Sean Parker played a role in tearing down the music business as Napster co-founder, and then remaking it a decade later as a backer of Spotify Ltd. His latest venture, the Screening Room, sets its sights on the movie industry by offering antipiracy technology that could help studios offer new releases at home the same day they hit theaters, Variety reported on March 9.
Parker sat down recently with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang at his Los Angeles mansion to discuss his views on the entertainment industry, his “hacker-style philanthropy,” and the future of social media. Parker, a onetime president of Facebook, said he’s “way more eccentric, insecure, and reserved” than the character Justin Timberlake portrayed in The Social Network. Still, he gave a pretty animated interview. Here’s an excerpt from Studio 1.0:
When it comes to Taylor Swift, Adele, Coldplay, how does a company like Spotify get over this issue that artists don’t want to give their music away for free?
Parker: I find it hard to believe that the artists you’re mentioning don’t want their music to be heard as widely as possible by as many people as possible. I would say their managers would like to extract every last penny from the product, which they, frankly, had no creative role in producing.
So you think this is Taylor Swift’s manager speaking, not Taylor Swift?
It’s very hard to tell when it’s the artist speaking or when it’s the manager speaking. I don’t know what she really thinks. We haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk about it. I’ve talked to a lot of artists—whose managers are on a vendetta—who love streaming.
Whether it’s Instagram or Oculus or WhatsApp or Messenger or Internet.org, what will be the next huge business for Facebook?
The interesting question for Facebook is: Is that Next Big Thing somewhere else entirely? Is it Google X, and life sciences, and contact lenses that measure glucose? Is it self-driving cars? Or is it going to be something that’s very close to the home, the core of what Facebook is?
Do you think Facebook should move beyond the core?
Communication is the biggest market in the world. Communication cannot be undervalued. So there are a lot of other communication paradigms, and there a lot of other ways of communicating that Facebook could enable. Does it make sense for Facebook to buy something like Snapchat? Does it make sense for Facebook to expand more into real-time communication?
Facebook Messenger is really no different from instant messaging, which we’ve had since the mid-1990s, or actually, going all the way back to IRC and the early Internet. Facebook is very good at understanding the core communication network apps that they should own. And are there more of those out there? Absolutely. There are enormous opportunities left in communication.
Do you think Twitter survives?
Twitter is a victim of their own success in so many ways. They are a company that—had it not been for the media’s infatuation with Twitter—Twitter never would have built an enormous user base. But that came at a cost. And the cost was the lack of deep, close-knit community between its users.
Twitter was never an accurate reflection of your real social network. It didn’t have the same level of intimate interaction. I don’t think Twitter would’ve existed had it not been for its relationship with celebrity and media. But at the same time, I think its relationship with celebrity and media is its biggest weakness.
You’re longtime friends with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Tell us about the Travis you know.
Travis hasn’t changed at all. He’s in some ways the perfect CEO of this company, because he feeds off of the conflict and the controversy. He’s very good at dealing with complex situations, where he’s being attacked from all sides. He would thrive as a wartime leader.
You’ve committed $600 million to the Sean Parker Foundation and advancing science. You’re focusing on allergies, cancer. What do you think you can do differently from traditional venture capitalists?
Philanthropy can get ahead of venture capital. Venture capital, when it’s done correctly, happens at a time when a business is ready for commercialization. It’s not there to fund basic science. I think there’s this middle ground where, for instance, if you’re funding immunotherapy, you’re going to take money away from existing labs and existing researchers that have been built up over time. And there’s a hesitation there. The breakthroughs have happened very quickly. But they’ve been driven by private philanthropy because governments have been too slow to recognize that a technology is ready for investment.
Watch Chang’s full interview with Parker on Bloomberg TV’s Studio 1.0 on March 13 at noon Eastern time (9 a.m. Pacific), or stream it at bloomberg.com/live.