Interview: Ashley MacKenzie, CEO, MyVideoRights: ‘My Father Is My Chairman’

If Rupert Murdoch taught Kelvin MacKenzie anything, during his 13 years editing The Sun, perhaps it was keep it in the family. While the News Corp (NYSE: NWS) mogul has carved up his empire amongst his offspring, the MacKenzie clan, too, has media dynasty potential.

This time, though, MacKenzie Jr is top dog, CEO of MyVideoRights, a startup that aims to be “the Getty Images (NYSE: GYI) of video entertainment” and which boasts a list of experienced backers. Former Endemol creative director Peter Bazalgette and ex Carlton International MD Rupert Dilnott-Cooper sit on the board, along with MacKenzie’s dad. “My father is my chairman,” Ashley told me at a central London hotel. “I speak to him at least three, four, five times a week…”

So what’s the big idea? MacKenzie aims to aggregate videos and the rights to commercially exploit them, then syndicate them to what he says is a growing appetite for web video amongst small- and medium-sized destinations, like magazine websites. The focus is on short-form clips and MyVideoRights will handle all the video encoding chores on behalf of content owners. The business will operate both as a central repository of its own and a syndication service that pipes material to other publishers and platforms – the first, we can report, will be Blinkx, deal that’s yet to be announced.

Keep it small: But do content owners really need a middleman to sell productions on their behalf? MacKenzie acknowledges a company Viacom’s (NYSE: VIA) size will always cut direct rights deals with outlets like YouTube, but he’s gunning for both smaller producers with less negotiating clout and smaller publishers with audiences too small to be of interest to the bigger video makers. “In the same way that there’s a long tail of content, we see a long tail of licensees,” he said.

“If you talk to a portal or website, it can be a nightmare trying to get quality content from a large IP owner – most aren’t geared up to handle those small transactions and queries. A large independent TV production company might have a sales team of 20 people, but these people don’t take phone calls from people offering them $500 – in the meantime, the person who really wins is the pirate, who will upload the content to YouTube.” But do pirates really deal in short-form content? “Yeah, why do you think Viacom is suing YouTube, TF1 suing Dailymotion?””

Video syndication: MyVideoRights so far has videos from Fifth Gear and Saturday Kitchen producer All3Media plus a selection of smaller indies, but no destinations other than Blinkx. The idea is, it will harrness the APIs of popular media players to make clips available to editorial staff. For example, Emap (LSE: EMA) staff might find the MyVideoRights library available to select with a click from their Brightcove dashboard. Emap isn’t a customer yet, but did last month indicate it wants to buy in more content for its websites.

It’s a pitch the company, with 15 staff at Waterloo, plans to take to publishers like TelegraphTV, Sun Online and, “we’re hovering over a contract with many of them”. The pitch to the YouTubes of this world might seem harder, but MacKenzie says the MyVideoRights offer is “rights-cleared, advertiser-friendly content available to you today”. For its part, the startup mainly wants to take a cut of any advertising around those videos when published, but it sounds like it will take any commercial model available.

So… like father, like son?: “You’ll have to ask the old man about that. He was the editor of The Sun for 13 years – you have to have a certain personality to create that. He’s a singular character and I’ve learned a huge amount from him. I value his input.”

The man Ashley sometimes refers to as “Kelvin” first took his son as protege when he named him TalkRadio sales controller in 1998. When the broadcaster became The Wireless Group a year later, Ashley became MD and, when the group sold to UTV for £98.5 million, both took away sizeable returns. Ashley later became MD of audio channel provider MusicChoice but it’s some of the acquisition money – together with funds from Bazalgette, Dilnott-Cooper, CIO Richard Mansell, plus ex Emap chief Richard Miller, Aussie TV boss Neil Balnaves and ex Scottish FA chairman Roger Mitchell as angels – that’s gone to establish MyVideoRights.

Says MacKenzie of his dad: “He knows a lot of people in media – what you want from chairmen is guidance on strategy and, frankly, their ability to help you get somewhere you couldn’t get yourself. They pick up the phone and people will take the call, whereas before it might have taken us a bit longer.” So are there any parallels with Rupert and James Murdoch?: “In value terms, I bloody hope so, but I don’t think so.”