At USC forum, Fox CEO sounds off on 'Pi,' freedom of speech and YouTube

For his Q and A with 20th Century Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, moderator Bruce Ramer had two rules: No plugs and no politics.

During Saturday’s hour-long discussion, hosted by USC’s Gould School of Law, Gianopulos praised Fox’s upcoming Ang Lee film “Life of Pi” (Ramer joked he’d have to start charging the exec for each plug) and commended Vice President Joe Biden’s successful efforts to pry open China’s film quota this past February.

“No politicking,” Ramer said lightheartedly.

“That’s why you’re sitting to the right and I’m on the left,” retorted Gianopulos to much laughter, referring ostensibly to the duo’s seated position on stage.

USC held its discussion as part of the 2012 Institute on Entertainment Law and Business, which included day-long panels and a lunch sponsored by law firms including Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher and O’Melveny and Myers.

Aimed at the entertainment business affairs and legal community, topics ranged from freedom of speech and intellectual property rights to monetizing success on digital platforms like YouTube.

Gianopulos also discussed his friendship with Steve Jobs and Fox’s new Digital HD venture, which offers films for purchase about two to three weeks before their release on DVD and Blu-ray. He credited the late Apple founder’s innovation with inspiring him to take on new challenges, including experiments with the murky period between theatrical and DVD release.

“Prometheus” was the first film in the program, outselling “Avatar’s” digital download sales in its first month, according to Gianopulos. And 30% of sales came from consumers who had never downloaded a film before.

Gianopulos also speculated about why the Stop Online Piracy act, a bill he had championed vigorously, didn’t pass.

“What we had was a failure to communicate,” Gianopulos said of SOPA and what he called the “campaign of misinformation” which preceded it. “The Internet was created to withstand a nuclear attack, and I don’t understand how a movie studio is going to take it down.”

Still, Gianopulos said the entertainment industry has made progress to “reconnect” with the technology community, who loudly protested the bill.

Ramer introduced Gianopulos with a few of the exec’s career highlights, including his tenure over Fox during some of its most profitable years. But Ramer did not touch on Gianopulos’ most recent major career shift: The departure of longtime co-chairman Tom Rothman, who will leave the studio at year’s end.

Gianopulos campaigned for the two highest-grossing films of all time, “Avatar” and “Titanic,” during the duo’s reign at the studio. “For a long time some of us were concerned that (Fox) would never recover from ‘Cleopatra,'” Ramer joked of the pricey 1963 epic.

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