Conde Nast’s New Mogul Dawn Ostroff: Forget Cable, Digital Is the Future

EXCLUSIVE: Former CW chief says companies must play to consumers’ taste or “they’re going to go elsewhere”

EXCLUSIVE

Conde Nast's new president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff saw the potential in cable TV before many of her peers. Nowadays, she's excited about the digital future. 

In an interview with TheWrap, the former CW chief stressed the need for content to be accessible. 

“If you’re not there with them, they’re going to go elsewhere,” she said. 

Also read: Conde Nast Taps Dawn Ostroff to Launch Entertainment Division

Ostroff told TheWrap that she was attracted to the opportunity to build Conde Nast's business at a time when people within the company are open to exploring new options.

"That," she said, "and the idea that the digital frontier is really wide open right now."

Also read: Ostroff Says Goodbye to Advertisers, Hello to New York

You’re arriving at the company with a broad mandate to extend its reach in show business but especially digitally: With things like the New Yorker’s commitment to he iPad, maybe this is evolutionary rather than revolutionary?
They’re doing it beautifully. It’s been impressive within the business. Even the company’s recent announcement of being a partner with Amazon speaks volumes about how progressive they are.

And yet across a broad array of magazines, there’s so much left to be exploited for the first time on various platforms.
Everybody has have been saying for years that content is king, and there are many different forms of that. These magazines are the highest level of content that there is, and to take that brand of content that now is in magazine form and adapt it to other types — be it television shows or feature films or digital channels and again across the different platforms — means there are going to be many types of opportunities depending on the magazines and what their goals are.

Still, it’s a business founded on print: How do you work through whatever institutional reluctance, perhaps from fear of diluting that legacy, still exists?
There might be opportunities in traditional media as well. We’re just going to explore everything, and there have been a lot of things that have come up over the past year for Conde Nast. For me, it’s about first understanding what everybody’s goals are internally, and putting together my strategic plan, and putting together my team — which is what I’m going to be doing for the next few months 

There’s a glamour to feature film and TV adaptation, but I get the sense you see the digital space as the real target.
It’s across all platforms, but I’m excited about digital content, certainly. You’re looking at Netflix and YouTube and Amazon, all the different companies that are looking for digital content, and Conde Nast, in many regards, is first on their list.

I think if we can figure out what makes sense for the magazines, digital content is as exciting to the company as any other medium.

An aspect of your career seems to be that you find some untested terrain, meet that challenge, and then go on to some very different one.
I’ll be honest, when I went to Lifetime Television, a lot of people in the business said, Why would you ever leave and go to a cable network? It didn’t seem to make sense to anybody. But in my mind, cable was the future, and that was where people were migrating. And I think in time digital channels will be what the future will be. Because I see how everybody, particularly in the demographic of the CW, 18 to 34, is migrating to get their content online and through mobile technology. Ultimately they were going to go for all of our content directly on mobile phones or computers. So the possibilities are really endless at this point.

You only have to lift certain issues of Vogue to know that these are some healthy products, but for the print business in general, fear has concentrated the minds of the publishers. There’s a willingness, yes?
I can only say, look at the music business, look at the television business. You have to embrace the technology and where the consumers are going to get their content: If you’re not there with them, they’re going to go elsewhere. I think we learned at the CW you need to be accessible, you need to be easy, and you need to let them know that wherever they want to get your content you will be there.

You’ve got a pretty venerable brand name to deploy, and others within that brand — the trick is presumably in the translation?
Quality content is what it’s about, and part of what excited me about Conde Nast is that quality is built into every brand they have here. So if youncan create say, video content to match the type of quality they have in the magazine, that would be the goal.

Are you having series of meetings with the editors et al?
I’ve had some already, I’m on my way to one now. It’s probably gonna take me a week or two to get through sitting down and talking to all of them, but Graydon [Carter, of Vanity Fair] and many of the editors I’ve met with so far are incredibly excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity and having a team here who will help them realize what some of their goals are. Everybody so far has been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic and open minded about what we can bring.

Finally, I understand New York was one of the draws for you after extended time in L.A.
Well, quite candidly, I had a few opportunities in New York. What excited me about Conde Nast was that I have always tried to go into a new opportunity as a builder; typically, I’m a fairly entrepreneurial soul who has worked well within the confines of the corporate world.  Add the idea that there were really established brands here, that people were open to exploring what other opportunities there are across other platforms, and knowing this is a priority to Conde Nast.  

That’s what really spurred me — that and the idea that the digital frontier is really wide open right now, and this is the perfect company to be with to really take advantage of that.