Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

“Hulu for Magazines” Gets a CEO: Good Luck, Morgan Guenther!

Remember Next Issue Media, the “Hulu for magazines” joint venture that was supposed to help the big publishers negotiate with the likes of Apple and Amazon in the e-reader market? It has been awfully quiet for a long time, but there has been at least one good reason for that: It hasn’t had a CEO.

Now it does. The JV has appointed Morgan Guenther to the post. Who?

From the press release:

Mr. Guenther served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AirPlay, a wireless entertainment services company. Prior to this position, he was with TiVo Inc., as President from 2001 through 2003 and before that as Senior Vice President of Business Development and Revenue Operations. Mr. Guenther sits on several other technology company boards and is also a former partner at Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP.

John Squires, the Time Warner (TWX) executive who helped spearhead the JV last year, had openly campaigned for the job. But outside of his former colleagues at Time Inc., most magazine executives assumed he wouldn’t get the gig, for whatever reason.

Bob Sauerberg, the Condé Nast distribution exec tasked with speaking on behalf of the JV partners–Condé, Time Inc., News Corp. (NWS), Meredith (MDP), Hearst–explains the group’s choice with…delicacy. Squires brought “huge enthusiasm” to the job as an interim leader, he says. But “as we now head into execution, and working through how to do it, we felt that Morgan…was the right guy.” Etc.

It is worth noting that Guenther will be based in San Francisco, which is on the other side of the continent from his corporate backers, but is presumably next door to all the tech companies the JV will have to deal with. So that’s encouraging.

The discouraging part: The market for this stuff is moving very quickly, and the JV doesn’t seem to have moved at all for the past six months.

Not true! says Sauerberg: Squires, along with consulting firm Oliver Wyman, has been studying the market, and those findings are supposed to be presented at an industry conference tomorrow. Publishing sources also tell me that the JV has done some actual technical work as well, though it’s unclear if we’ll ever see it.

Okay. Here’s the bigger issue: Even in the best-case scenario, this kind of media joint venture works only if the partners behind it try really, really hard to make it work. Hulu itself is a great product, but that JV is now struggling to balance the competing interests of its network TV owners.

And in this case, it’s unclear whether Next Issue Media’s owners really believe they need a single aggregator to market and distribute their stuff, a la iTunes in music and Hulu and YouTube for video.

Most telling point: Next Issue Media doesn’t have exclusive rights to distribute its partners’ stuff, as Hulu does. That is: Any publisher is free to set up its own deals with Apple (AAPL) or Amazon (AMZN) or anyone else.

So you can very easily imagine a scenario where Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos applies leverage to cut a separate deal with Time or Condé, etc. And once that starts happening…well, you can see how this one could play out.

Perhaps Squires was lucky not to get the gig.

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