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The Firing of Tom Freston

One thing never changes. Those who pull the strings, those behind the scenes, those who make all the money…they want to be in FRONT of the camera, they want the adulation, the props, the LOVE!

David Geffen was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood until he agreed to sit down with Tom King for the book that ultimately came out as "The Operator", wherein King David was revealed to be a duplicitous man who would manipulate/fuck over his friends to gain a business advantage. His career has not been the same since, no one is quite as fearful, furthermore, Geffen retreated, for he was EMBARRASSED!

Sumner Redstone gained respect for building Viacom, but only from insiders, only from those who knew this guy started out with a chain of movie theatres and clawed his way to the top while none of the usual Hollywood players were watching.

Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

Then the dreaded end started approaching. In other words, DEATH! Fearful that his time was up, like a lumbering giant, Sumner gave a few final howls, wreaking havoc along the way.

He fired Tom Cruise. Then he fired Tom Freston.

We’d cut Sumner a break, but the "Vanity Fair" article revealed him to be a tired old man whose thinking process was in question.

Yes, this gentleman who said he would live forever, knowing so much about nutrition, was falling over in his home, losing thought in midstream. And it was only rumor until he sat down with a "Vanity Fair" reporter and the truth was laid out for everybody to see. Now Sumner is viewed as a tired old iconoclast who wants to go down fighting. A grandpa one step from the nursing home, who makes your life miserable.

Tom Freston was the most revered executive in the music business, maybe the entertainment business. He knew you by name, and when he interacted with you he wasn’t phony, but real. If you worked for him he gave you space, to do it your way, he did not micromanage. And he was loyal. He stuck by you, you had job security.

His flaw was he was not a suit. He wasn’t about money first. He was honest.

While his smarmy counterpart Les Moonves was saying CBS was in trouble in order to look like a hero when results exceeded expectations, Tom gave an honest appraisal of his business. Therefore, Viacom’s stock didn’t bounce, and he lost his job.

Contrary to Sumner’s belief, it IS NOT all about the stock price. That’s true only if you’re gonna sell. If you’re not, it’s about the assets you own. Not only the value of the library, but as running concerns.

Based on Mr. Freston’s track record, he’s the most successful executive in television. MTV is a juggernaut. For this he was fired.

Welcome to the new world. Not the same as the old world. Money always talked, but now money is EVERYTHING!


You diddle, you move slowly, and you can never win.

By failing to revolutionize its business, by failing to move into the digital sphere as Warner walked right by them, by failing to maximize the revenues of their catalog, a la Rhino, by focusing on trying to have expensive hit records and failing…everybody’s gonna lose their job. I’m talking about the guys who RUN the organization. Eric Nicoli, Alain Levy, David Munns…

Levy and Munns are old school, in a business that is so new, the textbooks haven’t yet been written. Nicoli doesn’t seem to know music OR business. So, private equity is gonna steal the WHOLE COMPANY and rape and pillage and downsize and end up with a FUCK of a lot of money. EMI is 80s, but we’re in the twenty first century. Time moves on. Move with it, or get ousted. It’s not only promotion guys who lose their jobs.

Satellite Radio

The greatest salesmen for XM are its subscribers. They LOVE the service. The greatest salesman for Sirius is Howard Stern. He’s a drug a certain element of society can’t live without. But a Sirius subscriber doesn’t rave about the service to potential club members, because although Howard is better than ever, the service is clunky, not quite unusable, but close.

Sirius just doesn’t work. Reception is poorer than FM ever was. Signal drops out constantly. The Sirius service is a big hold back to progress in the sphere.

But the sphere hit a wall. Because those running the operation just didn’t understand the technical landscape.

Hugh Panero believed satellite was cable. A monopoly. That people would have no choice. He concentrated on convincing everybody BUT the consumer. And not corralled, the consumer moved on, to the iPod. Furthermore, the consumer believes Net in the car is just around the corner, so why should he invest in satellite?

In an era of tech, programming is overlooked.

All the stars on XM and Sirius, who gives a shit. This is not television. Radio is about picking music, PROGRAMMING! There are great programmers on XM. There are a few people doing phenomenal work on Sirius, like Little Steven. But how can services succeed when they don’t even let people know what it is they’re SELLING!

Satellite radio is niche. It’s AOL to Google. It’s so ignorant as to its market it’s laughable.

Terrestrial Radio

Talk is holding on. Music is dying.

It’s just not happening on terrestrial. They’re programming for an audience that doesn’t exist. In an era of personalization, of media speaking TO YOU, terrestrial is broadcasting to a theoretical person research says exists, but doesn’t. People WILL listen to music handpicked by human beings, but will it be on FM? Highly doubtful.

Apple Computer

The Beatles of its day. Every product’s a winner. Almost universally revered. UNSTOPPABLE!

It’s not about the iTunes Store. It’s about great hardware, and great software. To focus on the iTunes Store is to be myopic. Apple has created SOLUTIONS! A seamless music experience. A friendly, easy to use computing experience. Knowing it’s about a HOLISTIC approach, making people feel good, Apple not only owns the hand-held music player market, but is making significant inroads on the desktop.

Buy stock. This is the new Disney, the new Microsoft, the numbers are only going UP!

Steve Jobs, like his old company Pixar, never seems to get it wrong, he always wins. As long as he’s in control of Apple, the company will too.


Clone band. Everybody hates them in music, why do you think anybody would like them in tech?

Internet Music Delivery

Don’t play by the rules.

If you’re looking for licenses from the RIAA, please give up IMMEDIATELY! They don’t want solutions, they want half-steps, no, they want MINI-STEPS!

You’ve got to steal to have success. Follow YouTube. Follow MySpace. Just steal the wares and pay Doug Morris after he threatens to shut you down. Ask first, and you’re doomed.

Unless P2P is monetized IMMEDIATELY, music acquisition will be driven even further underground, where there’s NO HOPE of ever getting paid for it. Transfer via IM. Via hard drive. When fifty year olds are swapping hard drives, you KNOW you’ve got a problem.

Make music cheap and easy. If you think music is undervalued, if you think producers should make more, I say to look at the machine you’re reading this on, isn’t it worth a BAZILLION DOLLARS??? All that R&D, never mind hardware, in your computer???

Music is priceless. But that doesn’t mean it should be expensive.

Get the tunes in EVERYBODY’S hands, at a low price. How come the CELL PHONE BUSINESS understands this, and the music business DOES NOT?

Oh yeah, the music business is run by thugs.


Time to change the name. It’s ANYTHING but music.

That’s okay. I realize you can’t make money with music on television, but can we get our word back? Can’t you call it TTV or something? You known, Teen Television. Or Commercial Television. Or SEX Television. Or GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY Television.


You’re no longer a star unless you actually are one.

For a long time, stardom was associated with fame. If you were in the public eye, you were revered, you were looked up to.

But that was before reality television, when ANYBODY could become a star.

The biggest movie playing today is not in theatres, but on computer screens. Wherein people from all over the world watch the inane, insane antics of young Hollywood via blogs. One’s goal is to STAY AWAY! This attention EVISCERATES your credibility.

If you can’t write, if you can’t sing, you’re fodder, grist for the mill. People want to WATCH Jessica Simpson, READ ABOUT her antics, but they DON’T want to listen to her music, never ever.


No longer about building acts, but cashing in.

Yes, all the front line management companies. They can’t AFFORD to build acts. They’re too busy raking in the dough from licensing the dinosaurs, from putting them on tour and reaping rewards at the merch table.

Think about it… You’ve got a new act… Try getting a major label deal. The major pays less and wants to tell you what the music sounds like. They want their money back right away, so they either overexpose you or dump you if you’ve got no traction. To do it outside the system is OH SO HARD! Which is why the landscape is wide open, which is why newbies shall inherit the earth. They’re willing to ride the bus and work for peanuts, convincing customers one by one. The private jet set doesn’t have the patience.

Live Business

Fewer acts that can sell out buildings at higher prices. Sound like a recipe for success to you?

Live is the new Broadway. Once in a while for an EXORBITANT PRICE!

Baby, how’d we ever get this way. Acts used to be BUILT on the road. Because people would take a chance. At low prices. Going to the gig was akin to going to the movie. Before a night out was one year’s tuition.

Sure, bands are still developing on the road. But with none of the usual money or suspects. Because no one wants to play in this netherworld without cash. So some newbie, akin to Coran Capshaw, will come out of the woodwork. Yup, the Dave Matthews Band is the biggest act on the road today. And Coran is a bar owner from CHARLOTTESVILLE! Expect more of this.


It’s gonna tank. Sometime in the future, Doug and Jimmy or gonna panic. Then it will be like 1929.

I predict it will be when CD sales nosedive. Which will happen probably in the next twelve months. After all, an iPod is now SEVENTY NINE DOLLARS!

Doug is smug. Jimmy believes it’s his world, we just live in it.

They survived Bronfman. They survived the guy who ran Vivendi whose name no one can even remember. But they can’t survive the customer.

This isn’t a Universal problem, but a MUSIC BUSINESS PROBLEM!

It’s just that Universal, with its 30% market share, CONTROLS the music business. They make everybody else look incompetent and irrelevant. But when they start to go down/freak, change, overdue for years, will finally come.


A joke. A company run by someone cheating retirement, if not death, and the brother of the boss. Neither a good formula for ongoing success. And with the latest layoffs, it’s clear that they care only about today, and not the future. Because first and foremost, this is a business of PEOPLE!


Come on, hand it to Edgar Bronfman, Jr. He did what you want to do. He made PILES of money. Maybe by aligning himself with people who ONLY knew money, but why don’t YOU do this?

Somehow, after all the cutbacks, Warner is seen as a team, that employees like being members of. They’re poised for the future, they’ve embraced digital (albeit STILL too slowly) more than ANY of their competitors. Dennis and Lenny can rail all they want, but Edgar and his team are having the last laugh. Rather than pay the usual suspects, the same old toll takers, Warner has left the usual music business behind. They’re playing to Wall Street, they’re playing to tech, they don’t care that you USED to have power. Something is going on here, and I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s dramatically more innovative than what’s happening at the company’s competitors.


Come on, they don’t even ADVERTISE anymore. They fell off the radar screen. They’re DONE!


If you think their new Sansa player is competition for the iPod, you just haven’t used it. Designed for someone with Lilliputian fingers, this product might function well, but that assumes you can USE IT!


Sounds better than CD, but it’s NEVER COMING BACK!

God, don’t you understand the press? They need a STORY!

Vinyl penetration is de minimis, and to focus on it only proves you’re a Luddite.