Discussions between scholars and media professionals form a core part of the Media Industries Project. More than “insider opinions” or “tales from the field,” these interviews challenge those inside the industry to reflect critically on their business practices and the wider significance of the media industries. Below you'll find a growing archive of the interviews the team conducts separated into two sections: "Perspectives on Distribution" a collection of interviews from our year long examination of digital distributon and "Historical Perspectives" conversations with some of the most influential people ever to work in the media industries.
Perspectives on Distribution
The digital era has profoundly changed the way media are distributed and consumed. These interviews with studio executives, independent producers, talent representatives, and creative practitioners explore the changes brought about by digitization and new distribution opportunities. They reveal both breaks with previous practices and certain continuities.
Excerpts from each of the interviews will be made available progressively, and full transcripts released in the future. Exploring distribution, the team has talked with:
- Christian Mann, General Manager, Evil Angel (available now)
- Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix, Inc. (available now)
- Patric M. Verrone, Writer-Producer and Former President of the Writers Guild of America, West (available now)
- Kelly Summers, Founder, Bella Rafe Media and Former VP, Walt Disney Studios (available now)
- Justin Wyatt, Vice President, Primary Research Analytics, NBCUniversal (available now)
- Leslie Jones, former Head of International Sales and Format Production, NBCUniversal (available now)
- Richard Berger, SVP, Global Digital Strategy and Operations, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (available now)
- Jordan Levin, Founding Partner and Chief Executive Officer, Generate (available now)
- Betsy Scolnik, Consultant, Scolnik Enterprises, LLC (available now)
- Horst Stipp, Executive Vice President, Global Business Strategy, The Advertising Research Foundation (available now)
- Gail Berman, founding partner of BermanBraun (available now)
- Scott Frank, Oscar-nominated screenwriter (available now)
- James G. Hirsch, founding partner of Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment and International Studio Group, LLC ('ISG') (available now)
- Gary Newman, President and Chairman, 20th Century FOX Television (available now)
- Peter Levinsohn, President, New Media & Digital Distribution, FOX Filmed Entertainment (available now)
- Thomas Gewecke, President, Warner Bros. Digital Distribution (forthcoming)
- Felicia Henderson, Writer-Producer (forthcoming)
- Paris Barclay, Director-Producer (forthcoming)
- Claudia Katz, Producer and Executive Vice President, Rough Draft Studios (forthcoming)
- Mitch Singer, Chief Digital Strategy Officer, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (forthcoming)
- Larry Stein, Senior Partner, Liner Law (forthcoming)
- Joe Flint, Media Reporter, The Los Angeles Times (forthcoming)
A 30-year veteran of the adult business, Christian Mann has worked in various capacities, including magazines, mail order, production, sales and marketing. As owner of Video Team, he pioneered niche marketing with the popular all-girl series No Man’s Land and the urban series My Baby Got Back. In 2008, Mann took a position as general manager of John Stagliano’s Evil Angel Video. Mann is no stranger to the challenges inherent in marketing adult products for adult consumers. He was indicted in 1989, withstood a federal obscenity trial in Texas and was eventually acquitted of all charges. Over 20 years later, as Evil Angel’s founder John Stagliano was facing obscenity charges in Washington, D.C. (charges that were ultimately dismissed in July 2010), Mann was elected to the Free Speech Coalition Board of Directors, where he is actively involved with FSC’s anti-piracy efforts. Mann was the recipient of AVN’s First Amendment Defense Award in 1991, the Free Speech Coalition’s Good Guy Award in 2000 and most recently was inducted in the “AVN Hall of Fame – Founder’s Branch” in January 2010.
In this exerpt, Mann reflects on a new generation of entrepreneurs in the adult entertainment industry.
In this exerpt, Mann discusses parallels with the music industry.
In this exerpt, Sarandos characterizes original content as a strategic bet against his competition.
In this exerpt, Sarandos discusses taste preferences as a matter of metrics and algorithms.
Patric M. Verrone served as the president of the Writers Guild of America, West from 2005-2009. During his tenure, he led the group through a strike from Nov. 5, 2007, to Feb. 12, 2008. Verrone has been a television writer and producer for 20 years. His writing career began in the late 1980s as monologue writer for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Other credits include The Larry Sanders Show, The Critic, Pinky and the Brain, Rugrats, Muppets Tonight, Futurama, and The Simpsons. He has won two Emmys and won the 2002 Writers Guild Animation Caucus Lifetime Achievement Award.
In this excerpt, Verrone looks back at the struggle for residual pay in the context of home video technologies--from VHS to the Internet.
In this excerpt, Verrone discusses the challanges he faced as President of WGAw.
Kelly Summers - Founder, Bella Rafe Media and Former VP, Global business development and new media strategy, walt disney studios
Kelly Summers currently manages her own consulting firm, Bella Rafe Media, where she advises start-ups on digital distribution strategies and digital product development. In her previous role at Disney, she led content commercialization for new media distribution platforms, created new product concepts, incubated new ventures, and oversaw technology commercialization efforts. Summers began her career working with entrepreneurs in start-up environments and first explored digital media distribution in 1997 when seeking to commercialize price discovery technology and develop online transaction markets. After business school, Summers joined The Walt Disney Company and by 2006, had closed Hollywood’s first iTunes movie deal bringing the Disney family of brands to the popular digital platform.
In this excerpt, Summers draws on her experience at Disney to discuss the challenges of windowing strategies in the digital era.
In this excerpt, Summers addresses questions about digital delivery's potential to devalue content.
Justin Wyatt - Vice President, Primary Research Analytics, NBCUniversal
Justin Wyatt is Vice President, Primary Research Analytics at NBCUniversal. He has worked on both the client (ABC TV Network) and supplier (Frank N. Magid Associates, Hypothesis Group) sides of the market research industry. He is the author of High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood and the co-editor of Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream. Wyatt holds a Ph.D. in Film and Television Studies from UCLA and a B.A. in Economics from the University of British Columbia.
In this excerpt, Wyatt discusses how market research methods have evolved in context of digitization, focusing especially on the different changes to quantitative and qualitative research.
In this excerpt, Wyatt draws on his academic research interests to reflect on the current marketplace for independent film and the potential of academic-industry collaborations.
Leslie Jones - former Head of International Sales and Format Production, NBCUniversal
In this excerpt, Jones reflects on the the different institutional, cultural, and political contexts she had to navigate when selling format rights to international partners.
In this excerpt, Jones reflects on the origins and global distribution of the format for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Richard Berger - Senior Vice President, Global Digital Strategy and Operations, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
In this excerpt, Berger discusses the evolution of the digital locker service UltraViolet and addresses some of its present-day challenges.
In this excerpt, Berger counters the "bad rap" digital rights management has garnered by discussing how much DRM policies have evolved in an era of streaming media.
JORDAN LEVIN - founding partner and CEO, GENERATE
In this excerpt, Levin elaborates on the implications his company’s business model poses for creative talent, television networks, and the future of distribution.
In this excerpt, Levin discusses how his work with younger audiences and younger creators has influenced his understanding of the media marketplace.
Betsy scolnik - consultant, scolnik enterprises, llc
Betsy Scolnik is a consultant focusing on community building, content strategy, and production, and digital business, communications, and strategy. She has worked for some of the world’s leading commercial and philanthropic organizations, including Wolf Films, TED, The Paley Center for Media, National Geographic, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and AOL Time Warner. For Wolf Films, Scolnik created the firm's first online presence, making the Law & Order brand more available to new and existing fans via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The overall audience for Law & Order online has more than doubled and its online presence has represented the most consistent promotion week over week with a permanent presence on AOL TV, MSN TV, and TVGuide.com.
In this excerpt, Scolnik argues traditional content strategies often overlook the opportunity to cultivate online fan communities because television networks underestimate (or misunderstand) the role of social media.
In this excerpt, Scolnik provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the digital communications strategy for the Law & Order brand.
horst stipp - evp, global business strategy, the advertising research foundation
Horst Stipp, Ph.D., has been involved in media research for more than 40 years, including a lengthy stint in the Research Department at NBC Universal in New York. In January 2011, he joined The Advertising Research Foundation as Executive Vice President, Global Business Strategy. He also teaches a seminar on media metrics at Columbia University’s Business School. Most recently, his research has focused on changes in media use and the impact of advertising in the digital age.
In this excerpt, Stipp reflects on his research experience at NBC to challenge common assumptions about the disruptive impact the Internet has had on the television industry and its audiences.
In this excerpt, Stipp addresses the values and limitations to traditional audience measurement techniques in a new media marketplace.
Gail Berman - founding partner, BermanBraun
As former President of Paramount Pictures and former President of Entertainment for FOX Broadcasting Company, Berman has held top posts at both a major film studio and television network. Her current venture is independent production company BermanBraun (founded with Lloyd Braun), which develops web properties in partnership with brands, such as celebrity-focused Wonderwall and lifestyle-oriented Glo, as well as television programming such as Mercy (2009--2010) and The Cape (2010).
In this excerpt, Gail Berman describes the way she and her team at BermanBraun use their experience in the television industry to produce engaging digital content.
In this excerpt, Berman compares the challenges producing television today with those she faced when she entered the industry in 1991.
Scott Frank - Screenwriter and Director
A graduate of UCSB, Scott Frank is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter who has written movies for filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Sidney Pollack, Steven Soderbergh, Barry Sonnenfeld, Jodie Foster and Kenneth Brannagh. His scripts include Out of Sight (1998), Minority Report (2002), The Interpreter (2005) and Get Shorty (1996). In 2007, Frank made his directorial debut with The Lookout, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, and Isla Fisher.
In this excerpt, Frank discusses some of the implications changing distribution strategies have on his work, the new distribution windows created by new technologies, and the way distribution strategies are driving productions toward bigger and bigger spectacle.
In this second excerpt, Frank discusses the effect changing distribution has on financing practices, attitudes to risk, and the implications on creativity.
James G. Hirsch - Founding Partner, International Studios Group
James G. Hirsch is a writer-producer who, with partner Bob Papazian, has produced more than 40 television movies, series and miniseries through their production company Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment. Papazian and Hirsch also have a long history in the facilities business, having built and operated the independent motion picture and television facility Ray-Art Studios. After selling the facility in 2004, they founded International Studios Group (ISG), which is developing facilities in Massachusetts and Georgia.
Our interview with Hirsch discussed the logistics, economics, and creative challenges of the independent facilities business.
In this excerpt, Hirsch discusses the role tax credits play in attracting production and facilities investment. In exploring the significance of tax credits to these developments, Hirsch discusses the potential for setting productions in either Massachusetts or Georgia and the challenges of establishing long-term local production cultures.
In this excerpt, Hirsch discusses the foundation and subsequent sale of Ray-Art Studios, which he and his partner Bob Papazian opened in 1997 and sold in 2003. Hirsch traces the history of the studio - one of the most successful independent production facilities.
Gary Newman - President and Chairman, 20th Century Fox Television
Gary Newman is President and Chairman of 20th Century Fox Television, a position in which he is partnered with Dana Walden. Newman and Walden were appointed Presidents in 1999, and since then, they have overseen the commissioning, development, and production of programs including 24, Family Guy, Modern Family, and Glee, among others. Together, they pioneered the release of series onto DVD immediately following the broadcast season -- now industry standard practice.
In our interview with Newman we discussed topics including financing models, managing changing release windows, the impact of new technologies, the significance of DVD and alternatives to broadcast, and the changes new distribution options have brought to the industry.
In this excerpt, Newman discusses the role DVD distribution and syndication deals played in Fox’s decision to return to production animated sitcom Family Guy. Family Guy is an incredibly valuable property to Fox, and its history reveals changing economics of the television industry.
In this excerpt, Newman discusses the way the television industry has changed over the last decade in response to changes in distribution technologies. He notes as particularly important the shift in emphasis from colonizing as much tuner space as possible to exploiting multiple platforms.
Peter Levinsohn - President, New Media & Digital Distribution, FOX Filmed Entertainment
Peter Levinsohn is President of New Media and Digital Distribution at Fox Filmed Entertainment. Levinsohn is responsible for developing strategies and businesses that move Fox content through non-linear distribution channels and the creation of digital products that enrich and extend Fox brands. Working across film, television, specialized Internet video, and games, Levinsohn's group interacts with mutliple parts of the Fox conglomerate.
During our interview we discussed the challenge of building new business models without cannibalizing existing revenue streams, digital production processes, the changing economics of the entertainment industry, and the challenges the digital landscape poses to existing business practices.
In this excerpt, Levinsohn discusses how his group interacts with other divisions in Fox. Pointing out the range of different tasks his group is responsible for, he notes a key challenge they face is how to push the company forward yet balance the growth rate of new business opportunities -- particularly non-traditional and digital opportunities -- with the decline in existing business. A central concern is ensuring new opportunities don't cannibalize existing businesses, a particular challenge as the economics of digital and analog businesses don't always neatly align.
In this excerpt, Levinsohn describes the challenge of balancing new digital businesses with existing business models. He describes the creation of Hulu as an example of a well intentioned effort to curb piracy that has inadvertently undermined Fox's broadcast business. He also discusses market fragmentation, payment models and storage issues as factors affecting the developing business of digital distribution. He interestingly describes digital distribution as complimentary to the traditional bundled and programmed businesses of the television networks and cable companies. He argues for the value of the traditional programmed experience and claims it is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon.
Revisit pivotal moments in entertainment history with the people who helped to shape them in this collection of interviews with accomplished entertainment industry figures. These candid conversations provide a personal look at the deals and decisions that influenced the past and continue to affect the current media industries.
Excerpts from each of the interviews will be made available progressively, and full transcripts released in the future. Our inital interviews include:
- Tom Freston, former President of Viacom and currently a principal of Firefly3 LLC (now available)
- Tom Pollock, former Chairman of Universal Pictures and co-founder of Montecito Picture Company (now available)
- Bob Papazian, founding partner of Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment and International Studio Group, LLC ('ISG') (forthcoming)
Tom Freston, former President of Viacom and current principal of Firefly3
Tom Freston is a Principal of Firefly3, an investment and consultancy firm focusing on the media and entertainment industries. He is the former Chief Executive Officer of Viacom Inc., where he also served as Chief Operating Officer. For seventeen years, Mr. Freston was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MTV Networks (including MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, Comedy Central, and other networks). Prior to that, Mr. Freston ran a textile business in Afghanistan and India called Hindu Kush. Currently, he is Chairman of the ONE Campaign, an advocacy organization for global poverty issues, and serves as a board member and advisor for Afghan media company the Moby Group.
In this excerpt, Freston reflects on the early days of MTV and how the network's sensibility fit within a major media conglomerate.
In this excerpt, Freston discusses his current invovlment in Afghanistan's nascent television industry.
Tom pollock - montecito picture company
In this excerpt, Pollock describes his entry into the entertainment industry and the impact of the contract he negotiated for George Lucas’ Star Wars. Pollock explains how he found himself in the right place at the right time entering Hollywood in a moment of economic growth spured by pre-sale financing. He was able to capitalize on his good fortune by exploring all aspects of the business and aligning himself with emerging talent.
In this latest, excerpt from our conversation with Tom Pollock we discuss his strategies for running a major entertainment studio. Key to the strategy is identifying the top filmmakers in a variety of genres and bringing them to the studio. Pollock explains that he attracted this talent by offering them the chance to balance blockbusters with passion projects.