Lawyers and analysts! VPs and VCs! It was “Entertainment Madness” on campus over the weekend.and more »
Did you miss this weekendâ€™s UCLA Entertainment Symposium? Not to worry. The Hollywood Reporter has you covered with the top takeaways from the 41st annual installment of this conference, attended by seemingly every entertainment lawyer in the city, or at least 500 to 600 of them.
As usual, the event, sponsored by UCLA Law Schoolâ€™s Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law, covered a lot of ground. With the theme â€œEntertainment Madness: Keeping All the Balls in the Air,â€ there was something for everyone, with or without a bracket.
Chronologically, hereâ€™s the best of what you may have missed:
1. Top-seeded Tom Wolzien. Heâ€™s kicked off the Symposium every year for a while now, not to mention advising the DGA on their deals, and, well, this year Tom talked smartphones, and made a sparkling point: If Democrats want to reach the red state constituencies, do it via Verizon video! Or AT&T. Either way, LTE is everywhere. And, he added, journalists should be doing their live feeds this way as well. Are you listening, enemies of the people?
2. Give Me an â€œSâ€! Give Me a â€œTâ€! SVOD â€” subscription video-on-demand â€” has worked best in the U.S, said venture capitalist Mark Terbeek of Greycroft Partners, but â€œTVOD is going to happen much more frequently with niche content, and is happening a lot overseas.â€ That â€œTâ€ is for â€œtransactional,â€ bucko, and means purchases (EST, or electronic sell-through) or rental (e-rental) of individual movies, episodes or TV seasons. Not that SVOD isnâ€™t going niche itself: Exhibit A has to be the Titanic Channel, whose unveiling last week somehow escaped coverage in THR. Iceberg, dead ahead!
3. Back to the future! Nostalgic for The Alcoa Hour, Texaco Star Theater or perhaps the Camel News Caravan, where the stories were always smokinâ€™ hot? We didnâ€™t think so. The only thing stranger would have been seeing retailers sponsor or produce shows. That might have brought us the Macyâ€™s Melodrama or Series by Sears. Or even aÂ series by Amazon! What a peculiar idea. As AwesomenessTV president Brett Bouttier noted, the bookseller cum e-department store has â€œtaken the ad model out to the nth degree.â€ Who cares how many people watch if you sell enough soap flakes?
4. Then thereâ€™s Netflix. Theyâ€™re â€œbuying for the world,â€ noted Raze co-founder and CEO Emiliano Calemzuk, and locally as well. (Not bad for a onetime mail-order DVD service.) The executive, who previously was Europe president for Fox International Channels and subsequently ran Fox TV Studios in Los Angeles, contrasted the SVOD serviceâ€™s approach with that of media conglomerates. â€œThe international cable guys are not aligned with the U.S. guys,â€ he said, nor with â€œthe production guys. Theyâ€™re fragmented.â€ Uh-oh, thatâ€™s not so good. (For the record, not all those â€œguysâ€ are guys. Or at least, they shouldnâ€™t be.)
5. L.A. is a data desert. Traditional media companies â€œhave no connection to consumers,â€ said Greycroftâ€™s Terbeek, an observation that Fox chairman/CEO Stacey Snider made as well during her keynote the next day. â€œBut theyâ€™re trying to get access to dataâ€ through M&A and other means, he said, in a point echoed later by WME partner Liesl Copland. â€œTheyâ€™re trying to inform their decision-making with data,â€ Terbeek noted. He sounded sympathetic.
6. Thereâ€™s gold in them tharâ€™ hills! Or, at least, â€œthereâ€™s a lot of capital sitting on the sidelines and waiting to be deployed,â€ according to Bank of America senior vp and entertainment industry head Dan Timmons. Thatâ€™s good news for people who package independent films. People like FilmNation CEO Glen Basner, for instance, who said he structures his international sales activity around the traditional big markets, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto and AFM (L.A.â€™s American Film Market). (In selling domestic rights, he prefers to â€œlay groundwork first.â€) But buyers may not be such big fans of those frenetic venues. â€œWe prefer to have time to sit with people, [while] the sellers typically like the auction environment of a festival,â€ said Steve Bersch, president of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. â€œWeâ€™ll play there if we have to,â€ he added a bit glumly.
7. Bersch also isnâ€™t a fan of the old bait and switch. â€œThey always end up casting â€˜whoâ€™ as the second lead [in a film],â€ he said, presumably not referring to the famed first baseman of the same name. â€œThey tell us the actorâ€™s name and we say â€˜Who?â€™â€ Perhaps thatâ€™s why some of the capital is still sitting on the sidelines. Added Basner, â€œDistributors are becoming much more sophisticated. People are really reading the script and coming with questions.â€ Buyers who actually read scripts before they buy? Wonders never cease.
8. A â€œget out of jail freeâ€ card? Attention criminal lawyers! Is your client in â€œdirector jailâ€? Give Sony a call. â€œA director whoâ€™s in jail â€¦ weâ€™ve gotten very favorable results with a couple people who the rest of the industry turned their back on,â€ said Bersch, declining to name the incarcerated ruffians who benefited from his Innocence Project. He probably got them at a nice price, too, but that went unsaid, and anyway, beggars canâ€™t be choosers. Make a flop or two and youâ€™ll find out who your real friends are pretty quickly.
9. The MBAs weigh in. New to this yearâ€™s Symposium was a session called â€œThe UCLA Anderson Spotlight on the Business of Entertainment,â€ in which UCLA Anderson School of Management professor Sanjay Sood tried to get former Disney ABC Television executive vp and CFO Peter Seymour to say something interesting. Perhaps owing to quantsâ€™ natural caution â€” or the overhang of nondisclosure agreements â€” it was a more uneventful session than one might have anticipated. But Seymour did make the useful observation that pivoting from linear networks to SVOD â€” and hence engaging in a direct relationship with oneâ€™s customer, see #5 above â€” was not an easy task for a media company. â€œThe business of selling subscription services is very different from distributingÂ your channel,â€ he noted, pointing to subscriber acquisition, customer service and churn as key novelties for those who live B2B. Pretty different from schmoozing a few dozen cable MSO executives.
10. Trump pops by for a visit. No, he didnâ€™t actually show up, or even offer a disparaging tweet, but President Trump was there in spirit at a panel about projects based on underlying material such as books, articles or life stories. These days, â€œweâ€™re actively worrying about whether public figures might sue you,â€ said Frankfurt Kurnit partner Victoria Cook. â€œWe never have worried before, [but now] the E&O underwriters are not as bullish [about these projects].â€ Hmm, sounds like fake news â€” and thatâ€™s above my paygrade!
11. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, which way should this project go? UTA book head Howard Sanders noted that you donâ€™t necessarily know these days whether a project will get picked up for TV, as a feature or even VR or gaming, an observation that drew agreement from Cook and Focus Features business affairs exec vp Howard Meyers. â€œIâ€™m routinely negotiating TV and motion picture [deal terms],â€ said Sony Television business affairs vp Ken Basin. â€œBut motion picture guys donâ€™t,â€ he added pointedly. His film colleague Bersch was nowhere in sight at this point.
12. â€œWeâ€™re in the prestige space.â€ So said Amazon Studiosâ€™ worldwide head of motion pictures, Jason Ropell, in describing a filmmaker-friendly approach that involves a theatrical release prior to online availability. For that theatrical release, â€œwe partner with STX, Open Road [and] Roadside Attractions,â€ he added. "Might that change in the future?" asked uber-lawyer and moderator Ken Ziffren. â€œWho knows?â€ responded the Sphinx-like Ropell.
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