From Studios to Streamers, a Radical Reinvention

From Studios to Streamers, a Radical Reinvention


UCLA Anderson MBA students study the rapidly evolving world of content streaming

April 27, 2023

  • UCLA Anderson’s MBA course From Studios to Streamers: The Radical Reinvention of Content Distribution Today is team-taught by entertainment industry veterans Susanne Daniels and Mali Heled Kinberg
  • Daniels is the former global head of original content at YouTube and Kinberg is a lecturer at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television
  • Their class provides an up-to-the-minute macro-perspective on the rapidly evolving world of content streaming and features entertainment executives as guest speakers and mentors

Susanne Daniels, former global head of original content at YouTube, first met Dr. Mali Heled Kinberg, an international film distribution expert and lecturer at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television, through a mutual friend at a dinner party 20 years ago. They kept running into each other at different events, eventually forming their own friendship. When UCLA Anderson Professor of Marketing Sanjay Sood invited Daniels to be a keynote speaker, Kinberg was in attendance.

The synergies were too good to pass up and the pair began planning a course they might teach together. When Sood approached Daniels to teach an Anderson course, he naturally suggested Kinberg, who has been on the TFT faculty for 14 years, teach it with her.

The course Daniels and Kinberg developed is titled From Studios to Streamers: The Radical Reinvention of Content Distribution Today. It provides an up-to-the-minute macro-perspective on the rapidly evolving world of content streaming. Perhaps more than any other segment of today’s topsy-turvy entertainment world, streaming has emerged as the single greatest means of catapulting our consumption habits into the future. In conversation, Daniels and Kinberg communicate almost as one, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences or jumping in to add and enhance a relevant point. Their experiences as industry veterans and academics provide students with complementary perspectives, and their individual contact lists allow them to bring a Who’s Who of industry executives to the class as experts. Their now-famous taco parties are hosted in one of their backyards at the end of each term for the students to have a chance to connect with each other and their instructors in an informal setting.

Q: The raw material that this course comprises feels very much like a constantly evolving landscape. How do you keep the material current?

Mali Kinberg: When Susanne and I were asked to conceive the class, the initial request was to design a course around short-form content because it’s been so explosive and so many eyes are on it. After some careful consideration, we determined what needed to be taught was an overview of the distribution revolution that is upending content monetization so disruptively. It’s disruptive for the corporations, it’s disruptive for the storytellers, it’s disruptive, certainly, for the theater owners, as we’ve seen this year.

Susanne and I share a very earnest commitment to keeping our teaching materials 100% current, which makes for a lot of work moment to moment. We are constantly having conversations with working professionals about this vast, shapeshifting landscape. As an example, I was just lecturing on TikTok last week as regulatory debates were crescendoing with the banning of the app from government employee phones here and abroad, and the congressional hearing taking place.

Neither of us believes in passive learning, so we encourage students to dig in, whether they’re digging in to a case study or a top-of-the-class article they’ve read. They’re engaged, they’re learning, and we’ve been blessed with very interested, thoughtful students.

Susanne Daniels: You’re exactly right. The landscape changes on a daily basis. We start at the top of every class and look at the relevant articles in the press from that week. We usually spend the first 10 minutes of every class talking about the immediate changes going on.

The not-so-subtle lesson is just the fact that content-creating companies are innovating at a very fast pace. It’s interesting to see how they react to the forces at play. They literally have no choice but to innovate.

MK: The blessing of being able to teach this class is that Susanne and I get to approach it in an agnostic manner. We’re looking at it in terms of an academic analysis, with an eye on how we can empower students with tools to apply in their careers.

Q: It wasn’t so long ago that earning an MBA was not the preferred path into the entertainment industry. You were expected to start in the mailroom and work your way up – and that was true even for some with Ivy League law degrees. How is the MBA viewed in the industry today?

SD: I think an MBA is valuable in all aspects of the industry, including creative, because in order to develop content efficiently, you need to understand deal points to effectively negotiate. You need to understand the specifics of deal points, but also the way that deal points exist within the broader industry trends.

It’s kind of a myth that to be creative you need to be an English major. One of the things that I realized in teaching this class with Mali is that our course at Anderson would be valuable to anybody in the industry. We actually have people in our course from UCLA Law and the graduate School of Theater, Film & Television in addition to the MBA program. I think it’s valuable for all of them because the class puts into perspective many current and historical trends.

MK: As somebody who’s taught in the film and television programs for 14 years, I’ve always had students come from Anderson and take my classes. I’ve always valued the MBA so much. Really, it’s an excellent education that forces you to go macro and micro. It teaches leadership. I have a lot of admiration for the rigor that these students go through to get these degrees. I think that, not for nothing, you see so many people at the top of the entertainment industry who have MBAs in their backgrounds. I feel like it’s an evolution. I used to see a lot of people with law degrees and now I see so many more people with MBAs.

Susanne and I love the idea of MBAs in the creative space and creatives in the MBA space, because we both have degrees in English. I think it’s important to both of us to give the opportunity to MBAs to hear not only from executives and titans of industry — which is awesome — but also to hear from storytellers.

Q: Who are some of the prominent speakers you bring to the class?

MK: We kicked off the latest course with two very accomplished creatives who are near and dear to each of us. One was Susanne’s husband Greg Daniels, who is the most accomplished person working in comedy television ever. I interviewed him in class and then turned it over to the students, who had endless questions. Susanne interviewed my ex, producer, director and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, who has now grossed $3 billion at the box office with the many films he’s made …

SD: … and is unbelievably articulate and thoughtful about his approach to filmmaking — and, by the way, we had never had Simon or Greg come to class before …

MK: … nor had we ever gone that creative. But the students loved it because it’s not an opportunity they often have. And then, just this term, we’ve had David Nevins, who was in the news for offering to buy Showtime with $3 billion worth of backing. (Note: His offer was declined.) He’s the former chairman and CEO of the Paramount Global Group. We had Nicholas Grad, who’s the president of FX Entertainment, Casey Bloys, who’s the chairman and CEO of HBO and HBO Max, Jennifer Salke, who’s the head of Amazon and MGM Studios. We invited Malik Ducard (’00), chief content officer at Pinterest. Another really interesting speaker is Alex Piper, who’s the head of Night Studios and represents Mr. Beast, the most successful creator currently on YouTube.

Q: What are the assignments for the course?

MK: We try to be very directed and efficient about the assignments. We really do our homework, we reinvent things. There was a case study that we were using until this year that we decided was not timely enough anymore.

So, we replaced that case with a new streaming landscape writeup assignment that allows students to deep-dive into research about a growth area that they perceive in the marketplace. It allows the classes to cover so many different components of the business. Students post what they’ve learned so that their classmates can share the information.

We lean heavily on attendance and participation because we really intend for this to be an enjoyable, fun and interactive learning experience. In addition to their individual streaming landscape write-ups, the students also work independently on a midterm focused on a streaming platform of particular interest to them. There are group assignments as well, including a recorded streamed distribution report that tracks the history of a piece of film or series content from its original release to today, and their capstone projects. Susanne, maybe you want to talk about the exciting mentors we have for this year’s capstone project and the directions they’ve gone in.

SD: We have Bryan Yee (’08), who is director of strategy at YouTube, someone who I worked with closely when I was running the YouTube Originals division. He is also a UCLA Anderson alumnus. We also have Brent Weinstein, who is running Candle Media. Our third capstone lead is a friend of Mali’s, Anderson alumna Nicole Fencel (’17), the director of strategy for Roku’s subscription service.

As to the assignments, Brent has a group of students exploring whether companies should be going in the direction of keeping “walled gardens” with all their content on only their platform, or if they should just focus on the bottom line. We ask the students to consider the pros and cons of each approach.

Q: You teach many success stories. What might your students learn from failure?

SD: You tossed us a softball with that question, because Mali and I actually are in the process of finishing a case study we co-wrote. We look at the differences between Quibi and Crunchyroll, and it’s a real tortoise-and-the-hare story. Our case study is about 90% done and we’ve shared it with the students. We evaluated both companies and compared Quibi’s flashy start and ultimate demise to Crunchyroll’s slow-and-steady-wins-the-race strategies. We do a deep dive into what went wrong, which is really fascinating.

MK: In general, it’s a time for industry leaders to be open-minded and thoughtful because there are so many pressures. Wall Street is reacting to the Netflix correction and pushing for revenue over growth from media and tech companies.

Q: Let’s end with a cocktail party question: The content landscape — streaming, cable, satellite, networks — is constantly in flux. How do you see it playing out over the next few years?

SD: My cocktail party response to that would be that there’s going to be more consolidation and a greater trend toward ease of use. At the moment, it’s all still too complicated for the consumer. Nobody wants to have this many options. People want easy access. They want to binge. They don’t like it that the streamers have figured out what the broadcast networks knew, which is that if you pass out episodes week to week, you keep your audience from leaving and going to another service. Audiences are unhappy with that. So, I think you will continue to see this trend of consolidation and ease of use for consumer.

MK: That brilliant answer is exactly why I love teaching with Susanne.