Doug Herzog started his career as an intern at CNN and now oversees MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Spike and TV Land. In between, he learned a thing or two about creating content and building a brand.
“There’s content and then there’s content that has a tremendous point of view and a voice,” he told moderator Bill Weir, executive producer and host of CNN’s The Wonder List, at PromaxBDA: The Conference 2015 on Tuesday.
“Content is always king and I think it’s even more valuable when it’s filtered through a very unique point of view and voice that Jon Stewart has, that John Oliver has, that Amy Schumer has. It’s the straw that stirs the drink, it’s the center of the wheel, it’s why all of these great people are here today. All of these great platforms that are out there are nothing without content.”
Over the years, Herzog helped create The Daily Show and launched South Park on Comedy Central. And what he knew then remains true today: nobody knows anything.
“What we all know about making content is that a lot of things fail,” Herzog said. “Why not take more chances or go down in a ball of flames?”
There was a distinct possibility that Herzog was going to down in flames after he focus-tested The Daily Show with first host Craig Kilborn.
“We did research on Craig Kilborn and The Daily Show and [the focus groups] hated him with a great hot hate,” Herzog said, but he chose to go ahead with the show anyway. The rest is history, although with the departure of Jon Stewart imminent, Herzog is taking another big risk on South African comic Trevor Noah.
“The Daily Show demands somebody who is fun, insightful, smart, understands world events and the news and can speak in millennials’ very distinctive voice. Not everyone can bring all that together. Ultimately, we think this is the right guy for the job. The list was very short.”
Still, Herzog was not prepared for the Twitter storm that erupted after Noah was named to Stewart’s job.
“We did not vet his Twitter feed before we hired him,” Herzog told Weir, joking “that was the first thing my boss asked as well.
“But the truth is even had we looked at it I don’t know what we would have done differently. What I really learned is that it didn’t matter who was going to replace Jon Stewart, we underestimated what the public reaction would be to anyone who was going to be sitting in that seat. The way people have come to view The Daily Show is a very elevated place.”
While Herzog waits to launch the new Daily Show, he’s enjoying a new hit on Spike: Lip Sync Battles, which comes from Jimmy Fallon.
“That’s a beautiful thing,” Herzog said. “It was an unlikely hit into left field and again proves my feeling that no one knows anything.”
Herzog’s faith lies in content but he’s also eagerly awaiting measurement and monetization to catch up with the rest of the digital space.
“Monetization is the biggest challenge facing myself and everyone else in this world,” he said. “In this on-demand world, people are watching content in a million different ways and on a million different platforms. This is where research and data are going to help us figure out how to measure people across all platforms in a way that will help us earn revenue in the fashion to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s not happening fast enough but it’s definitely a challenge for everyone who is producing content.”
No matter when the industry finally gets those thorny issues untangled, producing great content will always rely on unquantifiable qualities: creativity, storytelling, intuition, luck.
Said Herzog: “Content starts with great ideas and great talented people make it. Research can help you improve and shape what you are doing. But at the end of the day you have to rely on your passion.“
Image courtesy of Image Group LA.