Chris Dodd is stepping down as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Variety has confirmed. He will be replaced by Charles Rivkin, the former assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs under President Barack Obama.
Though not as well known as Dodd, Rivkin boasts film business and Beltway ties. He was president of The Jim Henson Company and ambassador to France and Monaco, and is considered to be well connected in Washington D.C. He will join the organization on Sept. 5. Dodd will remain onboard for a short time, with a goal of completing the transition by the beginning of next year.
In an interview, Dodd said that when he joined the MPAA in 2011, he planned to serve for five years. He said he later agreed to a two-year extension through 2018 to give the trade association time to search for a successor. He noted that he will turn 73 next month, and he said that he hasn’t decided what he plans to do after he departs.
“There are two things I said I wanted to do — leave the place in a lot better shape than when I came in, and to have a smooth transition,” Dodd said, adding that “it made a lot of sense to me” to depart, as “when you are 73 or 74 you are a different person.”
He said that he will continue his post full time until then, noting that he will be in Los Angeles on Monday for a meeting that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will have at Fox on trade issues. He also said that they would be announcing a major new initiative on online piracy soon.
Dodd, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, has had a tenure marked by some controversy, and he was partly blamed for his handling of anti-piracy bills that wilted in the face of public resistance. He was also criticized for remaining silent when Sony Pictures was hacked and damaging emails were leaked online in 2014, although there was sharp disagreements among the studios who pay the MPAA’s bills on how the industry should speak with a collective voice.
He was credited with helping to strengthen Hollywood studios’ ties to China, the world’s second-biggest market for box office. Dodd assisted in the 2012 and 2015 agreements that increased the number of U.S. films that could be released in China, and gave U.S. studios a greater share of their profits. He also worked on opening markets like Vietnam, Australia and Indonesia, and pushed for language on copyright and content protection in the Trans Pacific Partnership, which was scuttled by President Donald Trump.
More recently, legislation is moving through Congress to modernize the Copyright Office, making its chief a presidential appointment with confirmation by the Senate, a move being championed by content companies.
“It is a very different world today, where people love and respect technology, but they also respect copyright,” Dodd said of his tenure. “I think the environment is substantially better.”
Dodd arrived at the MPAA just as the organization was lobbying for a major piece of anti-piracy legislation, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. A backlash saw Internet companies staging a blackout in protest, and users flooding members of Congress with millions of messages in opposition.The legislation was eventually pulled, marking a turning point in the power of the tech lobby after years in which studios and other content industries had a much easier time of winning support for their legislative agenda.
“This thing got carried away,” Dodd said. “I am not sure anyone could have made a difference at that point.”
Dodd was then under an ethics ban that prevented him from speaking to former colleagues for two years after leaving the Senate.
He recalled that when he was first approached about taking the top, he had to be talked into it. He didn’t sit on any committees in the Senate that dealt on industry issues, but he said that producer Lorne Michaels and HBO’s Richard Plepler, two longtime friends, encouraged him to do it, and Warner Bros.’ Barry Meyer and Disney’s Robert Iger offered the post to him.
“It has been a great, great experience,” Dodd said. “I have enjoyed this immensely.”
The MPAA’s budget was almost $74 million in 2015, the most recent year reported, with the bulk of its expenditures financed through dues from its studio members, including Fox, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount and Sony.
Rivkin will take the helm of the MPAA as executives at some media companies who fund the lobbying arm continue to question their return on investment at the organization, particularly in a changed landscape in which film constitutes a smaller share of their overall revenue.
After the Sony hack, there was talk of restructuring the MPAA and perhaps expanding its membership to include other types of media companies, like Netflix and Amazon, which benefit from the organization’s anti-piracy efforts. There are no concrete plans on the table, but it is the talk among studio members from time to time.
Rivkin comes from a family that has been heavily involved in public policy. His father, William Rivkin, was the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg under John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert, was general counsel of the Department of Transportation under President Barack Obama. Rivkin’s cousin is Jamie Alter Lynton, the wife of Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton.
Along with music executive Nicole Avant, Rivkin in 2008 co-chaired fundraising efforts in California for Obama’s presidential campaign. Those efforts led to their appointments as ambassadors — Avant in the Bahamas and Rivkin in France.