Fred Seibert just won’t slow down. After living what he counts as five lives in different forms of media, the 63-year old veteran of cable and online programming is working on a new project to incubate ideas and products that he hopes will — once again — change the way people think about and consume video content.
Seibert’s new company is called Thirty Labs, and was formed with help from Betaworks’ John Borthwick and backing from digital media veteran Jon Miller. Like Betaworks, Thirty Labs will serve as an incubator to build interesting new products and applications, with a focus specifically on new technologies and ways of thinking about the video industry.
A Brief History Of Fred Seibert
If you’re looking for someone to upend that industry, Seibert probably isn’t a bad person to pick. Over the last 30-plus years, he has worked to revolutionize the way video is programmed and distributed, first in the cable world and later online.
In the early 80s Seibert helped launch MTV, where he served as creative director of the revolutionary cable channel. After that he worked to revive children’s network Nickelodeon while running ad agency/consulting firm Fred/Alan with partner Alan Goodman.
In the 1990s he took over as president of ailing cartoon producer Hanna-Barbera and turned it around with a number of memorable shows that included The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Cow & Chicken.
And in the 2000s he built two digital media brands to distribute video content online: The first was Channel Frederator, which he dubbed as the ‘Cartoon Network of the Internet,’ and the second was Next New Networks.
Next New Networks was what you might consider the “original multi-channel network” online, aggregating a group of creators and video channels under one production and sales organization to improve the quality and monetization of shows being produced. The company was acquired by YouTube in 2011, and became the basis for the video giant’s YouTube Next Lab and Audience Development Group.
In each of those cases, Seibert likes to point out, people thought what he was doing was crazy. But for the most part it worked out, and in the end the projects he took on got a lot of other smart people thinking about how they could emulate those successes.
Incubating New Video Models
With Thirty Labs, Seibert will be moving away from the programming side of things and working more on the technologies people use to consume digital video and how they can be better used. The stems in part from what he sees as a lack of innovation around video over the last several decades.
“Over the years, we’ve seen not as much innovation in the video space as we had hoped for,” Seibert said.
While it is much too early to talk about specific projects Thirty Labs is working on, he provided some examples of interesting areas that the incubator is exploring. That includes everything from platforms to content programming to “developing different ways for people to find and see content,” Seibert said.
Seibert pointed to live video as one area that has a lot of room for innovation, especially when one considers the success of Twitch and how it changed how people watch in-the-moment programming. He also sees an opportunity in changing the way viewers interact with videos and creators beyond today’s commenting platforms.
The idea to start Thirty Labs came about after Seibert visited Borthwick at Betaworks and saw how it used a lean studio model to incubate new applications and ideas, Seibert told me in a phone interview. He said what Betaworks is doing with social technology isn’t that different from how his team approached programming at Frederator.
“My company’s physical setup is almost exactly the same [as Betaworks],” he said. For Seibert, that meant surrounding himself with people who would toss around ideas that the group would end up working together on.
Not being an engineer, he lacked the common language that Borthwick used at Betaworks on the technology side. At the same time, he says Betaworks had worked on some video projects but it “wasn’t in their DNA.” Together, they’re hoping to bring the same studio model to video tech in a significant way.
Like Betaworks, Thirty Labs is starting with a very lean team. The company currently has six employees brainstorming different ideas and models for what could be built.
“That’s how I end up solving problems… I surround myself with stunningly talented people and let them tell me what to do,” Seibert said. “We’ve assembled a group of like-minded people who are excited to work together and we’re just going to let the cauldron boil.”
Along for the ride is another digital media veteran: Jon Miller, who invested in the company as a partner at early-stage firm Advancit Capital. Miller has held a number of high-profile digital roles over the years, including once serving as the CEO of AOL and as the head of News Corp’s digital division.
Seibert noted that between the three of them, there was a lot of overlap over decades of working in tech and media. Miller and Borthwick worked together at AOL, while Seibert knew Miller from his time at Viacom. By working together, he says he believes they can create a result where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“We realized that with the three of us together, we could have a situation where one plus one plus one adds up to more than five,” Seibert said. So far they’ve only been working together for a few months, but would you bet against them?