NEW YORK Cameron Death is a gambler. He likes to place bets on "several areas of the table," he says. Admittedly, it's more of a metaphorical table, as his place betting is saved for strategic professional moves that he feels will pay off in the long term. It's this willingness to take risks that has gotten him noticed throughout his career.
As vp of NBC Universal Digital Studio, Death (pronounced "Deeth") is taking his biggest risk yet: overseeing the creation of a slate of original programming, from offbeat documentaries to a science-fiction series starring Rosario Dawson.
Much of the work will be created either in-house or by 60 Frames Entertainment, a company that finances and produces programming solely for the Internet. 60 Frames' contribution includes the documentary, True Story, which features eccentric individuals like an 80-year-old punk rocker and a teenage sword swallower.
The first project released by the studio, launched in August, is the sci-fi series, Gemini Division, a combo live-action and animated production from Electric Farm Entertainment. Dawson stars as a New York police detective investigating the murder of her fiance. The series is being shown on a variety of platforms, including on scifi.com and mobile phones, and can be downloaded from iTunes.
"My goal was to use [the series] ... to show that we know how to work well in this space," says Death. And while he believes that user-generated content and "two guys in a garage with a camera" has its place online, he feels the use of A-list talent and professional productions are imperative to differentiating them in the marketplace. Death's other imperative: creating an immersive interactive experience, such as sending text messages to viewers with information related to the shows.
Death was U.S. director of branded entertainment at MSN when Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio, asked him to come on board. He was instantly interested.
"I'm a marketing guy at heart," says Deeth. "I have the ability to bridge the gap between how content creators and brands are looking at this space. The key is being able to translate between those two worlds, which is what I bring to the table."
The notion of straddling different worlds is not unfamiliar to the 36-year-old, who left New Zealand for Australia when he was 6 and then, when he was 9, moved to San Diego. He attended the University of Kansas, where he started out as a journalism major, but finished with a degree in marketing. Death says he saw the difference between the budding journalists -- "skinny, gaunt pale guys tapping away on their keyboards, filing stories for the next day" -- and the energetic advertising majors who were clearly having fun, and made his choice. "That's what made me cross over to the dark side," he says.
Knight Ridder's newspaper in St. Paul, Minn., the St. Paul Pioneer Press, recognized his business acumen and hired Death as director of new business ventures in 1994, right after graduation. "That was pretty crazy for a 22-year-old kid," says Death. There, he ran the company's custom-publishing division and created the Pioneer's first Web site for an advertiser (the Mall of America).
Soon, Microsoft, which was setting up a St. Paul office, came calling. Death stayed with Microsoft for 11 years working in a variety of areas, including its mobile unit, which he helped launch. But it was the custom-solutions group, which morphed into the branded-entertainment team, where Death carved out a niche for himself. .
One of the first initiatives Death embarked on when joining NBC's digital outfit was to create a strategic alliance with Omnicom, giving the agency a first look at series in development. To start things off on the right foot, he notes, it was important to him that they approach things in "an advertiser-centric way," proving that his team, "'gets brands' and understands advertisers."