Chicken Soup and Covid-19: A Success Story

No, the story is not about how eating chicken soup can cure or prevent Covid-19: it’s a pandemic success story based on streaming media, with a telecoms entrepreneur at its heart.

The almost universal lockdowns spawned a huge need for entertainment, and while Netflix benefited enormously, counting 200 million new subscribers and a 49% rise in share price, it hasn’t been the only game in town, alongside big name competitors Amazon and Disney. Quietly and without much fanfare, a small company called Chicken Soup For The Soul Entertainment has been “gobbling up lesser known streamers, film distribution and production companies,” to quote Matt Schifrin at Forbes. In the last 12 months, Chicken Soup’s o-t-c traded shares soared by 289%— nearly six times as much as Netflix.

Perhaps you have come across some of its products, such as Going From Broke, produced by Ashton Kutcher, which offers reality TV-style budgeting advice to debt-laden Millennials? And there is a film called Willy’s Wonderland, which stars Nicolas Cage. Both of these actors are big names. So how does it operate, and why haven’t we heard much about it?

Chicken Soup isn’t in business to win awards, yet it still has millions of viewers for its programming, thanks to “savvy marketing and an opportunistic collection of streaming networks, distribution and production companies.” It is now a leader in the so-called AVOD or advertising-video-on-demand sector of the streaming entertainment business.

The plan to disrupt subscription services

What is that, you ask? It is advertising-supported channels streamed over the internet to laptops and smart TVs. According to Statista, this mode of streaming accounted for $27 billion in revenues in 2020 and is expected to grow to $56 billion by 2024. YouTube is an example of this that you are most likely familiar with. But Roku TV, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV and Amazon’s IMDb Freedive are also involved.

The plan, you might say, is that subscribers will get fed up with the cost of subscription services, and will turn instead to free channels supported by advertising, such as Chicken Soup’s Crackle.

In 2020, Chicken Soup made $68 million, which some might say is chicken feed. However, it has just announced that it would be acquiring the assets of Hollywood’s Sonar Entertainment for what sources close to the deal estimate to be valued at $100 million. This will give it access to a catalogue of TV and films containing the top names in the business. Schifrin says: “In all, the deal includes a library of 372 television series and 700 films plus ongoing development deals with the A-listers like Ridley Scott, Jon Favreau, David E. Kelley and Jordan Peele.”

The entrepreneur behind Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup For The Soul Entertainment is the brainchild of William Rouhana Jr, and Schifrin remarks, “Having learned dealmaking during telecom’s Wild West, the structure of the Sonar deal is vintage Rouhana” When Rouhana first acquired Chicken Soup for the Soul in 2008, it was mainly in the business of publishing inspirational paperback books. Now he has leveraged its brand—and cash flow—to get into internet-based entertainment. Rouhani said, “I felt like video on the internet was clearly a very important part of the future. I have believed that since 1993 when I first created WinStar. The whole point of it was to deliver video over our broadband network to people.”

He added, “My plan is to keep building this for a couple more years. As we move into 2022, we will have one new TV series or movie coming to our networks each week. That kind of pace has never been seen before in advertising video on demand nor has an AVOD ever owned the amount of content that we will now own.”

A good entrepreneur story is hard to beat, and this is going to be an interesting one to keep following.

Bill Gates’ big mistake

What do you think might be the biggest mistake Bill Gates ever made? It doesn’t seem to have been too costly a mistake as he’s a tech billionaire turned philanthropist.

According to recent interviews reported by CNN Business channel, he has been telling the media that his “greatest mistake” was not ensuring that Microsoft became Apple’s biggest iOS rival.

As the story goes, Microsoft lost out to Google when it came to launching a system to challenge Apple’s iOS. That system of course is Android, used by every phone that isn’t an iPhone. So, you can imagine his regret that Microsoft didn’t manage to get ahead of Google.

Gates told venture capital firm Village Global: “In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. … There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system.”

Microsfot’s problem stemmed from its domination of the computer market. If you weren’t working on a Mac, you were using a computer with Microsoft’s software. That was it; there were only two choices.

With so much concentrated in the computer market, Microsoft trailed behind Apple in the emerging smartphone sector. Although it needn’t have.

Microsoft came out with its own mobile operating system, called Windows Mobile, in 2000. Apple debuted its iPhone in 2007, followed by Google’s Android platform in 2008. So theoretically Microsoft had the opportunity, but it just didn’t keep up with Apple and then Google.

Gates told the Economic Club in Washington, DC

that the antitrust trial in that period was a major distraction. Moreover, the company didn’t place the best staff to work on mobile.

“We knew the mobile phone would be very popular so we were doing what was called Windows Mobile. We missed being the dominant mobile operating system by a very tiny amount. We were distracted during our antitrust trial. We didn’t assign the best people to do the work. So it’s the biggest mistake I made in terms of something that was clearly within our skillset. We were clearly the company that should have achieved that — and we didn’t.”

Gates also told Village Global that this error cost the company billions of dollars that ultimately went to Google. He also told them, “Our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong, so we are a leading company. But if we had gotten that one right, we would be THE leading company, but oh well.”

And just so you know; Gates uses an Android phone. Perhaps using an iPhone would have been going just a step too far.

Leadership Matters More Than the Leader

Some people think that a CEO determines the success of a business; that it is their personality and style that is the decisive factor. However,  CEOs come and go, yet the business they are in charge of survives, so I would argue that it is not down to one person and how they do things, but instead it is the leadership strategy that is the key to a company’s longevity.

As Josh Bersin wrote in Forbes magazine: “Long term business performance comes from leadership culture and careful continuous development of leadership at all levels.”

And his research into the business performance of a number of companies with high profile CEOs, indicates that it is the development of leadership within all levels of the business that has the most impact.


The enormous benefit of developing a leadership culture is that it protects the business against changes in ‘personalities’ at the top. The boat is not so easily rocked when a healthy strategy is in place and there are several ways of achieving this kind of stability.

It is noticeable that the best performing businesses link leadership strategy to business strategy. What this means is that operations at the mid and lower levels are aligned in a way that ensures a business thrives. This is achieved through coaching and training programmes that enable the best leaders in the company to rise to the top of departments, and all of them understand that strategy and team work are more important than personalities.

Leadership is not the same as management. For example, ‘management’ is concerned with the overall organisation, planning, integrations, budgets and development. But ‘leadership’ is focused on a very different set of activities, because it is, or should be, based on leading the people who work in the company to ensure its success.

Therefore, leadership develops the following attributes:

  • Motivation
  • Encouragement
  • Selection of talented people
  • Coaching and training
  • Building trust

You can see that these are quite different qualities to those valued by the management function of an organisation. They are all people-centred and focused on getting the best out of everyone, at every level, and on finding the best people for every job.

Leadership is about team building and creating loyalty. It is about making every member of the organisation feel that they have something of value to contribute, regardless of what level they are at. A strong leadership strategy embraces its members, and in a way replicates our notion of family. This in turn creates an emotional investment in the success of a business, which is invaluable to its owners.

When an inclusive and encouraging leadership strategy is firmly established, the business is well defended against any mavericks who might set themselves above the rest of the organisation and try to impose their personal whims on it. Leadership strategy trumps the role of CEO in any business; that’s why leadership is more important than leaders.

Star Wars: The Galactic Economy and the Real World

May 25th this year was the 40th anniversary of the first Star Wars film. Fans of the franchise may wonder what Luke and Co have to do with economics, but if you study the films and look beyond the quirky creatures and the fantasy storylines, you’ll notice that the Star wars story is underpinned by an economic and political system that mirrors the real world. At its most basic, it is economic problems that lead the Empire into war. That is something we are familiar with.


The galaxy and the global economy

To start with, the Star Wars economy is galactic in scope –a situation similar to the globalised economy—and it is based on the working principles of modern trade. For example, planets trade products and services and the trade routes traverse multiple galaxies. This planets based at major intersections on these trade routes tend to do best, and there are plenty of real world examples that match this. Think of where Hong Kong and Singapore are located in Asia, the position of Dubai in relations to Europe, Africa and Asia, London’s location as a bridge between North America and Europe and the list goes on. It also goes way back in time to trade routes like the Silk Road and the Incense Route of antiquity. Cities along these trade routes grew in prosperity and some of them had a monopoly on specific products.

In Star Wars, Bothawui is poised at the crossroads of four trade routes, This makes it a popular meeting place and a venue for trade negotiations. The intergalactic firms operate across several planetary systems – think Microsoft, Coca Cola and all the global businesses we have today that operate in the same way.

The Corporate sector and free zones

It also has a Corporate Sector, which is really like a free trade zone and it has a simplified tax code compared with other parts of the Empire. To make trade easier they also have trade agreements and consortiums that wield political and economic influence. In the real world, we have the Pacific Trade Agreement, the WTO, the EU and EFTA amongst others that act in the same way. And, there is the Intergalactic Banking Clan – a parallel universe for the IMF, ECB and World Bank?

The German economy of the 1930s

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars based the Galactic Empire’s economy on that of Nazi Germany. As he pointed out, both emerged on the back of an economic crisis. If you watch the films with that in mind, you’ll see other similarities, including the compulsory military service that made both ‘states’ ready for war. The Death Star station is a war machine and there is a dedication to building military might across the Empire that strongly echoes 1930s Germany.

A Military Industrial Complex

And as in the real world, the planets on the Outer Rim of the system are more oriented towards agriculture, design technology and the further out the planet from the centre, the more primitive its economy. Their distance from the power of a Military Industrial Complex, which results in them having weaker economies reflects the situation in the real world.

If you thought Star Wars was just a bit of fun entertainment, perhaps you’ll watch the whole series again and realise that George Lucas was giving us all a lesson in world economics, in the most entertaining format he could come up with.


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