Suits on the loose

Studio execs warm to new media

In the wake of Hollywood’s dot-com defection frenzy, a new kind of exec has taken the techie reins at the studios.

The first generation of execs were mostly creative types who had the unenviable job of convincing the rest of the world that creating compelling Internet content mattered. Many of these people have since left for independent dot-coms, seeking new challenges and the flexibility that comes with working at a smaller Netco.

Those who have stepped in to fill the shoes of those who left are primarily execs that come from a biz background. Since they don’t have to jump through hoops to convince others in the studio system of the importance of new media, they have the flexibility to build upon the content base left by their predecessors by investigating new technologies.

But what about the creative spark? Is the new guard really just a sea of suits?

Yes and no. While the majority do come from traditional business backgrounds, they’re by no means newbies to tech turf, having been mentored by the field by the creatives that led the way.

“The good thing about Columbia TriStar Interactive is that they had a seasoned team of people waiting in the wings,” says former Sony exec Robert Tercek, who is now with wireless video developer PacketVideo in San Diego. “They were probably psyched to see the other guys going so that they could get their chance.”

Instead of trying to break through the hesitancy barrier that prevented the studios from accepting digital content until recently, the dot-commie execs can focus their energies on the buzzword du jour, “convergence,” and the forward-looking goal of making sure the studios are on the ball when it comes to embracing broadband and wireless.

Wireless direction

“My basic agenda is to build brands for our assets initially in narrowband and broadband on Sony devices,” says Yair Landau, prexy of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment. “Clearly that also means we’re moving towards wireless.”

Landau is one of those who has stronger links to a business background — as opposed to someone like Tercek who helped to develop interactive TV programs at Sony.

“I don’t think that I have unique expertise in this,” Laundau says. “Before I was in corporate development and strategic planning and got to know portals and Silicon Valley players … several years ago. I’ve worked a lot with the other Sony entities, so I’m a little tighter on the music and hardware side than some of the older media types.”

Being a new-media exec now requires a knowledge of numerous platforms, something that was a distant vision in the early days of the Internet.

For instance, with the introduction of the PlayStation2 in October, Landau says that the push is on to make interesting content so gamers will want to use the DVD and broadband functions of the console.

For Jordan Kurzweil, the new senior veepee of entertainment at News Digital Media, the company that oversees, says his transition from the product development and branding division to the top job was smooth.

The challenge, he continues, is taking Fox’s extensive library and transferring its properties beyond the Web. With the bow of, for example, Kurzweil is looking toward taking the content into the broadband and wireless arenas.

Will people someday be able to watch the world’s scariest police chases on their cell phone? Absolutely, Kurzweil says, adding, “We’re still in the early stages compared to something like the film industry.”

The new guard’s focus on wireless is applauded by Tercek, who jumped into the discipline when he joined PacketVideo last December.

“Wireless is brand new and all up for grabs so there is kind of a Wild West mentality about it,” Tercek says. “The Internet has always been kind of seen as Silicon Valley’s plaything and people can’t touch it because it’s pristine and you dirty Hollywood people are going to come in and try to commercialize it. The attitude about wireless isn’t like that.”

Maintaining a balance

Kevin Tsujihara, exec veep of new media at Warner Bros., says a balancing act is required to make a studio’s entry into cyberspace — and other mediums — successful.

“I think one of the ways that we look at new media is from a business perspective, but it’s also a really creative, fun environment,” he says. “You have to provide a really interesting work environment and give people the ability to not only work online, but with wireless and interactive television.”

Overarching all this, however, is one rule that both the studio vets and the new generation of execs have to adhere to: Money (still) makes the World Wide Web go around.

With this in mind, Lynda Keeler recently ankled her post at Columbia TriStar to join Redleaf Group, a venture capital firm.

Agreeing that she was one of the creatives that helped to bring the ‘Net to Hollywood — but noting that “I never had green hair” — she says her experiences in introducing the studios to the Web gave her a valuable perspective on what will be a success with the public — and investors.

“For a long time there were a lot of not fully fleshed-out ideas being proposed,” Keeler says. “But what we’re seeing now are companies with complete visions.”

And does she consider her successors to be a bunch of suits?

“I think that what you’re going to see is people who have gone through the ranks,” she says. “They may be traditional entertainment suits, but they’re traditional entertainment folks who have an understanding of new media.”

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