During Michael Eisner's 21 years as CEO of the Walt Disney Co., he transformed it from a rudderless operator of theme parks and a family-friendly film studio into a diversified media conglomerate.

Since stepping down as Disney's chief executive in 2005, Eisner has kept busy through Tornante, a firm he founded to invest in media and entertainment startup companies, including Internet video content studio Vuguru, trading card company Topps and streaming video site Veoh, whose assets were acquired by content-sharing startup Qlipso earlier this year.

After spending decades as a highly visible top executive at entertainment companies like Disney and Paramount Pictures, Eisner says he enjoys developing ideas in the relative seclusion of Tornante. "Doing stuff that I don't have to talk about because I'm not in a public company is fantastic," he says.

Now Eisner is back in the public eye with his new book, "Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed" (HarperBusiness), which hit bookstores this week. In the book, Eisner and co-author Aaron R. Cohen examine the factors that contributed to 10 celebrated business tandems, ranging from Studio 54 co-founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and bench coach Don Zimmer to Bill and Melinda Gates and film producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard.

The latest media scuttlebutt says Eisner could become the next chairman of the Tribune Co. In an interview with Billboard, Eisner didn't comment on Tribune but eagerly discussed his book and the challenges facing entertainment companies as they move online. Below is a short excerpt from the discussion. For the full Q&A, click here to subscribe online or buy the issue here.


You invested in Veoh, which Universal Music Group unsuccessfully sued for copyright infringement. What did you like about that company?
I'm glad I invested in that. I did it to introduce myself to Internet video. It was very early. YouTube was already positioned as the first mover. I was hopeful that we could do it in a slightly different way. We got extremely wide distribution.

[Record labels] were trying to put their finger in a dam that was unstoppable. They went after Veoh, which was completely legal in all areas. I think they probably went after the wrong company, but they went after every company. I think that was quite silly of them. Litigation was a profit center for them in the old days, and that culture was probably still [there].

[Veoh] may have not worked anyway. Who knows? But it was a very good, relatively inexpensive education which we're now benefiting from in other things we're doing.

How should media companies approach online video?
Not only can you not run away from it, there's a fantastic opportunity. You have to be a forward-thinking executive who understands the economics and protects, to a degree, [traditional] pieces of the industry.

If you look at all these media companies, they're still making all their cash flow from their "rust belt" assets-movie companies, theme park companies, broadcast companies, even newspaper companies-record companies to a lesser degree. So, the production of television series that find their way onto television, cable, satellite and streaming networks is great. You just have to make sure the model you're working on does not undersell your product.

There's a fine line between what would characterize you as a troglodyte and what would characterize you as a brilliant, avant-garde, forward-thinking genius. There's some middle ground. If you're going to run with these companies, you've got to be smart about it.

What do you think about the NBC-Fox-ABC streaming video joint venture Hulu?
I think they've done a great job. The interface is great, the look is great. They certainly have a lot of product on there. Their instinct to go to a paid model is good.

Here's a partnership between three studios that is going to hinge on the very nature of agreeing in that partnership. As we all know from growing up as kids, three is not a great number. So I hope they're able not to have two of them gang up on the third, beat him up on the playground and have the whole thing disintegrate. It's got to be a good partnership to make that work.