When it comes to digital media in Hollywood, Curt Marvis is one of the most senior veterans around. The co-founder of online movie retailer CinemaNow all the way back in 1999, he saw the dot-com economy boom and bust in Hollywood and lived to tell about it. For nearly a decade, he served as CEO and kept his company alive in a battle against the studio-backed Movielink, waiting for the day when broadband would spread and business models would relax in order to make the Internet the distribution mode of choice for home entertainment. (CinemaNow was acquired by Sonic Solutions in November for $3 million)
That day still isn’t quite here, but Marvis is continuing to bring it closer, now on the studio side. Last April he joined Lionsgate, a major investor in CinemaNow, as its first president of digital media, overseeing all of the mid-sized studio’s efforts on new digital platforms.
Last week, Marvis spoke to Technotainment editor Ben Fritz about his role at Lionsgate, his experience at CinemaNow, and where he sees sees the digital economy going for Hollywood in the future.
In this first of three parts, Marvis explains how he has come to define his position, the importance of online sales and rentals in the overall revenue for some Lionsgate movies, and his surprise at where digital distribution stands now compared to 10 years ago.
Ben Fritz: Tell me about your job. Is it overseeing anything and everything that Liongsate does digitally?
Curt Marvis: Basically I got this job with a piece of paper and I drew “digital media” in the middle in a circle and drew arrows out to theatrical, television, home entertainment, even music – we have a music group, which a lot of people don’t realize – corporate development, business development, channel business and then investor/financial community. And I listed in each of those all the different things that I could imagine were happening in those different departments that I knew within Lionsgate didn’t really have a lot of glue or communication between the groups. To use the overused term: Synergies between the various groups.
So I basically came in to Jon Feltheimer, the CEO, and said, “Look, if I came in here, this is what I would” – Because I had been at CinemaNow and I had reached a point where I was… They couldn’t pay me any more money. I could get stock that at that point was looking like it wasn’t necessarily going to be worth a lot of money. I started the company and I didn’t have the fire in my belly to keep going. So as an entrepreneur there was a point at which I said I’ve got to get in something new. So I came here and drew that out for him and said, “Here’s the things I think we need to be looking at in home entertainment, here’s a list of 20 things, etc.” He said, “Exactly, that’s what we want somebody to do” and by the end of the moment it was, “When do you start?”
So effectively what my job is is interfacing with all those groups on a multitude of challenges, problems, opportunities that exist within each one of those departments. What I’m least involved in really is theatrical and that’s because the one thing that I don’t do within the company is deal with the theatrical marketing or the homevideo marketing. I don’t go into the theatrical marketing people and say, “Hey, I think you should do pop-up ads on Yahoo Movies.”
BF: So it’s not the marketing, it’s the distribution?
CM: Basically you could say, if it’s not revenue-generating, I’m probably not involved in it. So in the home entertainment group, for example, I get involved in everything from shifting windows, pricing issues, iTunes stuff, everything moving from the packaged goods business to the digital world. In the television world we just made an announcement today about a format we licensed from Spain called “Instantly Rich” that we’re going to be taking out to the networks. It’s driven by SMS. It’s a show that I brought into the company from our relationship with Zed.
We also are doing things with “Weed” and “Mad Men.” And also we work with the TV Guide Network (which Lionsgate just acquired) and TVGuide.com in terms of cross-platform programming for television.
On the music side, mainly I’m dealing with getting those tracks out with ringtones and other things.
Then on the corporate channel side, because of Epix, which is the movie service we’re launching with Viacom, Paramount, and MGM. We have FearNet which is our all-horror VOD service. We have a large stake in Break.com. All of those businesses have their own management teams. I’m not in charge of those businesses by any means. But I’m an interface in the company.