Meat Loaf, Bell Media, iHeartRadio, Randy Lennox, Michael Cohl
Meat Loaf, Bell Media, iHeartRadio, Randy Lennox, Michael Cohl

The Saga Separating iHeart Media From...Everyone Else

Bell Media has seen the future of broadcasting and is boldly going where others have feared to tread.

Two years ago the sprawling media conglomerate brought in Universal Music Canada CEO Randy Lennox to create hegemony between the company's vertical silos in television, radio and digital media, and unspool a macro vision of holistic harmony within Bell Canada's telecommunication's empire.

Having weathered a withering assault on UMC's fortunes by brazen tech firms with deep pockets and apparent disregard for intellectual property assets yoked for their own benefit, Bell Media's president understood that content drives technology's acceptance in the consumer marketplace, and equally important was his assessment that Bell Media's delivery platforms can't thrive if their success is predicated on writing cheques to license outside content.

Dubbed "Bell's content guru" by James Bradshaw in a Globe and Mail feature earlier this year, Lennox defined his new role with characteristic perspicuity, stating he was recruited "to bring some IP-based thinking" to the company.

The company hasn't been the same since his being dialled in.

Lennox's first order of the day—other than presumably telling his captains that they now had a fleet admiral—was to deploy former Magic Kingdom CEO Michael Eisner's blueprint for transforming The Walt Disney Co. into a financial jet engine for growth.

Eisner's brilliance was in understanding divisional strengths work best when the parts contributed to a sum.

A Barry Diller acolyte—who lifted Paramount from mangy dog status to first place among the [then] six major studios—created a communal understanding that silos were income streams and that Disney's future was in having its divisions develop a culture of organically enhancing each other.

What was good for Bugs had better be good for Goofy too.

Having dissolved rivalries between Bell's previously unstructured divisions and cross-pollinating assets, Lennox's next big agenda item was to deliver unique content.

His first big undertaking was his biggest and most telling gamble yet, partnering with iHeartMedia to bring the iHeartRadio brand to Canada.

Brobdingnagian in size, the US iHeart brand had scant recognition in Canada—but his deal was less about branding as it was acquiring robust technology that could affordably connect Bell Media's assets on one unified platform.

As an algorithm, it was simple: Connect the divisions, deliver unique and fetching content, secure the territory, and reap the benefit.

The iHeartMedia deal came with a ready-made white-label technology patch that integrated over 100 delivery platforms providing territorially-defined access to a powerful media company with reach and stature that far exceeded its economic clout.

On the surface, it looked like Bell Media was acquiring rights to a re-brand that streamlined Bell Media's 105 radio stations, OTP TV and cable channels across one nation on one simple app.

In reality, the deal delivered millions of dollars worth of back-end technology offering an instant solution to broadcast Bell's media assets across a complex diffusion of mobile, in-home, in-car and wearable platforms, and guaranteed exclusive access to blue-chip pop culture events that iHeartMedia uses to  drive revenue and audience engagement across its immense US media holdings.

It was a stroke of a pen that was a stroke of brilliance delivering an affordable tech solution, decades of experience, a waterfall of content, and a magic bullet to building Bell Media's future untethered from its blinkered past.

With the stroke of a pen, the enormity of complex and hugely costly investments in technology was answered, giving Lennox an open highway to curate IP content that shifted Bell Media from mere delivery pipe to content king.

His next move was to bat the ball out of the field.

Lennox's ascendency as a kingmaker in Canada's media orbit has always been about relationships and make no mistake, his anointment and blessing mean the difference between acceptance within the inner circle versus kissing a frog when it comes to the borderless entertainment elite. 

You can be as impoverished as much as you wish, but if you wish to join the real world there is a path to emancipation that requires vision, talent, luck and ambition to squeegee one's self from windshield washer to the driver's seat of whatever chariot your talent lands you in.      

Some might call his approach old school, but power isn't accrued through 'likes' and 'shares', contrary to a library shelf of purported social media evangelists. 

Omnipotence is neither vested nor acquired. It is earned.

Lennox acquired power through reading people, anointing people, talking to people, and vesting power in people he believed to have future power.

He is neither god nor omnipotent.

Lennox is a disciple of an old school belief that being connected and being connected to people one believes in gives one power.

Like many before him, his instincts have not disproved him.

His ability to communicate in a few short words are both laudable and astonishing, as anyone who routinely receives e-mails from him can attest.

His ability to synthesize abstract or complex equations is exceptional.

More important, his mental capacity to process blurry equations is extraordinary.

He may not be Einstein but he has the uncommon ability to focus on the trend rather than the eye of the storm, unravel the 'now' and have an intellectual response as to how  and where the calamity will end.

When one's up shit's creek, wouldn't you want someone with a compass, an extra paddle and a deep understanding of what's next?

That's Randy!

And that's Bat Out Of Hell, Jim Steinman's epic tale of love, rebellion, and rock `n' roll that's glued to a song cycle about blue collar love and America's romance with cars.

Lennox parked his affinity with this ageless love story with Michael Cohl, a fellow Canadian who single-handedly put the ROI into R&R.

A guy who started with next to nothing running a peeler bar in Hamilton and had a laser beam eye on tomorrow and beyond.

The guy was a fucking genius even if he looked like Jerry Garcia on tour bus.

When Cohl met Lennox a few years ago the former was still rolling in the sediment spilt from Bono's imaginative but ill-conceived theatrical disaster, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

In typical Cohl fashion, the Broadway musical wasn't just a flop, it was a fucking disaster costing investors more money than a row of Toronto homes.

Cohl hardly blushed at the failure and went on to develop another musical that ended up with his being sued by the one person in the UK music biz richer and more successful than Paul McCartney.

Can you imagine?

Cohl's roadshow adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's reimaging of Jesus Christ Superstar failed to make it to Boise, Idaho, let alone Calvary.

The production was nailed even before it even had a chance to be resurrected. 

Not only were the investors left faithless, but the disciples became vengeful and sued.

Call it what you may but that's showbiz and if you want to count the dollars Cohl has earned superstars you had better set aside your abacus and clear a new line on your screen because the numbers are more gargantuan than Meat Loaf's girth if it were possible he was carrying triplets.

And that was about when Cohl decided to retrench and pick up the next chit which was precisely an album, a musical, a modern day Sistine chapel fresco about intemperance, love and America's romance with automobiles, consensual sex on a bench seat in a Detroit automobile.

It's a story that could set Donald Trump's hair straight, and cause wives the world to wish they hadn't said 'I do'.

The two paired.

Not Donald. Not wives, just...

Randy and Michael.

With Randy's "IP" willingness, and Michael's knowingness, the one funded the other and the arrangement has spun off into a what promises to be a cash cow with udders like you wouldn't believe.

Enough cash that can have you believe the two of them singing "Heaven Can Wait"–as if either one is ever going to be standing by the pearly gates short of a dime.

The show has the sniff of massive and short of a recall on the dashboard, Randy's bought in cheap on a "unique" asset that can be blown up and sliced and diced across more platforms than JFK has runways.

On Wednesday we talk to Rob Farina about iHeartRadio and the app he's pitching, as Radioplayer Canada's presence on Google becomes less than a yawn.


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