Is MPAA 2.0 next?

As Glickman exits, biz mulls org's future

Months before Dan Glickman confirmed he would depart the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the guessing game over who might be his successor was in full swing.

But the process of replacing Glickman, who will step down when his contract expires in September, 2010, could take some time, not just because of the task of finding a well-connected, powerful industry spokesperson in Washington, but because there could be some rethink as to exactly how the MPAA will function as a lobbying org in the future.

“I suspect that they are going to look at the trade association and how it fits in the modern world, but I have not had those discussions with them,” Glickman told Daily Variety on Monday.

In contrast to the days when Jack Valenti shaped the organization, the member companies have ever more complicated and divergent interests, only exacerbated by the digital revolution and the plethora of competing agendas from media conglomerates.

That’s why, as much as comparisons have been made between the contrasting styles of the low-key Glickman and charismatic Valenti, “it’s a different time, a different game and they are two different people,” said one Washington lobbying source.

Names floated as potential candidates for the post include everyone from MPAA COO Robert Pisano to former Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, reflecting the high-profile nature of the job and, at least from the outside, the intense interest in what is regarded as one of Washington’s most prized lobbying posts.

Others mentioned include Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Disney lobbyist Richard Bates and MPAA executive vice president Michael O’Leary.

But much will depend on what member companies want from the trade association, which may be a feat in and of itself given the difficulty in reaching consensus.

“Someone recently said about a transition that in Hollywood they do it right when they want a successful sequel,” said Hilary Rosen, managing partner of the Brunswick Group and former CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America. “They don’t actually create a sequel. They create a whole new script.”

Those in contention for the job as the next MPAA chief, Rosen said, “have to be leaders and they have to be substantive and they have to be diplomats. Those are sort of three things that are a tough combination to find in people.”

Studio sources say the process of finding a successor — and even setting up a process for finding one — is only just beginning now that Glickman has confirmed his plans to depart the post. Rumors have been floating since March that he would exit the trade org after his contract was renewed only into next year, rather than multiple years (Daily Variety, March 3). The org, with a budget of about $93 million in 2007, according to IRS filings, trimmed its staff at the start of this year by 15% to 20%. Glickman said that the cutbacks reflected the broader economic downturn.

Glickman’s own selection in 2004 was preceded by months, if not years, of speculation as to who would succeed Jack Valenti when he retired, with former president Bill Clinton among the names thrown into the mix (a prospect that seemed outlandish, then and now). The process drew so much attention that Michael Kinsley wrote in the Washington Post, “You would have thought the job was running UNICEF, or a seat on the Supreme Court, not protecting one industry’s interests in the political system.”

Schwarzenegger’s spokesman, Aaron McLear, dismissed speculation, saying, “The Governor is focused on solving the state’s problems, not on what he may do when his term is up.” Politico first reported Glickman’s plans to exit on Sunday, as well as Schwarzenegger as a prospect.

As prized as the job is (Glickman’s salary and benefits totaled $1.3 million in 2007, according to the most recent IRS filing), he didn’t command the same celebrity as Valenti, whose connections and charm over a span of almost four decades in the post were legendary in the nation’s Capitol and in Hollywood.

Somewhat wonkish, yet accessible in conversation, Glickman is well-liked on Capitol Hill, and he cites a bevy of accomplishments during his tenure.

Among other things, he pointed to a major tax provision in last year’s bailout bill that was worth several hundred million dollars to the studios, as well as tax credits passed to boost film production in almost 40 states. He also cited the trade org’s role in securing legislation that boosts resources to fight piracy and, for the first time, created an intellectual property czar in the White House.

“Legislatively, we have probably had one of the most successful time periods in MPAA history,” Glickman said.

The trade org also was the leader in establishing the Copyright Alliance, and the MPAA also started a bi-annual event called the Business of Show Business. “We don’t have a trade show and it is probably our closest thing to that,” Glickman said.

A continuous challenge for Glickman was not so much tapping Washington connections, but building agreement among Hollywood studios on priorities, sources say.

One of the setbacks — and the subject of criticism of the MPAA — came earlier this year, when efforts to include a tax provision in the stimulus package were stripped from the legislation when Republican lawmakers targeted it as a bailout for Hollywood at a time when box office was healthy.

That partisan divide hung over Glickman’s selection. A former Democratic congressman from Kansas and Secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton, his choice was met with dismay in Republican circles, as some party leaders engaged in the now-infamous K Street Project sought to fill plum lobbying posts with those who shared their partisan stripes.

Glickman, 64, says that he’s eyeing a post in the nonprofit or public service world “because that is historically where my passion is.” He has been working on hunger and agricultural development issues with the UN World Food Program and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He signaled that he would continue to have ties to showbiz, if only because of his “love of the movies,” something that he said will be a prerequisite for his successor.

“I have a feeling I will somehow stay involved in this medium,” he said. “Maybe in documentaries.”

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