Time CEO Jess Sibley Talks Podcast and Time Studios Expansion – The Hollywood Reporter

To commemorate Time‘s 100th anniversary, the iconic publication’s Manhattan office will be getting a new addition: An art piece, an oversized mirror, with a graphic overlay based on its very first issue from March 3, 1923.

The piece of art, created by Mungo Thomson, is a gift to the office from Time‘s owners, Marc and Lynne Benioff. And it will be the third of Thomson’s mirrored Time pieces to find a home in the halls of Time‘s office overlooking Bryant Park.

Time announced its centennial editorial series Tuesday, including contributions from the Dalai Lama, Spike Lee, Laverne Cox, former editors Nancy Gibbs and Rick Stengel, and tentpole events set throughout the year.

While Thomson’s piece is for Time‘s centennial, it’s also a fitting metaphor as Time CEO Jessica Sibley pursues what she is calling “Time 3.0,” about creating the “next chapter in our future and solidifying the next 100 years of this incredible business and brand.”

If Time 1.0 represents Time‘s long history as a print magazine, and Time 2.0 represents its status as an independent business beginning in 2018 (following the sale of the former Time Inc. magazines to Meredith Corp.), Time 3.0 is meant to represent what’s next.

And Sibley, who began at Time about 100 days ago (her first day was Nov. 21) has a long menu of business lines she intends to help build, from expanding the existing events and media businesses, to new ventures like podcasts, a contributor network and digital commerce.

And she has to do that while also burnishing Time‘s brand, and making it relevant to a consumer audience that may not have nostalgia for its red-bordered magazine covers.

“We have this incredible, iconic brand, and during my 100 days I’ve asked so many different people, what does Time mean to you?” Sibley says, recalling conversations with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg, chef Ariana Bundy, and her own kids. “I hear nostalgic a lot. The history of this brand, you know, ‘it makes history when it’s in Time, when it’s in Time, it’s history.’ And how do we create relevancy for Time going forward and in the future? To me, that’s all about reinvigorating the brand and making the brand continue to be relevant but also contemporary, and reaching new audiences that matter and that are meaningful.”

That strategy includes a digital transformation with the aforementioned commerce effort and contributor platform but also in new ventures like Time Sites and the branded content division Red Border.

But perhaps the most significant effort is at Time Studios, the company’s in-house production company. A developer of both scripted and unscripted fare, Sibley says Time Studios now accounts for some 25 percent of the company’s revenue, hitting $100 million.

“I have never seen a business like this at any media company selling these series to Amazon and Netflix,” Sibley says.

There are currently 33 projects in various stages of development, including scripted and unscripted fare. Among them are a scripted anthology at Amazon based on its Women of the Year project, and a drama based on the founding of the legendary New York appetizing store Russ & Daughters.

“I don’t think the DNA of Time has changed from when it was started to where it is now, but how we make that come to life has fundamentally changed,” says Ian Orefice, the president and COO of Time Studios. “If you look at that project [the Russ & Daughters series], it’s about telling a story of coming to America. It’s about telling a story of the American dream and the greatest city in the world, told through Russ & Daughters. So that through-line is about how do we take a human experience that is Russ & Daughters and tell this whole story?”

Orefice says that after getting the studio off the ground by taking original concepts to market, Time Studios now sees about 50 percent of its business from networks or streaming services approaching it with ideas.

But many of the projects can stil trace their origins to Time‘s journalism.

“I say this when we’re talking to creatives or networks, we actually have the world’s best development team, but for the past 100 years, they’ve been making a different type of product,” Orefice says. “And now they’re developing stories that are going to come to life in TV and film.”

Consider the work of Simon Shuster, who was in Ukraine weeks before Russia’s invasion last year. That reporting became an integral piece of the docuseries When Truth Isn’t Truth: The Rudy Giuliani Story, which debuted on MSNBC earlier this month.

During a tour of Time‘s office last week, Sibley shows off the two existing Mungo Thomson pieces, as well as an in-house video studio, which the company used extensively for the Giuliani doc, and a newly-constructed podcast studio, which will be the home for its fresh effort in that space: Person of the Week.

The podcast will be a “deep-dive, hour-long podcast each week on the person that we’re going to shine a light on,” per Orefice, hosted by Time correspondent Charlotte Alter. Depending on who the “person” is that week, the podcast could include an interview with them, or a detailed profile based on Time reporting (the head of the NTSB may be willing to talk rail safety. Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be willing to talk Ukraine).

And Time Studios is also playing a critical role at the company as most of the media industry grapples with an increasingly difficult environment for both advertising and subscriptions.

“We grew 10 percent in 2021 and 20 percent 2022, so we’ve been in a growing position. Having me here as the new CEO, it signifies an investment in our business, and we’re going to continue to invest and grow,” Sibley says. “Look, I’ve been through these cycles before several times in my career, where there’s turbulence and challenges in the media business. If you have a diversified business like we do, you’re able to really sustain and maintain and grow in areas that aren’t necessarily aligned with those types of choppiness.”

“And I think Studios is a great example of that, regardless of what happens in the media business,” Sibley adds. That’s a totally separate business…. So we’ve been really able to calibrate, optimize our business so that — we’re not immune to it — but we’re able to continue to move on all of our priorities.”

And Orefice adds that a possible slowdown in spending from major TV networks and streaming services does not necessarily mean a slowdown in Time Studios’ business.

“I think it’s a little overhyped, because you’re talking about slowdown from explosive growth,” Orefice says. “So look at where we are now versus even 3 years ago: It’s still up significantly… But the other part is, although we are really proud of our growing scripted business, the largest part of our business is nonfiction. And you’re seeing nonfiction continue to grow at networks. So even in a potential slowdown of growth, there is an acceleration of nonfiction allocation, so that positions us really well.”

But Time Studios is far from Sibley’s only bet. The commerce effort — launching in partnership with Taboola — is also seen as a multi-year effort. And other divisions including Time Sites, a web3 and NFT business (“we’ll figure out sort of how that business transforms over the next year with the crypto winter,” she says) and a BtoB climate consulting business called Time CO2 are taking up her time as well.

And theres Time‘s nascent contributor network, which Sibley (a Forbes veteran) says is focused on a “very small and exclusive” group of writers who will turn to Time when they have something important or poignant to say. (Time‘s website reached 18 million unique visitors in January, per Comscore.)

“We’re going to have Bill Gates, we already have Angelina Jolie, Arianna Huffington,” Sibley says. “[The Female Quotient CEO] Shelley Zalis wrote a piece when she announced the Flipping Point at Davos, which was all around pay equity, taking five years instead of 132. The CEO of Intel [Patrick Gelsinger], Jon Meacham, and just a whole host of incredible thought leaders that we’re going to continue to build and put in our network that are, again, really associated with Time, and when they have something important to say, they’ll say it with us only.”

Ultimately, Sibley is betting that Time‘s globalized brand equity (visible through the Time 100, and its success in places like the WEF in Davos), can translate into a global business, built on a foundation of journalism and respect from the audience.

“I see tremendous amount of opportunity for Time globally to have more of a global footprint through all of these platforms,” Sibley says, adding that Time’s international business grew by 40% year over year in 2022.

“We are spotlighting and telling the stories of the people that are doing incredible things to build a better future and have incredible impact, from politics and culture and entertainment, everywhere,” she says.

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