Jay Tucker (’09) is the new executive director of UCLA Anderson’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports. He graduated from Anderson in 2009 and embarked on a career with a certain local competitor school, where, as CMO of the Institute for Communication Technology Management at USC and founder of the Silicon Beach initiative there, he led an interdisciplinary team to launch a $50,000 venture competition combined with a conference focused on innovation, emerging technologies, tech startups and digital entertainment. It’s early days, but Tucker has had his finger firmly on the MEMES pulse (presiding, in fact, over the 2017 Pulse Entertainment, Sports & Technology Conference). He is busy preparing for NextFest, the collaborative cross-disciplinary event with FuturizeX UCLA on March 2.
Q: What in your educational or personal background led you to your current professional interests?
I’ve always had a passion for entertainment and its impact on popular culture, and even taught courses on media literacy before attending business school. My interest in the business of entertainment grew over time as I saw a rapid increase in franchises jumping from publishing to feature films, video games, TV series and other platforms. One of the essential questions I had at the time was whether quality alone was enough to ensure business success for content — in other words, is content really king? Another was the converse: Could exceptional business operations be a substitute for amazing content?
These days, it’s clear that my questions were far less important than the question of how Hollywood would harness innovation and disruptive technologies to delight audiences and finance the next wave of storytelling. But the drive to understand the industry, and the business of storytelling, were a big part of what compelled me to come to UCLA Anderson.
Q: Before starting your MBA, you worked in a range of marketing, tech and educational roles. How did earning your degree enhance or influence the direction of your career in the years to follow?
At Anderson I had the opportunity to connect with industry leaders in film, video games and more. One advantage I brought to the table was deep experience as a technology leader and as a Web developer in the early days of the commercial internet. My time at Anderson coincided with the rise of a number of digital and social media platforms, and some of the business leaders in Hollywood were interested in my perspectives on how technology would impact the industry.
Through a UCLA Anderson professor, I was introduced to an industry executive who was taking over a research center focused on technology, mobile communications and digital content. Working together post-graduation, we were able to launch initiatives that connected Hollywood executives with leaders at mobile carriers, enterprise software companies and infrastructure technology vendors. Later, I used my experiences in UCLA Anderson’s Entrepreneurs Association and at the Price Center to launch an annual new venture competition and conference that showcased innovation. The event connected the startup community in Los Angeles with university professors and students as well as stakeholders in the technology and entertainment industries.
Thanks to the experiences and training I received while earning my MBA, I was able to conceptualize and pitch the initiative, brand and market it, and manage the various elements to create an incredible experience.
Q: What’s your impression of what the Anderson and UCLA communities are expecting in terms of MEMES programming and events?
MEMES has incredible relationships in the entertainment sector, as was evident in our recent Pulse Conference. There are still plenty of opportunities to take the center in new directions. New technologies, from chatbots to augmented and virtual reality, are changing how consumers interact with content. The rise of user-generated content and social media has changed consumption patterns, and big data has transformed the business of monetizing an audience. Each of these trends represents new opportunities for MBAs to make a strategic impact in the industry; and MEMES can play a role in connecting UCLA Anderson’s best and brightest with industry leaders in Hollywood and beyond.
There are also natural partnerships for us — with west-side startups in the entertainment space, with our sister centers at Anderson, any number of other UCLA schools and institutes — that will enable us to increase our impact. In my previous role, I was a connector for business leaders in the technology, mobile communications and media sectors. I’m looking forward to reaching out to our sister centers to identify opportunities to collaborate (as we have with the Easton Technology Management Center on the annual Big Data conference) and to faculty members whose work has profound implications for the entertainment industry. MEMES also has a great track record of working with partners outside the center to create new programs and new opportunities for students. I look forward to working with faculty director Sanjay Sood to continue those efforts.
UCLA Anderson is a global brand associated with academic excellence, quantitative acumen and an entrepreneurial flair. And our geographic location makes us an incredible hub for business leaders in Latin America and across the Pacific. In this town, people associate UCLA with John Wooden, Ralph Bunche and Jackie Robinson. But they are learning that we also have luminaries in technology and entertainment — it’s up to MEMES to remind Hollywood that UCLA is also the home of alumnae like Susan Wojcicki and instructors like Harry Sloan, Jeff Moorad and Peter Guber.
Q: How does coming back to Anderson in a professional capacity represent continuity for you and how is it a departure from your previous pursuits?
One of the many reasons that I’m thrilled to come back in my new role is that I’ll have the chance to collaborate with some of my favorite instructors and to serve the next generation of students. An aspect of my new role that will be different from my past pursuits is that we’ll have significantly more face time with the students themselves, both throughout the academic year and over the summer as we run our Summer Institutes. I’m looking forward to hearing from students about their career prospects as well as what has(n’t) changed since I graduated!
Q: What are you anticipating will be your first big project at Anderson?
In partnership with FuturizeX at UCLA, student clubs and other schools on campus we are in the midst of planning NextFest, a gathering on March 2 that will focus on innovation and the future of technology and entertainment. We have commitments from Netflix, Tesla, Daqri, Google’s Waymo and Virgin Galactic. That gathering will attract students, alumni and faculty from all of UCLA as well as business leaders from the L.A. area. I’m hoping we’ll also see a strong representation from the Silicon Beach community there.
Q: What should prospective MBAs know about Anderson’s ability to position them for careers in entertainment?
Anderson is known in the industry as an incredible training ground for MBAs: it is quantitatively rigorous, it has many areas of strength and provides countless opportunities for students to get practical experiences in their job functions and industries of choice. That reputation, as well as our geographic location and our alumni network, have made us a natural destination for prospective MBAs seeking opportunities in the entertainment sector. Where I hope MEMES can provide even greater value is in identifying the upcoming trends and emerging businesses that signal opportunities for the next generation of MBA graduates. Our Pulse, Big Data and NextFest conferences provide a look into the future — and opportunities for students to participate in the planning and execution. We also leverage our industry contacts to bring in guest lecturers and provide site visits to the prominent companies in the industry.
Q: It’s awards season in L.A. and UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report just released, showing once again that although more diverse programming yields higher financial returns, the industry continues to underrepresent women and people of color. How should MBAs be thinking about equity and inclusion within the industry, including on the creative side?
The question is timely for a number or reasons — and certainly not only because of past awards controversies or this year’s report. Looking at the success of Hidden Figures and the Fast & Furious movie franchise, or breakout TV series like Atlanta, Insecure and Luke Cage, it’s clear that today’s audiences are hungry for stories that explore the human condition from perspectives that up until now have rarely been explored, including popular subcultures like “geek” and hip-hop. Inclusion is already providing tremendous value to Hollywood, and I think that is becoming increasingly obvious.
That said, successfully delivering authentic stories requires incredible business acumen throughout the process. There are leadership challenges regarding staffing and sourcing, marketing and financial challenges related to understanding the market, how to reach them, and how to position the project. MBAs interested in the entertainment business should be paying attention to the marketing campaigns being waged leading up to awards season, how they are executed and what the cost-benefit analysis looks like. How does that change as we become increasingly digital? And how would you execute a campaign for a non-traditional project like Hidden Figures? All aspects of the business, including home entertainment, licensing, etc., will require Anderson’s signature entrepreneurial thinking and quantitative acumen as we increasingly see projects that defy convention on the big and small screens.
Q: What are you looking forward to most as you settle in?
I’m very excited to reconnect with the people in the UCLA Anderson community. I’ve already reached out to faculty members who taught me and have met some of the current students. I’ve had a busy month, but as we build out our plans for 2017, 2018 and beyond, I’ll be spending a lot of time listening to our stakeholders on and off campus to ensure that MEMES is working on problems that matter. I’ve got a great team and an amazing partner in Sanjay, and I’m ready to go!