Hollywood Digital Exec Takeover

2013 marks the emergence of a new breed of leader in top studio jobs

Blink and you might miss yet another rise into the ranks of a new breed of Hollywood leader.

The promotion of Dwight Caines to the top post in domestic marketing at Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group, which the studio made official Wednesday, is the latest in a series of high-profile promotions that signal a paradigm shift playing out in the entertainment industry.

It’s a shift that began in earnest earlier this year when Kevin Tsujihara accepted the top job at Warner Bros., and continued with the ascendance of Amy Powell to a new post that expanded her domain to TV at Paramount Pictures.

Study their resumes and note some common ground that is far from coincidental: Digital media is core to the DNA of all three execs.

Just a few short years ago, it would have been unthinkable that the studio world’s upper most echelons would be filled with anyone but the usual suspects moving up the same succession of rungs on the corporate ladder. But now the digital realm that has been relegated to the backwaters of these businesses is becoming the breeding ground for the new kings and queens.

It’s no secret that digital media is disrupting every aspect of the entertainment business, from marketing to distribution. Websites, social media, mobile devices–these things that occupied the fringes of a studio’s strategic outlook have to be brought front and center, and it certainly isn’t going to be the same old incestuous circle of executives playing musical chairs who can be counted on to make that happen.

That’s why you’re seeing a guy like Caines who is conversant in the dark arts of big data and social marketing being handed the reins. The notion that someone who has been at Sony for over a decade in a digital role separate from the overall marketing responsibilities is simply antiquated in 2013.

Powell also hails from the world of digital marketing, but has broadened her aegis at Paramount to encompass TV and micro-budget films in a way that simply has no precedent in the studio universe. It might have seemed trifling not too long ago that she spearheaded low-budget fare like the Yahoo series “Burning Love,” but nowadays that’s proof of entrepreneurial acumen in a brave new media world.

As for Tsujihara, the shock that he beat out some very formidable competitors for the WB CEO role still hasn’t worn off, but it sure set the agenda for this year of transformation. Just hailing from the home video world  may seem far afield from the typical studio background, but prior to that he did pioneering work across WB Internet and videogame properties that aren’t forgotten relics on his curriculum vitae; they are central to what made him right for the job.

But digital actually isn’t the only way these executives represent a changing of the guard. To put it bluntly, it’s nice to see more faces that don’t belong to white males in high-visibility positions inside Hollywood, which has borne a consistently pale complexion since the dawn of the business. Tsujihara is a Japanese-American, Caines is an African-American and Powell is a Caucasian woman. This is not about mere tokenism, this is about offering a fresh perspective to jobs that can use it.

There are still others out there who exemplify digital and diversity credentials, like Lucy Hood, the former head of Fox Mobile who was named head of the TV Academy in June. Which isn’t to say you have to come up the digital ranks to be right for these kind of jobs; Lauren Zalaznick has spent most of her career in film and TV but has graduated  into increasingly digital-facing roles atop NBC Universal.

All of the aforementioned moves came in the last nine months. There will no doubt me more such exec movements, and the changes couldn’t come sooner.

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