5 Questions for Triller Co-Owner Ryan Kavanaugh

Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media studio, which used mathematical models to determine the likelihood of a film’s success in the early 2000s, caused quite a stir in the entertainment industry. Following the success of “Frost/Nixon,” the company went on to make such critically acclaimed and financially successful movies as “Atonement,” “Burn After Reading,” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” He is currently the Co-Owner of Triller, a social media app that allows users to share videos and Triller Fight Club, a new professional boxing league that brings together sports and entertainment that is co-owned with Snoop Dogg.

We met down with Kavanaugh, who has a history of seeing beyond the horizon of the entertainment industry, to ask him about his present enterprises and what he anticipates will happen in the future.

Why Triller? Why did you decide to get into the video-sharing space, especially one that’s dominated by a giant like TikTok?

What is the significance of Triller? In what prompted you to enter the video-sharing space, particularly one controlled by a behemoth like TikTok, did you see an opportunity?
As of the time of our interview in 2019, TikTok was clearly beginning to expand, but it was still a fraction of its current size. Even more significantly, TikTok is a broad business strategy – “Allow me to get every single individual to accomplish anything,” says the founder. This is a video of a 13-year-old dancing, or this is video of a doctor showing how to pop a pimple.” Triller’s concept is as follows: “It’s apparent that the new generation’s type of content consumption is short-form, entertaining, and distributed through peer-to-peer networks.” We refer to this as a “culturegraph,” not a “demographic,” because people who listen to hip-hop, R&B, and rap are a subculture in this society. We wanted to create a short-form video-sharing software for the community of people who had become immersed in the hip-hop/R&B/rap culturegraph and wanted to share their videos with others. I’d want to give credit where credit is due to Triller co-owner Bobby Sarnevesht. We came up with the idea as a group.

Following up on that, why is there a fighting game in the first place? In a sport that has stayed mostly untouched for decades, what new elements can you bring to the table?
In terms of the question, you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s something I’ve done my entire life. In most sectors, if things haven’t changed for a lengthy period of time, especially in fields that haven’t altered and have had the same participants for decades, it indicates that something is seriously wrong with the system. Typically, it indicates that a “Good Old Boys Club” has been established in order to keep other people out. What I did in the film industry is exactly what we’re doing in boxing. According to our culturegraph, our target audience is comprised of people aged 17 to 27 years old. Despite the fact that they’re chatting about boxing, they’re not actually watching boxing. Why? Of course they aren’t paying attention because it appears to be exactly the same as it was 50 years ago. It was produced at a time when television was not the primary source of entertainment – it was intended for the front-row audience. When you put all of this together, you understand that the system is in desperate need of a reboot.

We assembled the greatest in music, boxing, and theatrics and shot it in the style of a feature film. We worked on the film “The Fighter” while at Relativity. When it comes to Triller Fight Club bouts, we use the same lighting setup. The experience is similar to that of viewing a movie. However, instead of simply watching boxing, I noticed that one person stated, “I just watched a Justin Bieber performance that had boxing.”

Content is, of course, a platform for advertising. Where do you see digital advertising going?

Content is, without a doubt, a vehicle for the distribution of advertisements. What do you think the future of digital advertising will be?
Instead of the pop-up advertising that you couldn’t get to go away, and the Instagram scrolling through ads between each picture, we believe Web 3.0 will be about delivering relevant content that you want to watch and interact with on your own time and terms. If a boxing fan in Triller requests a video of Oscar De La Hoya discussing one of his fights, he or she will be provided with one. During the video, Oscar may say something like, “If you want to wager on my fight, download this app.” Oscar can provide his phone number, and he will respond to users by text message. Beyond product placement, this circumvents laws on other platforms and is illegal in some jurisdictions. We believe that this method is more efficient.

In 2014, you predicted that the future of entertainment would be movies turned into TV shows. “Loki,” “Fargo,” “Cobra Kai” and many others proved you right. Why did this work?

What is the outlook for social media in the future? Will Big Tech maintain its dominance, or do you believe there will be room for breakout and niche players to emerge? Are you concerned about the government’s rules and regulations?
It will always be controlled by large corporations, but that does not rule out the possibility of smaller companies becoming large corporations. Facebook was a newcomer on the scene fifteen years ago.

I really believe that the government should intervene in this situation. I don’t believe that we want Big Tech to be the judge of truth in our society. I was never taught that private firms had the authority to determine what information can and cannot be shared with the public. It is the government’s responsibility to establish rules to safeguard its population, but the government has not modified its policies in nearly two decades. Misinformation and other erroneous information can be disseminated as news headlines and presented as fact under the pretext of breaking news. “Well, we’re just a platform,” they explain.

In order to put on pay-per-view events, we spend millions of dollars. People will have to pay a price as a result of it. Instead, you may go to YouTube and type in “pay per view” to obtain a list of 10 live streams to watch for free that are available. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” says YouTube in response to the situation. We are the ones who must bear the responsibility. We must first locate [the pirated streams], then contact [YouTube], after which they have 72 hours to remove the content. As a result, people will not watch a battle that is not in real time, and 72 hours is too late. It has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, which is completely free. The fact that YouTube is absolved of any culpability is a disgrace. Consider the following scenario: you were selling DVDs when someone came in and stole them from the shelf before walking out. “Why didn’t you stop them?” would be the response from the corporation that produced those DVDs. “It’s not our responsibility,” you stated.

In 2014, you predicted that movies will be turned into television shows would be the future of entertainment. The shows “Loki,” “Fargo,” “Cobra Kai,” and a slew of others proven you correct. What was it that made this work?
That was the topic of my keynote lecture at MIPCOM, the annual trade show for the entertainment industry held in Cannes. I spent the entirety of my one-hour slot talking about how movies are the future of television. Why do we spend so much time and money in the movie business dissecting and estimating who our audience is?” was the topic of one of my speeches. A movie is complete when it is completed, and the product is being sold at the time of its completion. It’s similar like driving a car. Your car has been created, and now you need to figure out who is going to purchase it. You discovered that, “Okay, we thought this automobile was for females over 35, but we’re discovering that a lot of 18-year-olds are buying it,” as the saying goes. When a movie is out, it is too late to make changes because you have already spent all of your marketing expenditures.

“Catfish” was the very first film-to-television project that we worked on. Catfish the movie didn’t do well at the box office, but we had a large internet following of 15-22-year-olds, primarily female, who were obsessed with it, and we used that to our advantage. My MIPCOM address included the point that we have so much data from a movie – you know who loved it, what age group it was targeted at, just as we do with any other product. As a result, we inquired as to “What are 15- to 22-year-olds watching?” MTV. What a piece of cake that was! MTV didn’t believe us, so they aired us after reruns at ten o’clock in the evening. Then we rose to the top of the MTV ratings, and the show is still running today, ten years after it first aired.

In the typical method of creating a television show, you order a pilot and spend $4-5 million before asking, “Did it get ratings?” Either yes or no. Meanwhile, there are a slew of circumstances that could have contributed to whether or not it was watched. A movie provides me with ten times the amount of audience data that a television pilot would provide me. What makes you think I wouldn’t use a movie as the inspiration for a TV pilot?