To qualify for a Fifth Estater profile, you used to need a head of gray hair (or none at all) and to have spent at least 15 years in the "good old days." That was before the Internet.
Kevin Tsujihara is one of those people who look as if they haven't paid the proper dues. At 36, he is executive vice president, New Media, Warner Bros. Besides overseeing all of the company's new-media projects, he is the point person on Time Warner Digital Media and America Online. As points go, that's big!
Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer describes Tsujihara as unique because he is a futurist with both pragmatic and creative sensibilities.
"He knows how to keep a business fiscally fit, while at the same time nurturing and supporting creative talent," says Meyer.
"He's been our chief advocate and facilitator for such strategic alliances as Open TV and Replay and has been a driving force behind our desire to accelerate the creation of content made especially for the Internet and interactive television."
Tsujihara earned an M.B.A. from Stanford in 1992 and joined Warner Bros. in '94 to assist in the management of the company's interest in theme-park operator Six Flags. He already had the entrepreneurial experience that often teaches lessons that can't be learned in business school.
"After I graduated from Stanford, I was looking to do something entrepreneurial, so I created a company that delivered electronic data using Internet technology," he explains. "Of course, at that time, it wasn't called the Internet."
Tsujihara's idea was to offer electronic filing of taxes through a modem; thus the company QuickTax was born. After some demographic research, he saw that those who would benefit most from electronic filing would be those who would get the largest refund. In Southern California, that meant the Hispanic population.
"To get the volume and scale, we had 20 retail tax locations in Southern California," he recalls. "I was running a company of 40 employees whose native language was Spanish-and mine wasn't."
Looking back, there is only one thing that Tsujihara regrets. "We sold out the business, but I didn't realize that I could have been a billionaire if I had just kept on losing money," he laughs, referring to the current Internet business model. "The more I lost, the richer I would have gotten."
The lessons on how to scrape by to meet payroll have given way to playing a part in one of the largest corporate mergers in history. His purview includes many areas, but his most pressing priority is to get Warner Bros.' revamped Web site (www.warnerbros.com) up and running this summer.
"One of the things that has frustrated me with the site is that a number of visitors come to the site through a sub-brand, like ER or Rosie," he says.
"We haven't done a great job of letting them see that the show is under the umbrella of Warner. So we've been working on a clear navigation, so that, wherever visitors are, they'll know they're on the WB site. And they'll be able to get back to the home page from anywhere within the site."
Another project for which he recently took on increased responsibility is Entertaindom (www.entertaindom.com). "It's an entertainment site that is for the 20-40 demographic," he notes. "It's looking for the best Internet content, whether it's from Warner Bros. or produced by others we buy content from."
Besides keeping the Warner Bros. brands and contents looking (and functioning) their best on the Internet, Tsujihara is responsible for tracking other developments in the digital space: for example, Warner Bros.' investment in Replay.
"We have to understand where technologies like personal video recorders are going and how consumers will want to watch programming in the future," he says.
"If what ultimately happens is, you have PVR capabilities in every television-and that is a possibility because it's only a hard drive-then the whole model of how you deliver content will change.
"It will become even harder to figure out how to create a hit," he continues. "If people watch only what they want to watch, how do you create a hit? And that's what the challenge on the Internet is: How do you create that hit?"
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