James Kotecki (00:08):
This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you an interview that I recorded live at the C Space Studio at CES 2023. Enjoy.
This is the C Space Studio here at CES 2023. I'm your host, James Kotecki, joined by Thai Randolph, the CEO of HartBeat. Welcome to C Space Studio.
Thai Randolph (00:30):
Thanks for having me.
James Kotecki (00:31):
So HartBeat, tell us what that is. Let's understand the brand as you approach 2023.
Thai Randolph (00:37):
Absolutely. HartBeat is a company founded by Kevin Hart, hence the name, and we're on a mission to keep the world laughing together. We make, market, monetize comedic IP, all in an effort to connect global audiences around this connective tissue of laughter.
James Kotecki (00:54):
So this is Kevin Hart's production company. Does everything you do have Kevin Hart in it to some extent?
Thai Randolph (01:00):
Absolutely not. No. So Kevin has a saying, he's like, "I'm not going to get any more famous, but this is about supporting the next generation."
James Kotecki (01:06):
It'd be hard for him to get any more... He's the number one, I don't know, whatever the metric is, but he's one of the top comics, obviously, in the world.
Thai Randolph (01:11):
He really is, and is deeply committed to cultivating the next generation of comedic storytellers. We work across brands, platform and streamers to deliver content with humor and heart. So we're organized into three distinct divisions. We have a studios group that does film, TV, audio, and that's audiobooks, podcast, radio. We have a media group which handles worldwide distribution of all of our content, also live events and experiential. And then we have a group called Pulse, where we do a lot of branded entertainment and co-branded storytelling with the likes of Procter & Gamble, Sam's Club, Chase. So a really vertically integrated media platform.
James Kotecki (01:54):
So for that last one, brands come to you and they say, "We want something that is funny that will make people emotionally connected to it, and we don't necessarily know how to do that ourselves, so we're looking for your talent to do that"?
Thai Randolph (02:03):
Well, increasingly, brands are really looking at us as a thought partner. So the questions look a little bit more like, "I am trying to engage a new demographic. I'm trying to gain share of heart, share of mind," and they come to us because they know that we're very effective storytellers and that comedy and laughter is a really effective storytelling device. But we try to play a little higher in the funnel and really not just say, how do we create a funny thing, but how do we solve a brand's challenge or seize a brand's opportunity, and how do we ultimately deliver a lot of value to the end consumer in doing so?
James Kotecki (02:38):
How do you get the talent on board? Are you finding these people organically? Are they coming to you? Do you look at people who are already influential on social media and bring them in?
Thai Randolph (02:46):
There are a number of ways. One of the things about having someone like Kevin at the helm is we have a lot of platforms that are real talent activators. We have a series called Hart to Hart on Peacock where Kevin interviews some of the most brilliant comedic minds, or the most brilliant minds in entertainment. And so we've had John Travolta on, Jay-Z, Tracee Ellis Ross. And so there's this halo of wanting to come in and have a good time and play with us. Same with Cold as Balls, it's the number one sports show on the internet. And we've had athletes on from... by the way, if you don't know what Cold as Balls is, it's Kevin in ice baths with athletes. And we've had all sorts of athletes from the WWE, NBA, NFL.
And then we have programs like Women Write Now, where we're cultivating emerging talent. Women Write Now is a screenwriting fellowship and directing initiative that we do in partnership with Sundance Institute to support black women screenwriters and directors, and supported by Chase Sapphire. We're in our second year, we're actually going to Sundance in two weeks. And so we try to play along the funnel and spectrum of talent.
James Kotecki (03:55):
Comedy always evolves as society evolves. This is too broad of a question, but I might as well ask it anyway. Where do you think comedy is right now from your perch? Is there a way that you define it or think about it?
Thai Randolph (04:08):
Sure. So it's interesting. Laughter is universal. Comedy can be very specific. It can be culturally specific, it could be specific geographically. Language can create barriers around it. And so we really try to focus on that broader mission of keeping the world laughing together. And so we focus more on the laughter than the comedy if that makes sense. Because societal sensibilities will change, there'll be nuances depending on where you're distributing, but at the end of the day, if we pursue that goal of creating entertainment, creating experiences that allow people to drop their shoulders, have some real relief at a time globally when there're unprecedented levels of depression. I was reading a study I think by the World Health Organization recently that during COVID, globally depression spiked 25%. That's really dramatic. And so for us to be able to provide any light, any levity, and that may look a little bit different depending on which audience we're serving and on what platform, but the pursuit of that mission makes sure that we're still relevant no matter how the distribution platform or the sensibilities change over time.
James Kotecki (05:12):
And do the brands that come to you ever get skittish about certain kinds of things that might make people laugh, even if something is fine today, we know that if that same thing is viewed five, 10 years from now, maybe people would look at it differently. Is that a risky thing for them to be involved in?
Thai Randolph (05:29):
Sure, there can definitely be trepidation. And again, because of just the state of society, there's so much dividing us, I think not just brands, but people can sometimes have trepidation when venturing into humor. But I believe that every brand has a sense of humor because every brand is run by people and every person has a sense of humor. That sense of humor and brand of humor may not be the same for everyone, but show me a person who doesn't like to laugh. Show me a person who doesn't want to smile. And so I think we really try to navigate with brands telling stories with humor and heart. And not everything is comedy first, but where they get to connect with folks on a really personal level and where you disarm folks so that they could really be more open and receptive to messaging.
James Kotecki (06:12):
What are your internal meetings like? Are you laughing all the time?
Thai Randolph (06:15):
Everyone asks that. Two things, I always say to my team, if we want to create entertainment that makes people feel good, it doesn't magically feel good on the other side, so we should be having a good time while making it. And we try to live by that mantra and really embrace it. However, the monetization of the business and running a global content company is no laughing matter. And so in that regard, whether in a meeting with Kevin or I'm in a meeting with any of our lieutenants, we try to stay very focused because we take the mission of laughter very seriously.
James Kotecki (06:47):
You've called it your mission. This is in your bio, I believe, "To carve out spaces for overlooked voices in the industry." Where are you finding that talent and what are you thinking about in that regard as we head into 2023?
Thai Randolph (06:59):
I think of it in a couple of different places in the funnel, behind the scenes, we just had a hiring announcement and we brought on a new head of experiential. We brought on new distribution leadership, really bolstering our capabilities across those three divisions. And when the article land, that I was just proud about the growth, but more proud about the diversity of experiences, ages, genders, and backgrounds that were represented there. Our team is 53% women. And that's not impressive because the world is 51% women. Our team is 72% people of color. The world is 80% people of color. And so we're really trying to create a reflexive and responsive organization. And then on the talent side, like I said, there are initiatives like Women Write Now where we are purposely saying, "Where can we do more?" See something, say something, moreover, do something. And so from where we sit in the market, we're always trying to challenge ourselves, our partners, to not just embrace diversity as an initiative, but really think about it as an imperative to future facing the business.
James Kotecki (07:58):
You certainly seem to have a global scope to what you're doing. Is there a certain region of the world that has your eye right now as far as where growth opportunities might be?
Thai Randolph (08:05):
Well, there's one that's top of mind just because it's coming up soon. So we are launching a global experience around HartBeat that's right at the intersection of comedy, culture and commerce. And we're going to debut that experience in partnership at Advertising Week South Africa in February. And so we're really, really excited about the opportunities there. There's going to be live comedy performances. There's a B2B element of it in partnership with Advertising Week, and then some really interesting kind of on the ground things that we're doing from a cultural and commerce and business perspective. So that's what's first up. But that same program will also go to London. We'll be back at Vegas later next year with some version of it. And so we say we're trying to deliver laughter whenever, wherever our audience wants to laugh. And I think there's an appetite globally for that.
James Kotecki (08:53):
Is it fair to call that experience kind of like a festival?
Thai Randolph (08:56):
Yeah, like a traveling festival, if you will.
James Kotecki (08:58):
Okay. Well, that's so great. Well, thanks for being part of our little festival, our traveling festival here. Thai Randolph, CEO of HartBeat. We really appreciate you coming on C Space Studio.
Thai Randolph (09:06):
Thanks for having me. This was fun.
James Kotecki (09:09):
Well, I hope you enjoyed that live conversation from CES 2023. Look up the CES C Space Studio for more conversations like that and get even more CES at ces.tech. That's CES.T-E-C-H. And of course, please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a moment. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.