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How I Made It: Jim Lanzone, president of CBS Interactive

Before CBS bought his start-up Clicker, Lanzone spent much of his career helping people navigate and mine the Internet.

April 17, 2011|By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times
  • When programming gets online it's not about when it's on, it's about where it's on and whether it's on, says Jim Lanzone, president of CBS Interactive.
When programming gets online it's not about when it's on, it's… (James M. Martin, CBS Interactive )

The gig: Jim Lanzone is president of CBS Interactive, a group of news, sports, entertainment, technology and business websites that reaches more than 87 million monthly users in the U.S. He was named to the post in March when CBS Corp. acquired his start-up, Clicker Media Inc., which he describes as the TV Guide for Internet video. "When programming gets online it's not about when it's on, it's about where it's on and whether it's on," he said. Clicker tracks more than 1 million Web videos, from mainstream TV episodes and movies to online-only content such as Funny or Die's "When Harry Met Sally 2."

Getting CBS clicking: The network is betting that Clicker will emerge as the place people go to figure out what to watch on their Internet-connected TVs or portable devices. Getting the hardware side on board is key, which is why "we are talking to television manufacturers and consumer electronics companies about outsourcing their navigation and discovery technology to Clicker," Lanzone said. He hopes to apply his team's search expertise to other CBS properties, such as music site Last.fm or tech news portal CNET.

Why brands matter online: As long ago as 2008, it was clear that the era of Internet TV had arrived — and that this would further fragment audiences. That had two consequences, Lanzone said. It created the need for products like Clicker, which help viewers navigate seemingly infinite choices, and it underscored the value of brands. "One of the biggest [misconceptions] being thrown out now is that network or cable brands will cease to matter," Lanzone said. "That couldn't be more wrong. The truth is that people absolutely know that 'NCIS' is a CBS show, they absolutely know that 'The Daily Show' is a Comedy Central show. Brands are shortcuts, and they help people make decisions about quality."

Tuning in: Lanzone is a self-described entertainment addict. He grew up watching sports with his dad and joining his mom in front of the television on Oscar night. "You'll find Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and People at our house," he said. He's also a classic early adopter of technology, using the Internet to run his fantasy baseball league. "That website — [then] called commissioner.com, which my league has been using for almost 16 years — is owned by CBS," he said. "Now it's part of CBS Interactive."

Early days: Before Clicker, Lanzone spent much of his career helping people navigate and mine the Internet. He worked for KnowX.com, one of the Internet's early providers of public-records search, and then co-founded eTour, a website that helped people discover sites that matched their interests (think of it as a predecessor of StumbleUpon). As chief executive of Ask Jeeves (now Ask.com), he is credited with turning around the search engine that was the first to let people use plain English to scour the Internet for information. That set the stage for the company's sale in 2005 to IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Applying the secrets of search: Eighty-seven percent of Internet sessions today start with search engines, Lanzone said. He considers search the underpinning of many of the most important technologies on the Web, such as ad targeting and the recommendations on Netflix and Clicker. "Search engine optimization is a huge source of traffic for CBS Interactive properties and also a big source of opportunities," he said.

Favorite TV show? Lanzone said his favorite show of all time was HBO's "The Wire." His favorites this season are "Shameless" on Showtime and "The Good Wife" and "How I Met Your Mother" on CBS. (It can't hurt to give props to his new boss, CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves.)

dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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