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CAA Television Co-Head Discusses Changing Media Environment at Northwestern

By Jacob Nelson

Before Jeff “Jake” Jacobs began working at Creative Artists Agency — where he’s been for nearly 30 years and now serves as the company’s Television Co-Head — he spent a few months on a bus with John Madden.

As he recently explained at an MSLCE Speaker Series event, after getting his undergraduate degree from Northwestern and his master’s degree from Medill in the ’80s, Jacobs tried pursuing a career in broadcast journalism. Part of that process included spending a season traveling by bus with the legendary former NFL coach and broadcaster.

Though the experience was memorable, at the end of it Jacobs decided to try something different. So he moved to California to try to make it in the entertainment industry.

“I went out and started knocking on doors to get a job in LA,” Jacobs said. “Everyone said, ‘If you don’t know what to do, go to a talent agency.’”

So Jacobs did exactly that, and got hired at CAA, an agency that started over 40 years ago and is now is the leading company in the field. With clients ranging from entertainers to sports stars,  CAA has offices all over the world. But as Jacobs explained during his talk, it’s not just CAA that has changed over the past few decades. It’s the media landscape as well.

“Who has an iPhone?” he asked the room. A majority of hands went up. “That is not just a phone, it’s a full media device… When I was here there was no cable on campus, cable came to Evanston when I was a senior.”

Throughout the event, Jacobs took many questions about what goes into creating a successful piece of media. A good television show, Jacobs said, originates from a novel, succinct idea.

“Every successful show you consume,” he said, “At its essence, it can be described in one sentence.”

In an increasingly crowded media environment, Jacobs pointed out that there’s more pressure than ever for content to be of the highest quality.

“More people watch episodic content today than ever before, but audiences are more bifurcated than ever before,” Jacobs said. “The greatest change is that something has to be great.”

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