Microsoft founder, WME topper agree: It's getting better

ABU DHABI–From the eradication of diseases and poverty to the health of Hollywood, the future is bright thanks to emerging technology, Bill Gates and Ari Emanuel agreed Tuesday in separate conversations at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Gates focused largely on how the Middle East is emerging as a philanthropic force, with technology as a major driver.

“One of the things that make this region so special is the way tradition and change reside side by side,” the Microsoft founder said.

Asked about how Microsoft and Hollywood intersect as new technologies develop, Gates said: “A company like Microsoft is mainly an enabler — making sure that great Internet-connected devices are out there so people can consume films; making it easy for people to pay for films, hopefully, as they watch them.”

Gates was asked for advice by an Arab TV entrepreneur about how to approach the shifting TV landscape.

“I think it’s a little too early to put all your money on the interactive side,” he responded. “If I were you, I would put 70% of your advertising budget in broadcast and 30% in interactive media and expect over the next decade to see that ratio flip.”

It was understood that Gates and Emanuel would appear onstage together, but they did not; instead, the chief exec of WME appeared onstage in a one-on-one interview format after Gates finished.

But Emanuel did broach their planned topic: “Silicon Valley and Hollywood are actually working pretty well,” he said, acknowledging disagreements over piracy and content rights issues with Google, YouTube and Facebook, but saying he appreciates the added revenue they bring his clients.

“I believe Google has made some inroads” into preventing people from putting out content that they don’t have rights to, a diplomatic Emanuel said.

And in terms of his job, there are lots of positives these days, he said, though the worlds of advertising, content and new-media distribution still “have to start coming together as the world starts to change. Form and function have to merge. By function I mean distribution points,” he said.

“You can say distribution is NBC’s distribution and also Facebook’s distribution, and form is what the content is for these different functions,” Emanuel explained.

The agent said there’s never been a better time for representing artists because of the proliferation of distribution points.

“We now have Netflix in so many territories; we have Amazon coming in buying new programming; you have Microsoft with Xbox as a platform; You Tube and Google are starting to create content; who knows if they are going to start buying it?” he said.

Emanuel pointed out that Netflix is currently creating 20 new TV shows, after starting with its adaptation of the BBC series “House of Cards.” “And the economics are on the same scale as the Hollywood studios if not better,” he declared.

In fact the Internet is starting to bring about a significant power shift because “that means that youare not only having to partner with a studio; sometimes you can go outside the system.”

Also, now you have a third and fourth bidder for content, Emanuel said, “in a new window at very high prices. There’s more profit. It’s fantastic. The challenge we have is to keep ahead of it so we can advise our clients properly.”

Emanuel was also high on crowdfunding films, noting that 10% of all films that went to Sundance or Cannes in the past couple of years had some form of crowdsourced financing.

“For financially large-scale product, you can’t beat the traditional system,” he said. “But for a $25,000 movie, you’re gonna try it.”

Gates touted his foundation’s efforts to eradicate childhood polio from the world, naming Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Nigeria as some of its last, stubborn strongholds. He recalled administering vaccines, as well as talking with people in the area who refused it.

They told him: “We need permission from our husbands, we need our imams to talk about it and advocate for it,” Gates said, calling on leaders around the region to embrace such efforts.

Gates also implored the fast-emerging United Arab Emirates — which is making massive investments in technology and innovation — to keep the poor in mind when developing new technologies.

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