Arts + Culture

Adapting to rapid change in field of entertainment

UCLA Law brings together more than 500 industry leaders for annual symposium

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Kenneth Ziffren and Stacey Snider
UCLA

Stacey Snider, chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox Film, makes a point during a conversation with Kenneth Ziffren, founding partner of a leading entertainment law firm.

As the head of a major Hollywood studio with annual revenue exceeding $8 billion, Stacey Snider, chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox Film, confronts everything from the economics of filmmaking and marketing to a new generation of consumers to the advent of technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality.

On Saturday, Snider, a 1985 UCLA Law graduate, drew on her considerable experience to give some valuable advice to many of the 500-plus entertainment lawyers, business executives and other industry leaders who attended UCLA School of Law's two-day 41st annual Entertainment Symposium, titled "Entertainment Madness: Keeping all the Balls in the Air," this past weekend.

"One size fits all doesn't work in today's marketplace," Snider said in the symposium's main address. "We have to expand our thinking to include more choices and more variety." She noted that her legal background has been key in helping her adapt and thrive in this unsettled atmosphere. "I do very much credit my three years at UCLA law school for giving me many of the tools that I have relied on in my career."

Snider talked on stage at UCLA's Freud Playhouse with Kenneth Ziffren, a 1965 UCLA Law alumnus, founding partner of leading entertainment law firm Ziffren Brittenham and the guiding force behind the law school’s Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.

Eight other presentations focused on a mix of issues at the heart of today's media landscape, including evolving approaches to content distribution, new modes of intellectual property licensing and emerging technological trends. The program drew from the expertise of more than two dozen speakers from film and television studios, law firms, talent agencies, new media powerhouses and venture capital companies.

In a first for the event, UCLA's Anderson School of Management hosted a presentation on changes in consumer preferences and the delivery of shows, which featured Peter Seymour, former Disney ABC Television Group executive vice president and CFO. He was interviewed by Sanjay Sood, professor of marketing at Anderson.

Seymour said the industry sees great potential in innovations, ranging from YouTube's recently announced live TV subscription service to "skinny bundles" of cable TV content increasingly favored by cord cutters. But he said that it is not yet clear to networks and other content providers whether these will ultimately replace or merely complement existing products. "It's early days," he said, "so I think everybody's tacking to see what is going on."

Rapid change was the overriding theme of several presentations, including the event's annual state-of-the-industry address by longtime media executive Tom Wolzien. He pointed out that mobile phones have become so prevalent that half of all households no longer have a landline and many people look straight to their cell for entertainment content.

Fortunately, Wolzien told the many attorneys on hand, such tremendous technological change opens up a universe of new business and legal questions. "There will always be jobs for lawyers," he said.

The impact of streaming platforms like Netflix also dominated much of the conversation at the symposium. One panel, discussing the “New Content Ecosystem,” dove into the question of what television is in this new era. “The consumer answer to that question is: It doesn't matter," said Brett Bouttier, president of AwesomenessTV, which produces TV shows and movies for YouTube and more traditional platforms. "I'll tell you what TV isn't," he added, "a screen on the wall anymore."

 Legal issues abound in these areas in ways both predictable and unexpected, speakers said. While one panel discussed the evolution of securing rights for film and television production — books and comics have given way to podcasts and blogs as fashionable wellsprings for source material — another discussion group found potential trouble spots in virtual reality. As VR products grow out of their infancy and into widespread use, producers are working on ways to protect customers from debilitating ailments like vertigo.

But Snider said that such emerging technologies are worth being excited about. "We've seen VR and AR (augmented reality) on the horizon. It's a hot business right now, and there are a lot of investors and new people coming into the space," she said, pointing to Fox's VR experiences involving “The Martian” and “Planet of the Apes.”

“It's thrilling, and it's mind-blowing, and it's exciting," Snider said. "It doesn't feel gimmicky; it feels like a brand-new experience."

She added, "It's no surprise that we are facing increased competition for attention — there are more ways for consumers to keep themselves busy, and there're more distractions." But her work ultimately comes down to a passion for storytelling that moves people. "That is the reason that I do it. It is really powerful and essential to the human experience for us to be able to better relate to one another by hearing stories."

This story is posted on UCLA Law’s website.

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