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Embrace ‘Net or die

Studio exex emphasize need to harness Web

Hollywood is beginning to embrace the Internet and emerging high-speed broadband services as the means of distributing its content in the 21st century. But studio execs are still unsure how to use it.

Until now, the studios have utilized the Web as little more than a marketing tool to lure the ‘Net generation into theaters.

But studios are trying to figure out how to use the Web to spread their properties to all media from the Internet down to pagers, said Robert Tercek, senior veep of digital media at Columbia TriStar Interactive, at a panel Monday at the Herring on Hollywood conference at the Century Plaza Hotel.

“Creating a Web site is now a necessary part of the marketing strategy,” said Ken Goldstein, senior veep and general manger of Disney Online. “Kids expect it.”

“Filmmakers are now demanding Internet marketing as part of their contracts,” added Jim Banister, exec VP of Warner Bros. Online.

But what kind of content to distribute online is still up in the air.

“Broadband is the Holy Grail,” Banister said. “It just isn’t what people thought it would be. You have to teach studios, editors, production execs that it’s not television. Broadband is not about pipe but consumer experiences. We have to change the definition.”

Studios see differently

The studios also differ on how they plan to use the Web to sell merchandise.

While Disney’s Goldstein sees the Internet as a valuable means by which to sell videos and other merchandise, Warner Bros.’ Banister said that studios benefit little from selling product online as the goods they offer are available at most e-tailers, preventing the studios from controlling pricing. But that may change.

“There may be a time where people will pay for exclusive windows to carry a new Madonna CD or ‘The Matrix’ DVD,” Banister said.

Medium has the message

But despite that, panelists agreed the studios need to maintain a presence on the Web and adapt to new technologies.

“What constitutes extinction is not embracing the platform shift,” said Tercek. “You can’t be successful if you don’t embrace technology. The last thing we want is a hardware company from Silicon Valley to say, ‘Here’s interactive TV, now make content.’ If programming companies wait too long, then the power shift will go to hardware companies.”

And the future of distributing content online may not be dependent upon the convergence of computer services and television, as many industryites predict.

“It’s not about the computer meeting TV,” Tercek said. “It’s about the telephone meeting TV. It’s about the young generation of viewers. We have to chase them and devices they use.”

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