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Executives examine entertainment’s evolution

USC conference spotlights emerging techniques

"Forging New Frontiers" served as the theme for this year's “E2: Evolution of Entertainment" conference.

Technology has not only changed the way content is created, but also how it is distributed, marketed and consumed — a trend that will continue as devices advance and entertainment outlets evolve to respond to audience demand, according to leading media and entertainment professionals at the “E2: Evolution of Entertainment 2014” conference at USC.

The sixth annual event, hosted by the Business of Entertainment Association at the USC Marshall School of Business, brought students together with industry experts and executives from HBO, Fox Sports and Legendary Pictures, among other companies, to illuminate changes and opportunities in the entertainment sector.

Presentations at this year’s gathering, which featured the theme “Innovation: Forging New Frontiers,” covered emerging brand techniques, creating content for modern audiences and the future of sports entertainment.

Bruce Rosenblum, president of television and digital media at Legendary and chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, spoke about how TV industry has evolved from a three-network model to one that has given rise to cable and is now streaming original content from providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Xbox.

“The playing field to sell content is much broader. Over the last 10 years, the health of the television industry from a content-producer standpoint has never been better. There are more buyers, more content domestically, higher prices for our content internationally, and the digital business is growing up and becoming a source of revenue,” Rosenblum said. “It’s the gold rush all over again.”

Emerging distribution channels and a variety of content and outlets will continue, but the skills needed to succeed in the executive ranks of entertainment have remained fairly constant, he said.

“Once you get into the marketplace, what it fundamentally comes down to is relationships,” said Rosenblum, who spent close to 30 years as a Warner Bros. executive before founding the TV division of Legendary Pictures last year. “I’m now over 50 years old and the people I deal with today are the same people I dealt with 20 to 25 years ago. We’ve all treated each other fairly and with respect, and we can pick up the phone and make a deal quickly because nobody ever lied; we all had our ethics about us. Your relationships, your reputation, the reputation of the place you work, the culture of the place you work are all instrumental in effectively getting business deals done.”

Viewers select the content

Sometimes the tendency for large studios to organize divisions in separate silos can lead to promising properties being developed.

Discussions also touched on how audiences, through the use of social media, are exerting more influence on the popularity and even the selection of content, with Amazon Prime, for one, allowing subscribers to vote on pilots they would like developed into series. The empowered audience continues to select how and when they want to view entertainment and on what devices.

Major sports events, like the Super Bowl, still have the power to draw a large audience during a specific time period. Yet there are substantial challenges even with such a viewing magnet, which sports entertainment executives outlined during a panel moderated by David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC Marshall.

The rise in ticket prices, increase in the quality of at-home entertainment and possibility of “de-bundling” cable —which would allow consumers to pick stations on an a la carte basis — are also threats that those in the executive suite must keep in mind.

Michael Cooper, vice president of distribution marketing for Fox Networks, said the move may end up costing consumers more and make sustaining less popular shows impossible as stations would need verifiable hits to remain profitable.

The barriers to entry may never have been lower given the surge in new companies, business and production models — a point touched on by several talent and corporate executives — but strong interpersonal skills are still crucial, said Bruce Richmond, HBO executive vice president of West Coast production, during the panel “Creating Content for Modern Day Audiences.”

“Interpersonal skills become the biggest thing today. Teams of people need the ability to come together as a group and get their goal conquered. A huge part of what a good company can do to stay relevant is to continue to innovate themselves by working on their interpersonal skills throughout the company, which is tough. At the end of the day, you want a big company to act like an entrepreneurial company for it to continue to be successful,” Rosenblum said. “You can learn all the corporate finance and that is incredibly helpful, but the people who continue to surf around the company on the corporate side are good at bringing people together and are altruistic in a way.

“Corporate altruism,” he added, “is a term you don’t usually hear, but it works internally in a company well and it’s something we focus a lot on.”

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Executives examine entertainment’s evolution

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