didn't need the work after his MartketWatch payout.
But the prospect of “being able to play in one of the most incredible sandboxes in history” was too appealing.
“I'm fascinated by what's going to happen in this space over the next few years,” he says. “I'll do it while it's fun. If it stops being fun, I'll just stop doing it.”
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