When the Houston Rockets–L.A. Clippers matchup on Martin Luther King Day in January erupted into a bizarre fight scene after the game, NBA fans and commentators on TV and Twitter lost their minds. Except for the folks who’d watched a Cycle Media employee named Rob Perez, aka World Wide Wob, break down the rising pettiness in the NBA a few days earlier on his digital talk show Buckets. The program is one of the premier offerings from Cycle, a subsidiary of Cycle Media, which blends marketing and content creation. It taps popular culture to create products that can live anywhere from a billboard to Facebook Watch–and makes money every step of the way. Cycle Media is built for the rapidly emerging world where “advertising and media, media and brands are becoming the same thing,” says CEO Jason Stein.
Stein believes that this kind of modern creative, which can be distributed anywhere, “is really what we do.” Leading with culture–Cycle is arguably smarter about the NBA, for example, and why it’s so resonant globally as both popular culture and sports entertainment than any other media brand–allows the company to work backwards and then figure out the best place to reach people with compelling material for mostly younger audiences. “With Cycle,” Stein says, “[clients] want original content that resonates on the internet. When they go to an entertainment property, they want someone who gets advertising and understands return on investment.” Having started with a full-service creative agency, Laundry Service, the company developed that ROI muscle which has allowed it to evolve to be so content-centric rather than media or ad-focused. At Laundry Service, Stein says, “we had all those elements and it allowed us to grow,” he says. “We could then launch Cycle and grow that brand quickly because we knew how to create high-quality content and distribute it to worldwide audiences.” Cycle’s approach opens up new possibilities as it works with brands such as Nike, Hennessey, and T-Mobile.
Buckets‘ genius, for example, is in its structure, which reflects how Cycle Media brands operate. Every segment is its own show, meaning it can have a different advertiser and be distributed to the right audience on the proper platform, transforming each episode into a nesting doll of modern media with monetizable pieces. Buckets started as a “fun, experimental social media thing driven by Rob’s personality,” Stein says. With its early success, Cycle Media showed it to ESPN as part of the coup it scored in October with the cable giant to improve ESPN’s social cachet. Buckets is now distributed across ESPN’s social media, reaching more than a million viewers per episode. “Buckets is a modern point of view on sports culture, hosted by people with a large following on the internet for just that,” Stein says. Its success has led to the ESPN series Last Table, which brings together athletes such as Victor Cruz and C.C. Sabathia, commentators like Jemele Hill, and entertainers such as comedian Hasan Minhaj to share an intimate, late-night conversation about sports and pop culture.
Cycle Media’s approach is to maximize the value of one production to get everything it needs to have content for any media, digital or analog. “We can do a TV spot but also get material to make a documentary series, images for print campaigns,” he says. When asked how his team consistently pulls this off, Stein credits his company’s success to being “an infrastructure play. We have creative, production, distribution, and talent management all in one place. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what lets us come up with concepts, shoot them on the fly, and have all these people in the room together so that the conversation takes place.”
Stein admits, “That’s not really the most sexy thing to talk about.” But the creative output speaks for itself.