Magazine article Variety

Virgin Territory

Magazine article Variety

Virgin Territory

Article excerpt

DIALOGUE: RICHARD BRANSON

The exec talks about new ventures, his joke on the media and why H'wood is too cautious.

Richard Branson is a tough man to pin down. With 36 companies, charities and foundations under the Virgin brand, the high-flying executive spoke with Marc Gräser in Philadelphia, where he was launching Virgin America's newest route.

MG: Why get into making movies and TV shows?

RB: The last time we were active in film was when we launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984. Coincidentally, we made ?984,' Richard Burton's last movie. The film went three times over budget and nearly bankrupted the Virgin Group. The film has done well over the years, but we thought it was a risk to be in the film business, so we abandoned it until last year, when we launched Virgin Produced. (Jason Felts, the CEO of Virgin Produced) and his team have now delivered not only once but twice (with "limitless," which took in $162 million worldwide; and "Immortals," which nabbed $226 million globally).

MG: Innovation seems to be lacking, especially in Hollywood, where companies are afraid of taking risks. Do you have any advice for executives?

RB: I think it's easier for an entrepreneurial company that's not public, that maybe still has its owners involved in the running of it, to just say 'Screw it, just do it' The moment you start working for big corporations, if people try something and it goes wrong, they're likely to lose their job. Therefore they're far less likely to take risks - which is why Hollywood is so fear-driven. And America generally, too.

MG: Whenever you launch a business, you take something familiar but give it a twist. With films, are you planning on experimenting with distribution windows?

RB: We've certainly thought about it, but we have good distribution partners with companies like Relativity Media (and a first-look TV deal with Entertainment One). So we'll leave it up to them to figure it out and tell us what they'd like to do. But what we do to aggressively and strategically market (the films) and get them out there in an alternative distribution standpoint is limitless.

MG: Your new Virgin Produced channel on airline Virgin America could provide a new outlet for your films or TV shows.

RB: When people come onboard our planes, we like to make sure they're not bored. (The channel) is the first step that allows us to look at our major assets as entertainment platforms, whether it's on a plane, in a hotel room, on your mobile phone, in our health clubs or on one of our trains.

MG: Where does Virgin Produced fit into your overall entertainment strategy?

RB: Virgin Produced is just in phase one (with its films). The Virgin entertainment brand did help people realize that they were going to get more entertainment onboard the airline. But as we look to the future, we're going to utilize entertainment as a way to organically integrate the Virgin brand in new ways, especially as more consumers consume entertainment on different platforms.

MG: What factors determine whether to launch a Virginbranded business?

RB: Well, we only go into areas where there's a crying-out need for us. There was a crying-out need for a breath of fresh air for the airline industry, and I think Virgin America is fulfilling that need. If there's an industry where there's an obvious gap in the market, or badly run or not serving the consumer, it's something we'd consider. We're always open to ideas.

MG: Virgin is a well-known brand overseas, especially in Europe and Australia, but is still growing in the U.S. What is it like doing business here?

RB: It's obviously bigger and more competitive, definitely. …

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