“It’s not a time to be depressed, opportunities abound for publishers – just meet your audiences where they are.”
In a wide-ranging interview with TMB’s President and CEO, Bonnie Kintzer, we discussed the media giant’s foray into FAST TV, as well as her thoughts on TikTok, video, and affiliate marketing. And, yes, TMB is experimenting with ChatGPT.
Originally founded as Reader’s Digest Association in 1922, TMB (formerly known as Trusted Media Brands) is a North American multi-platform media empire with a global audience of over 200M. Under the stewardship of President and CEO Bonnie Kintzer, its turnaround from a Chapter 11 filing in 2013 has been remarkable.
TMB’s subsequent success has been based on a channel-agnostic strategy focused on “meeting the audience where they are”, with Kintzer transforming it into a community-driven entertainment company through organic growth and acquisition – key to this has been the publisher’s 2021 purchase of Jukin Media, an award-winning streaming and social video company.
FailArmy, which came as part of the Jukin acquisition, is now one of the most-watched online video properties in the world, whilst its FAST TV spinoff – FailArmyTV – has played a major part in TMB’s streaming portfolio amassing 11Bn minutes of viewing last year.
On the eve of TMB’s FailArmy debuting its newest in-house comedy series, Womp & Co, we sat down with Bonnie to discuss the company’s recent investment into original TV programming, its continued focus on digital and video content, as well as her thoughts on a softening ad market and recent innovations including ChatGPT.
WNIP: You’ve been President and CEO for almost 9 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in publishing during that time?
Bonnie Kintzer: That’s a big question. There has been enormous change, from the role that video plays, the power of social media, the advent of TikTok, etc. But I’ve been pleased with how we’ve harnessed these opportunities by asking, “Where do we belong? What’s our community? Where do our brands resonate?”
WNIP: You’ve said, “We’re focusing on where the audiences are” – what are the current trends you’re seeing right now with regard to this?
Bonnie Kintzer: The audience is now really everywhere – the newer trends for us are the variety of social platforms. Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have shown enormous growth for us and we expect that to continue. Streaming FAST is also a growing market, especially Samsung and Roku. But look, people still open their newsletters, they go on websites and they read. We try to be agnostic and just focus on the best content delivered to you in the right way for that particular platform.
WNIP: You’re quoted as saying you’re a “digital and video forward company”. Can you tell us a little more about what you mean by that?
Bonnie Kintzer: You have to be where consumers are. If video is the main way people are receiving information, then we will want to consider video. But people are still reading. It’s not one or the other, it’s not this or that, we will give you the content how you want it. That attitude has really helped us.
At the beginning of my time here, we were one of the only media companies that had a singular editorial function for all platforms. That has been a key reason for our success because we’ve always thought about the audience and content as a coherent whole – we weren’t chopping it apart.Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, TMB
WNIP: Moving onto FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV), you’ve doubled your viewership numbers YOY recently. What’s TMB’s secret behind this?
Bonnie Kintzer: It’s about the content. We call ourselves a content company – it’s our content that drives our audience, and it’s our audience that drives our monetization. We have a clear view of that. We ask ourselves, “What do people want?” and we have an interesting mix of clip compilations, our originals, our licensed content, etc. It’s about getting the balance right so we can deliver the best experience for our audience.
WNIP: You’re now moving into producing more original content like Womp & Co for FailArmy which features puppets from the Henson group. Do you plan to do more comedy/original content like this or is this a test?
Bonnie Kintzer: We had already begun to do original content with some of our other properties last year, and as part of this commitment we also appointed Chris Rantamaki (formerly of Warner Bros. Discovery), the first time we’ve had an SVP of Original Programming. It’s going to be part of our mix moving forwards and we’re starting out with six episodes of Womp & Co and we’ll build from there.
We like original programming – we own it, it’s fun, it’s creative, our staff love it, our audience love it. Licensing is a side benefit. Moving forward it will be part of our mix and it will surely evolve as we progress and learn each year.Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, TMB
WNIP: Does moving into TV production demand a different mindset to pure-play publishing? What advice would you give other publishers?
Bonnie Kintzer: It demands a different mindset and knowledgebase, and for this you need strong talent and good partner relationships in the marketplace. I’ve learned a tonne over the past eighteen months as we’ve evolved to become one of the biggest players in FAST – our acquisition of Jukin was critical in this because they already had deep learning in FAST and strong industry relationships.
WNIP: FAST demands support through advertising, and as a business you’re more ad-driven than you used to be – is that a concern given the ad market is softening?
Bonnie Kintzer: Softening ad rates are not something you want to see, but we have multiple levers – both the rates and the minutes viewed which in 2022 reached 11Bn minutes. You have to focus on the things you can control. Ad rates will come back, I just can’t say when but they will come back.
We’re running the business for the long term and we don’t want to take our focus off either the content or our audience. We’re a consumer-driven company, properly diversified, and we’re in much better shape than many other companies.Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, TMB
WNIP: You’ve mentioned that you want TMB to scale up in affiliate. Can you tell us more? What advice would you give other publishers looking to harness it?
Bonnie Kintzer: Affiliate is doing spectacularly well – during this past Christmas we were up 57% over the previous year. You need a great talent base full of commerce experience and you must also make all your publishing assets work hard. It all starts with the content and our brands like Readers Digest, Taste of Home, and Family Handyman have enormous credibility as well as scale. It’s about content and trust.
WNIP: Taste of Home is your most profitable brand. What plans do you have for it in 2023?
Bonnie Kintzer: We are working on something called ‘Community Cooks’ where we are working to identify cooks all over the country who are doing good things. We’re bringing them in, they’re sharing their recipes with us, and we’re forging a deeper community. This also feeds into our affiliate side because our audience look to us to know what gadgets to buy, what appliances work best, etc – we have a proper test kitchen to assist us with this. It’s an amazing brand.
WNIP: You have a sizeable TikTok audience (17M on FailArmy alone). Are you concerned that Congress might ban the app? Does it make you hold off a little?
Bonnie Kintzer: TikTok is very important to us and FailArmy has an extraordinary presence on TikTok as do many of our other brands. Our audience is there and so we are committed to TikTok because of this. Am I worried? No, but I do pay attention. In saying that, we are an agile company and if something goes down we’ll lean into something else.
WNIP: ChatGPT. What are your thoughts? And of AI in general?
Bonnie Kintzer: *smiles* You can imagine how my content leadership thinks about it! But we’re going to experiment with it, we’re going to learn, and we’re going to learn from our audience too. I’ve been on it and tried it out, both humorously and seriously, and the results were mixed – I asked it about a bug, and it gave me the correct answer, but a sixth grader could have also told me that. So, it depends, but we will experiment, we will learn and we’ll most definitely react accordingly.
WNIP: Final thoughts?
There are so many opportunities right now. I’d encourage people to not get stuck in this woefulness pit about the economy and instead focus on the incredible opportunities ahead of us. Ships all rise together and I’m optimistic things will get better this year. When I look at our numbers – 11Bn minutes is quite something – we have a tremendous platform to build on.Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, TMB
Thank you Bonnie for your time today. Good luck with the launch of Womp & Co this Friday.
Bonnie Kinzter will be making a keynote speech at this year’s FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais, Portugal (June 6th – 8th). Sign up for the 45th World Media Congress here.