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Chris Dodd Downplays MPAA Changes, Talks Meerkat, Periscope and Piracy

Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Chris Dodd downplayed reports that Hollywood’s top lobbying group was looking for ways to reframe its mission and cut costs at a press conference Tuesday at CinemaCon.

He said the organization, which reportedly has a budget of $93 million, is “constantly examining” ways to rein in spending.

“There’s nothing new about that,” he added, saying the studios that foot the bills are asking him to increase investments in some key areas of advocacy.

Top level sources, however, have told Variety that Dodd is under pressure from the six major studio chiefs to come up with ways to reduce expenditures, possibly add more members and overhaul its internal processes so it can respond more nimbly to crises such as last winter’s hack attack on Sony.

Dodd told media that he was open to bringing on new members, but did not disclose any particulars about the outreach he was undertaking to expand beyond the MPAA’s major studio core.

“I’m not going to sit here and get into who we’re talking to or what’s being said,” he said in response to a question about whether or not he wanted Netflix to join the MPAA’s ranks.

Dodd has apologized for not being more critical of the cyber breach at Sony that resulted in the dump of thousands of emails and internal documents on the Internet. He reiterated that he wished he had been more outspoken, although he indicated that he was looking to the future.

“We’ve moved on and had meetings and so forth,” he said.

He did condemn WikiLeaks’ decision last week to publish a searchable list of the Sony materials, calling it “terribly wrong” and serving “no public purpose.” Dodd noted that many of the emails are from low-level employees who have a right to privacy.

Dodd said that the U.S. government was in the best position to try to go after the website not the trade organization he runs. In the case of the WikiLeaks situation, he praised Sony officials for being “highly responsive” in communicating with the proper authorities.

Dodd was joined at the press conference by National Assn. of Theatre Owners president and CEO John Fithian, who also expressed sympathy for Sony. The studio and theater owners clashed last winter after Sony briefly pulled “The Interview” from theaters after it inspired terrorist threats and released it digitally. The comedy about an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un inspired North Korea to launch the cyber attack on Sony, investigators have said.

Sony “went through hell,” Fithian said, noting that Sony Entertainment chief Michael Lynton has assured him that “The Interview” release was “not a precedent for anything.”

The wide-ranging discussion also touched on efforts exhibitors were taking to combat piracy, including a new MPAA-backed campaign that stresses the blue-collar jobs that are impacted when movies and television are stolen.

Part of the issue with policing that kind of theft is the rise of new platforms and technologies such as live video streaming services Meerkat and Periscope which have been used to film and share “Game of Thrones” episodes and “Furious 7.”

“Periscope is scary stuff,” said Fithian.

Dodd noted that the teams behind Meerkat and Periscope have stressed that they should not be used for streaming illegally obtained content.

“We don’t want the tech world to think we have zero tolerance for new innovations and new ideas that come along,” said Dodd.

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