A Look Beyond the Red Carpet

by Neil Fried 03/17/2014 09:31 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

An informal gathering on Capitol Hill last week with two studio executives offered members of Congress and Hill staff a peek beyond the red carpet at the business behind television and film. Beth Roberts, Executive Vice President of Business Operations at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group, and Megan Colligan, President of Domestic Marketing and Distribution at Paramount Pictures, walked the group through some of the steps a script goes through before reaching the silver or flat screen in a conversational meeting hosted by MPAA CEO Chris Dodd and moderated by House Judiciary Committee members Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Tom Marino (R-PA).

Beth Roberts likely opened some eyes to the significant investment that goes into creating a television show as well as the long odds a script has of making it to air when she recounted the 80/80/80 rule of thumb. Approximately 80 percent of scripts submitted never become a pilot, approximately 80 percent of pilots never become a series, and approximately 80 percent of series never see a second season. She also observed that while new media outlets such as Netflix provide additional outlets for shows and thus revenue to offset costs, the increased competition also makes it harder for a show to garner the audiences and longevity to reach profitability. She also noted that expectations for television shows to include action scenes, special effects, and on-location work are much higher today, in part because of what audiences are seeing in movies. All of this is certainly great for viewers and diversity of content, but also increases the challenges for creators.

Megan Colligan hit similar themes from the film perspective, noting in particular that the costs of production are only one part of the equation. In fact, ensuring audiences are aware of the movie is a large part of the process. In the case of Paranormal Activity, because the horror flick relies mostly on hand-held shots and jump scare scenes, it did not lend itself to a typical trailer. Paramount focused instead on audience reaction shots in its teasers and employed social media to generate interest. Theater roll-out was then guided in large part by excitement expressed over the Internet and the places to first receive showings were not the typical cities. The strategy paid off, with the movie turning into one of Paramount’s more profitable franchises. World War Z similarly relied on a viral campaign. When the movie lacked early buzz, star and producer Brad Pitt agreed to show up unannounced at surprise screenings. Starting with a morning showing in Atlanta, he gradually worked his way to the West Coast. Tweets from excited fans of Brad sightings trailed, prompting news coverage of the unique marketing effort. The movie went on to become one of Pitt’s highest grossing films.

Thanks to the unique event, approximately fifteen members of the House of Representatives may have a greater understanding of the effort that goes into their favorite sitcoms and movies the next time they watch the Emmys or Oscars.

House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Points to Voluntary Initiatives as Important Piece of the Anti-Piracy Puzzle

by Neil Fried 03/17/2014 07:33 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

On Thursday, March 13th, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing as part of its ongoing examination of U.S. copyright law.  The hearing focused on the more than 15-year-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act, specifically section 512 which covers the safe harbor provisions intended to “preserve strong incentives for service providers and copyright owners to cooperate to detect and deal with copyright infringements that take place in the digital networked environment.”

Testifying before the committee was a diverse panel of witnesses including two law professors, an executive at Google, a Grammy award winning composer, and two other legal counsels.  While everyone brought their own unique points of view and opinions to the hearing, the majority of members and panel witnesses agreed that content creators have every right to protect their work, and that voluntary initiatives and best practices created by both content creators and distributors is an essential part of moving us down the path of stopping the problems of piracy and intellectual property theft.

In his opening remarks, full Committee Chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, stated that “there is little disagreement over the need to expeditiously remove clearly infringing content” online, while Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said that the victims of content theft are forced to “fight tooth and nail to protect their product.” During her opening remarks, Annemarie Bridy, a law professor at the University of Idaho College of Law, said that “no one doubts that the scale of copyright infringement online is massive or that willful infringers online are adept evaders of enforcement.”

Piracy and IP theft is endangering the livelihoods of creators, not just here in America but around the world. While testifying, Grammy award winning composer, Maria Schneider, told the members of the committee that her “livelihood is being threatened by illegal distribution of [her] work that [she] cannot rein in” and that she has to “spend countless hours trying to take it down”, usually unsuccessfully.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) as someone who “does not want the federal government to get involved” seemed amazed that “we can put a man on the moon. We can transplant a heart” but that we had not been able to find technical solutions to the problems of online piracy. So what is the answer? How do we protect the content that artists and creators work so hard to make?  Part of the answer is voluntary initiatives that all stakeholders come together to create. Paul Doda, Global Litigation Counsel for Elsevier Inc., suggested that Congress “direct that there be a broadly inclusive, multi-stakeholder, standards-setting process to recommend voluntary technical measures that can reduce online infringements.” And Katherine Oyama, the Senior Copyright Policy Counsel for Google, agreed that the “combination of ‘rules of the road’ and evolving voluntary initiatives has proven itself to be an engine of economic growth for more than 15 years.”

The Motion Picture Association of America continues to look for voluntary and multi-stakeholder partners and solutions to the problems of piracy and IP theft.  We remain welcome to the Judiciary Committee’s consideration and support in our ongoing efforts.

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