41st Entertainment Symposium: Adapting to Rapid Change

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Kenneth Ziffren '65 of Ziffren Brittenham and UCLA Law's Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law; and Stacey Snider '85 of Twentieth Century Fox Film

More than 500 entertainment lawyers, business executives and other industry leaders participated in UCLA School of Law's 41st Annual Entertainment Symposium on March 17 and 18.

Titled "Entertainment Madness: Keeping all the Balls in the Air," the two-day event at UCLA's Freud Playhouse featured a keynote address by UCLA Law alumna Stacey Snider '85, Chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox Film, in conversation with Kenneth Ziffren '65, founding partner of leading entertainment law firm Ziffren Brittenham and the guiding force behind UCLA Law's Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.

As the head of a major Hollywood studio with annual revenue exceeding $8 billion, Snider 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.

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Sanjay Sood of UCLA's Anderson School of Management and Peter Seymour, formerly of Disney ABC Television Group

"One size fits all doesn't work in today's marketplace," Snider said. "We have to expand our thinking to include more choices and more variety." Snider 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," she said. 

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 included more than two dozen speakers from film and television studios, law firms, talent agencies, new media powerhouses, and venture capital companies.

In a first, UCLA's Anderson School of Management hosted a presentation called the UCLA Anderson Spotlight on the Business of Entertainment. Sanjay Sood, professor of marketing at Anderson, interviewed former Disney ABC Television Group executive vice president and CFO Peter Seymour on changes in consumer preferences and the delivery of shows.

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 20170320 Entertainment Symposium Attendees DSC_0196was the overriding theme of several presentations, including the event's annual state-of-the-industry address by longtime media executive Tom Wolzien. Wolzien pointed out that mobile phones are increasing in prevalence and performance so quickly 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 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. A panel on the New Content Ecosystem dove into the question of what is television 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."

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Ken Basin of Sony Pictures Televison, Victoria Cook of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, Howard Meyers of Focus Features, Chris Parnell of Sony Pictures Television, and Howard Sanders of United Talent Agency

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 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's 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," she added. "It doesn't feel gimmicky; it feels like a brand-new experience."

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