February 3, 2017- by Steven E. Greer, MD
I don’t recall the exact date, but it was sometime during the summer of 2006, when I was daydreaming in my office at Merrill Lynch about doing something less miserable as a job, that I came up with the idea for the Healthcare Channel. I was working at the time for some people with no experience at running a hedge fund who had been given the keys to a $10-Billion internal hedge fund. It was pure torture.
Online video was very novel at the time. Google had recently acquired YouTube, and I saw a need for a less-illegal expert networks business model (I was prescient too, because nearly 100 people were eventually prosecuted by Preet Bharara for insider trading, and they all used expert networks for their sources).
So, I thought of making The Healthcare Channel, which would sell video interviews with the same doctors who were publishing large trials in the NEJM, etc. Except that ours would be real news and made public, as opposed to insider information.
I also had ideas for feature films. Starting with a more practical business model might lead to my ability to make some more risky entertainment films, I reasoned.
In late 2006, I gathered a team of computer people who worked in the IT department of Merrill Lynch and started to make plans to film. I left Merrill Lynch after my bonus check was paid and started the company in February of 2007 (This was fortuitous timing, because if I had stayed, I would have lost my job when Merrill Lynch went bust in 2008).
I had no studio in which to film, so I asked around and found a studio in what was then the secret office of Google, on 9th Avenue and 15th Street, across from The Chelsea Market. Google later put their sign up and took over the entire block. Yes, we got started inside Google, literally.
On November 28th, 2006 we filmed our first green-screen test using two models I knew to read lines. Looking back, it was quite embarrassing. That day, we also filmed our first real stories with Bear Stearns sell-side analyst Milton Hsu, MD (Bear Stearns went out of business in 2008, but Milton is now a big shot banker at Bank of America) and David Blaszczak of Stanford research (which later went under too after the founder was convicted of financial fraud).
The actual date of the first blast email to investors is known. I have lost the records. But I believe it was on January 25th, 2007. I did not do the editing at the time and was relying on a guy who claimed he knew how to edit but really did not. Also, the website portal was not yet ready. So there was a long delay from the time we filmed to the time we made it public.
I was so reticent about this whole crazy idea that I blast emailed the first stories anonymously. It would have been helpful to associate my reputation as an analyst at top banks and a portfolio manager with The Healthcare Channel, but I played it conservatively.
Nevertheless, the project took off. I was able to land coveted subscribers who were portfolio managers in the biggest mutual funds in the world and smartest healthcare hedge funds. Many of them were my former peers in the business, but many were not. That was the key moment when I realized that I had a real business. To get anyone to pay just $100 for content is difficult. We achieved much more than that.
My friends with influential research jobs on Wall Street helped out a lot. Milton Hsu was a champ. He allowed us to film him inside Bear Stearns, even though we were a super-amateur team. Bruce Nudell, the medical device analyst at Sanford Bernstein, and Bob Hopkins, my first boss in Wall Street who was the medical device analyst at Lehman Brothers, also helped give The Healthcare Channel some street cred.
Many of those first subscribers have been with us for the entire time. With just a few exceptions, any client we have lost has been due to Preet Bharara shutting down the firm (e.g. Visium Capital, Diamondback Capital, or SAC Capital), their entire fund going under after the 2008 financial depression, or the healthcare company becoming acquired (e.g. Thoratec and AMO). Every time a client renews, I am quite proud.
I realized early on that I had to learn how to edit the videos myself. I bought the software and began the process. If I had not made that decision, I would have failed.
Eventually, I attached my name to The Healthcare Channel. I had no intentions of being in front of the camera, so I still tried to use models who read from a teleprompter. But the newly launched Fox Business channel changed all of that.
Fox Business got started in 2006 along with us. I called Fox and asked who was in charge. I was looking to partner with them. They referred me to Brian Jones. The next thing I knew, I was being given a tour of the studio and booked as a guest. I became a regular on the Bulls & Bears show filmed in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel restaurant and bar on Lexington Avenue. That’s how I became in front of the camera. It was never my plan.
Fox made me a written offer to work for them, but I turned it down because I thought the amount was to low. It was one of the dumbest decisions that I have made. I somewhat blame my agent, who was none other than Ari Emanuel. His flunky junior agent botched the deal, in my opinion. I fired him (True story).
Now doing the interviews myself, I partnered with Reuters in 2008. We filmed several panel discussions in their new studio, but it was a bad partnership. Reuters was failing due to inept leadership and the financial collapse. However, this was a crucial partnership to keep the company alive after the financial collapse of 2008.
That revenue-producing partnership with Reuters ended after a year. But we continued to supply them video for their Reuters Insider project that went out of business.
I ditched the teleprompter and models. It was just too goofy and embarrassing.
In 2010, I partnered with my old place of surgical training, The University of Miami. They had gone on a spending spree in 2006 to hire world-class doctors. Pascal Goldschmidt was the CEO/Dean and Bill O’Neill was the Dean of Clinical affairs. I enjoyed working with them and filmed some panel discussions. In 2011, I partnered with Mark Schoenebaum of ISI research, the #1 ranked biotech analyst, and held a Day with the Docs event attended by 20 of Mark’s clients. The bad economy was hitting all medical centers by then and cutbacks meant that Miami cancelled this paid partnership, but we continued to film with them.
On a low budget, I was forced to be creative with productions. I pioneered the method of using the camera or studio of the remote medical center to capture the Q&A that I conducted via speakerphone. The raw video was originally mailed to us in mini-tape format. Later, FTP links became mainstream, and I simply received a link in the email.
MedPage Today and the Wall Street Journal have flagrantly ripped me off using my production style, except that they do a worse job at it. The Wall Street Journal actually abandoned their efforts.
I have seen a dramatic transformation among medical centers in how they deal with the media and video interviews. When we started in 2007, only a few places were crafty enough to film on a camera they owned and then send us the file. The hospitals still relied on expensive T1 live video feeds and third-party companies. Now, thanks in part to the Healthcare Channel, almost all medical centers have their own studio and can upload video files. I take some credit for changing the paradigm of how the top medical centers conduct media relations using video.
Over the last decade, The Healthcare Channel has produced some stories that have led to the national press covering them. We used to be partnered with the online health blog of the Wall Street Journal run by editor Scott Hensley. That was a big success and each story drew about 10,000 views with dozens of comments. Sadly, Rupert Murdoch acquired Dow Jones’ The Wall Street Journal, and Scott Hensley was fired.
I reached out to the FDA and was granted rare access to the top officials. When their new location at White Oak, Maryland opened, I was the one who set up their media room. I had to pull chairs from other rooms while I was also acting as the on-camera anchor and producer. The FDA still uses this same room that I designed.
In 2009, I began to go to The White House. I covered the big announcement of Obamacare in the East Room. I learned a lot about the top levels of our government by interacting with President Obama’s press team (In 2012, I wrote several Op-Eds in The Wall Street Journal that led to several House and Senate investigations into a pork project created by ObamaCare that was called CMMI).
In 2011, I attended the FDA’s advisory panel that approved the percutaneouslly implanted aortic valves (TAVR) and spoke as a member of the public exposing safety problems. Edwards Life Sciences stock proceeded to tank over the next few months when my dire predictions came true.
Most recently, President Trump announced that he plans to require drug companies to manufacture here in the United States. That was my idea put down in an essay back in 2010, which I recirculated in November of 2016 and gave to the head of the FDA.
It has been very challenging to keep alive a small business that is reliant on the financial sector since the global collapse of 2008. But we are still here, plugging away.
I have greatly enjoyed being my own boss and free from the politics and rat race of Wall Street banks. The people I have met by interviewing them are some of the most important men and women in politics and medicine.
Hopefully, the next 10-years will see market conditions whereby the Fed has raised interest rates and the markets are no longer obsessed with macro events. The Healthcare Channel really only helps investors who attempt to invest based on fundamental analysis. If the days of stock picking come back en vogue, we will thrive.