By Liz Shannon Miller
The overriding theme of Defy Media chief executive officer Matt Diamond’s career? Focus. This Power Sixer has, thanks to a combination of acquisitions and mergers, accumulated a digital media empire that’s evolved to become a major player in the space.
Diamond initially broke on to the scene 17 years ago, when he started Alloy, Inc., the company behind major media properties
including “Gossip Girl” and “The Vampire Diaries.” Founded in 1996, with Alloy Digital going public in 1999, Alloy successfully survived the 2000 burst of the tech bubble.
His interest in delving into the world of media was driven by a desire to connect with consumers on a national level. “You can count on one hand the number of national brands created in one year, touching tens of millions of people,” says Diamond. “And media and retail are the only ones who can create these national brands.”
Last fall, though, Diamond traded one brand with another when Alloy merged with Break to become Defy Media.
With other properties including Smosh, Defy Media now encompasses a wide swath of the web video world. And as lead by Diamond, the company has built a reputation for targeting a young audience with recognizable brands.
Keith Richman, who was CEO of Break Media before the merger with Alloy and now speaks with Diamond “at least 10 times a day,” says that Diamond has “helped drive consolidation — that’s really important, it’s why we’re here today. He’s focused on the right way to build the company, which puts us in the position where [Defy] can run a profitable business on a large scale.”
“He comes up with acquisition strategies that make one plus one equal three,” adds Michael Kassan, CEO of MediaLink, which consults with Defy on media strategy. “He has a solid GE background, coupled with an understanding of the nuances of the content space.”
A key element to Diamond’s strategy is an intense targeting of a highly sought-after audience: 13- to 34-year-olds — a demographic that he has been focused on since the early days of Alloy. “We’ve been 13 to 34 forever, and have no desire to change,” he says.
But then how do you keep up with that age group, given how fast trends can change? “The beauty of this demographic is that they’ll tell you,” Diamond says. “You create an infrastructure where you can respond to that — because the moment the DNA shifts to believing that ‘I know what they’re going to do,’ you’ve crossed a line.”
The merger between Alloy and Break is also interesting on another demographic level, for while Alloy’s success stories are largely aimed at young women, Break tends to serve a more male-skewing crowd. But Diamond doesn’t see any conflict in that. “There’s a lot of crossover — some of our top male brands get as much as 40% female viewers. More importantly, we think it’s important to target both male and female audiences,” he says.
“He’s one of the strongest executives in the space — a solid business-person who understands the intersection of content and brands at the highest level,” Kassan says. “Every meeting I have with Matt I come away learning something — he brings a very unique perspective to the table.”
Richman also cited Diamond’s abilities as a company leader: “It’s really easy for execs in any industry to react to others rather than their strengths. Matt’s great at not letting what happens today impacting something in the long term. He doesn’t feel the need to react.”
One example of this is Defy’s emphasis on owning and operating its own brands, which Richman set up in contrast to the current trend for companies in the digital space moving toward a multi-channel network model — where the business largely revolves around aggregation of other people’s content and audiences. “We’re more focused on building our core brands,” says Richman.
And with that comes an attention to what currently works and doesn’t work for the company. When asked what recent business deal he was most proud of, Diamond had an unexpected pick: The decision to sell off Alloy Entertainment, a subsidiary of Alloy, Inc., to Warner Bros in 2011.
The reason? Those properties, including “Vampire Diaries,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and the book publishing business from which those shows were born, no longer fit into the company’s digital strategy.
“We were great at creating content [including “Liars” and “Diaries”], and distributing it through a third party, because there was only one way to get it out there nationally,” Diamond says. “That all changed in the late 2000s, when we were able to become a distributor platform and could go into the home directly. We’re creating all our own content now — all digitally. Everything being incubated digital-first is a big move for us.”
But on top of that, he’s also noted for having a strong sensibility for content. “Matt’s not the guy in the room writing the script — but he can recognize talent,” Richman adds. Plus, “he’s a really strong deal-maker — he can spot a strategic partner and make that deal work.”
Defy Media recently struck a nerve with its “Prank It Forward” campaign, which teamed Break.com with Smosh and other non-Defy affiliated YouTube creators for a series of positive prank videos. The campaign has generated more than 20 million views in two weeks, and its first video (above) will be highlighted on “Nightly News with Brian Williams” on Friday, April 18.
This combination of skills makes Diamond not just a mogul who’s brought key digital brands together for a powerhouse media empire, but in general a standout in the industry.
Plus, he’s well-liked. “I always laugh when I’m with Matt — if you met him, he comes across as a financial guy, but he’s actually really funny,” says Kassan.
But the best way to understand him may be through one of his hobbies: Running. While according to Richman, most of the Defy Media executive team are dedicated runners, Diamond’s the one who’s going 6:20 a mile.
“I consider myself reasonably disciplined — I get up and run or something every day. But I never met anyone who wakes up a little earlier and runs a little faster,” Richmond says.
Because when you’re as focused as Matt Diamond, everyone else is just playing catch-up.
It’s a big week here at VideoInk, as we unveiled our inaugural Power-Sixer on Monday. If you enjoyed reading about Mr. Matt Diamond, check out the other executives we’ve already profiled. And come back the rest of this week as we continue highlighting the biggest game-changers in the online video business.
“Lights” photo: CrainsNewYork.com