THR's annual list of the top 50 digital power players.
Poor Reed Hastings. If only he hadn't tried to split Netflix in two, his personal stake wouldn't have plunged $640 million. It was just one of many floundering attempts by Hollywood and its partners in the past decade to navigate the digital world.
Who would have thought Rupert Murdoch's 2005 acquisition of MySpace would turn into a disaster? Or that a Finnish game company would become a Hollywood sensation via a flock of angry birds?
At any time, it seems impossible to know who's got the juice. Right now, the entertainment industry largely is operating out of fear -- witness its attempts to get Congress to back the Stop Online Piracy Act, which in many ways would curtail Internet freedom.
Digital revenues remain pennies on each dollar, but if this year's CES -- where the hottest items are web-enabled televisions -- is any indication all that could change overnight.
Which is why, instead of playing defense, Hollywood might do well to pay attention to the innovators listed below. Each has found a way to make digital technology work for them in what still is essentially the Wild West, as in, still yours for the taking.
Profiles written by Alex Ben Block, Paul Bond, Josh Feldman, Dan Frommer, Carolyn Giardina, Marisa Guthrie, Shirley Halperin, Lacey Rose, Georg Szalai and Mimi Turner
- Full List
- Content Titans
- How You Watch
- How It Gets Out There
- Who Pays the Way
- How You Connect
- Mobile Gaming
- How You Make It
- Viral Videos
- Talent Agencies
- Video Games
Arrested Development castmates Arnett, 41, and Bateman, 42, are serving up hilarity -- for a price. The pair teamed together with Ben Silverman's multimedia studio Electus in 2010 to offer comedy videos inspired by and featuring the products of paying sponsors, including Denny's, Wrigley's Orbit gum and Activision's Call of Duty.
For the latter's Elite TV service, the actors are rolling out web series including Cocked Hammers, an animated comedy about four gamer buddies who get sucked into the war-torn world of Modern Warfare 3.
An added perk for the brand and its members: the involvement of celebrity pals Justin Theroux, Peter Giles and David Koechner.
Beck ended his Fox news show june 30 amid declining ratings and an advertiser boycott. By September, he had launched GBTV, about which Wall Street analyst Richard Greenfield wrote, "Pay attention to Glenn Beck -- he's about to turn the media world upside down." Two weeks later, GBTV, which applies the cable model to an online property, boasted 230,000 subscribers, each paying $5 to $10 per month.
Beck's digital assets also include TheBlaze.com, a conservative news site that attracts 5 million uniques a month (according to comScore), and Markdown.com, where NASCAR tickets, NRA memberships and more go for deep discounts. "I don't consider [it] a digital company," Beck, 47, told an industry conference in November.
"I consider ourselves more a storytelling company and a content company. The way we deliver it is secondary." He also suggested that his focus on a new type of media empire may be three to five years ahead of its time. Says Beck, "We are on the verge of revolution."
Between them, producers Berman, 55, and Braun, 53, the former chairman of ABC Entertainment, oversaw the launch of American Idol, 24, Lost and Grey's Anatomy.
Wonderwall, their celebrity news and gossip site on MSN, clocks up to 16 million uniques a month, according to comScore.
They've since added digital women's mag Glo; Wonderwall Latino and Powerwall, a political spin on Wonderwall, and struck an estimated $100 million deal with Starcom MediaVest Group. "Digital," says Berman, "is a very profitable business for us."
Amazon may not strike as much fear as other tech players into Hollywood executives' hearts, but that may be an opportunity, as Bezos, 47, challenges big tech players such as Apple and Netflix.
Instant streaming was added to its popular Amazon Prime shipping service in 2005; and close to 13,000 titles are available to already loyal customers following a slew of content deals with big entertainment companies last year. That's less content than Netflix offers, but it comes at a fraction of the cost of a Netflix subscription.
Some analysts believe Amazon next will make a play for Starz's content as Starz's current deal with Netflix expires in February; some wonder if Amazon will launch a stand-alone video streaming service in 2012.
On the tablet side, the aggressively priced Kindle Fire clocks in at less than half the cost of an iPad. Amazon doesn't disclose sales figures, but it was the best-selling item on the site for weeks and weeks in late 2011.
When Tim Cook took over for the ailing Steve Jobs last summer, one of his first moves was to promote Cue, a 23-year Apple veteran. As the company's connection to Hollywood, Cue, 47, oversees Internet services and content initiatives, including iTunes, the App Store, iAds and iCloud.
The iTunes division is big business -- about $6 billion in annual sales -- but Cue's role goes well beyond that. His Hollywood deals and media stores add sex appeal and utility to Apple products and have the potential to help the company expand into new markets.
Apple televisions could revolutionize the TV industry as radically as the iPhone changed cellphone capability.
The 69-year-old head of IAC, which owns such big digital properties as Ask.com, City Search and Match.com, in recent years has increased his focus on content 2.0 with Ben Silverman-led multi-media studio Electus; CollegeHumor Media; Notional, the production company behind Food Network favorite Chopped; and video-sharing platform Vimeo.
Last year, he added former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with whom he ran Paramount, to his board of directors -- in a signal of just how key content is for Diller -- and the company's The Daily Beast completed a deal to create a 50-50 joint venture with Newsweek. Meanwhile, Notional created a division focused on original scripted TV content and CollegeHumor partnered with the Nintendo 3DS on 3D comedy videos. IAC's stock rose 48 percent in 2011, sending its market value to $3.4 billion.
Despite missteps late in 2011 and a decimated stock price, Netflix is still a force to be reckoned with. The company kicked off the year with its launch in the U.K. and Ireland.
BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield said in early 2012 that Netflix soon would be the 15th-most-watched TV network in the U.S. -- and a whopping No. 2 in the 20 million homes that subscribe to its streaming service.
Meanwhile, Hastings, 51, and Sarandos, 47, are plowing into original programming with upcoming series including Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove and the David Fincher-directed House of Cards in an attempt to create must-stream TV.
Huffington, 61, started 2011 with a bang when she announced the sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million.
She has since expanded local and international news coverage and launched new sites, such as HuffPo Science early in 2012, to fatten her one-stop shop.
The Huffington Post in the third quarter surpassed 35 million monthly unique visitors, according to comScore, beating out The New York Times. Huffington also hired Michael Hogan, executive digital editor of Vanity Fair, as editor in chief of Moviefone and AOL TV, which at the end of 2011 was rebranded as HuffPost TV.
Overall, "the vision is creating a great media company for the 21st century," Huffington tells THR.
Google-owned YouTube is no longer happy to be the go-to destination for user-generated content. Leveraging professional content and the increased advertising revenue opportunities that entails, it unveiled in October a first wave of deals with key players to produce genre-specific, branded channels featuring original content.
Among the big names dropped: Lionsgate, BermanBraun and Jay-Z. Full-length movies from Sony, Warner Bros., Universal and Lionsgate also made their way onto YouTube's new rental service in 2011.
A key driver in this initiative is the company's Hollywood ambassador, Kyncl, 41, former vp content at Google, global head of content at YouTube in 2010 and a Netflix alum.
To sell or not to sell? That was the question that the video website's owners News Corp., Disney and Comcast/NBCUniversal (which has no managerial control) faced in 2011.
The final decision was not to sell, but the caliber of bidders -- Google, Amazon and Dish Network -- might have been a vote of confidence for Kilar, 39, and the service his team has built. The site, which logs 31 million uniques a month, started making investments in original programming last year, such as its first longform original A Day in the Life With Morgan Spurlock.
It also became the first major aggregator of Spanish-language programming and launched a Japanese streaming service.
Plus, Hulu nabbed the entire library of NBC comedy Community in a digital syndication deal, and management says the Hulu Plus subscription service in 2011 crossed the 1 million-subscriber mark ahead of schedule.
Thompson, 54, a former presidentof PayPal, has just taken the helm at Yahoo. His mission: Make the troubled pioneer as relevant as Google and Facebook and staunch the hemorrhaging of ad dollars.
The site's push into web videos ought to help; ditto the announcement that Tom Hanks is behind its new animated show Electric City.
Also on the plus side: 26 million already watch Yahoo's signature news and information programs, including omg!, NOW and Daily Ticker.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 has become much more than a video-game console; users spend half their time with nongame content.
A 13-year Microsoft veteran, Whitten helped grow online entertainment service Xbox Live -- which delivers games, movies, TV shows and music while connecting nearly 40 million members worldwide -- into a key part of the tech giant's entertainment strategy.
Just in time for the holidays, more TV and video content was added via new apps from a slew of entertainment partners, including HBO Go, Epix, UFC and YouTube. Adding the Kinect controller for Xbox 360 to the mix brings voice and motion control to the experience.
What's left for Zuckerberg, 27, and Sandberg, 42, to conquer? Plenty. An IPO seems more imminent than ever, and Facebook still is methodically determining its role in the film/TV distribution business.
That doesn't mean, of course, that the behemoth hasn't made some key strides recently. In March, Warner Bros. launched a movie rental application for Facebook, debuting with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.
In July, Paramount made the full slate of Jackass films available for rental on the site along with some exclusive special features.
Facebook showed interest in continuing to play in the content space last fall as Zuckerberg was joined by Netflix's Reed Hastings and Spotify's Daniel Ek to demonstrate how users can share what they're watching and listening to via a new class of applications.
At 85, attenborough is a devout techie. Flying Monsters 3D, a documentary he narrated, combined 3D imagery with CGI to immerse audiences in a prehistoric world and was the first 3D program to win a BAFTA Award.
The Bachelor King 3D, which he wrote and directed, takes viewers inside the world of King penguins and is due for big-screen release in 2012.
For both U.K. productions, he teamed with Atlantic Productions' Anthony Geffen, and together they are leading an influential boom of 3D documentaries. Next up for Attenborough: Kingdom of Plants 3D.
"We wanted to use 3D in time-lapse, so that the plants move," he says. "They look sensational. They always do -- but in 3D, they look absolutely mind-blowing."
"Broadcasting is the future of 3D," announced Oscar winner Cameron, 57, in April at the launch of Cameron/Pace Group, the company founded with director of photography Pace.
CPG develops, sells and leases 3D production technology and developed the Fusion 3D camera system used on Avatar, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Hugo and live broadcasts like the X Games. CPG's Shadow D camera system effectively piggybacks 2D and 3D in a single-camera rig system, so a live event can be filmed in both modes -- a significant budget saver that utimately will help bring 3D to more living rooms sooner rather than later.
Sometimes bigger is better. In an era of Netflix, iPads and home theaters, audiences still gravitate to Imax's ultra-premium outsize movie experience, and that allegiance has taken the company's stock from 59 cents a decade ago to its current $20 a share.
Imax has come a long way since debuting in museum and science center theaters in 1970: Under the watch of CEO Gelfond, 57, who assumed the role in April 2009, the company raked in $600 million in 2011 from its 450 commercial screens, twice the 2010 take.
Gelfond expects to roll out 100 more screens every year for the foreseeable future. "We're quite happy with where we're going," he says.
Christopher Nolan was the first director to shoot a major movie -- 30 minutes of The Dark Knight -- using Imax cameras. Although insiders say it added about $3 million to the film's production budget, Nolan did it again: For The Dark Knight Rises, opening in July, he shot half the movie with Imax equipment.
Katzenberg has been an early and influential champion of digital 3D. In a forward-thinking initiative, he retooled his studio five years ago to make all its movies in 3D beginning with the 2009 release Monsters vs. Aliens.
But while Katzenberg, 61, is a 3D enthusiast, he also is a realist. On one hand, he applauds the fact that "we have a continuing trend of filmmakers excited about the opportunities of telling stories in 3D."
Citing "outstanding" contributions from Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay, he tells THR, "We'll see that again in 2012."
At the same time, he warns that bad 3D hurts the whole industry. Filmmakers and studios have to earn the trust of the audience, he says, which is essential if moviegoers are expected to pay 3D's premium ticket prices.
Under Katzenberg's auspices, DWA also is an early adopter of NexGen computing technology, which is entering the studio's pipeline. There is a saying in the movie industry: "Better, faster, cheaper -- pick two."
With NexGen technology, says Katzenberg, he can pick all three: "This is an exciting application for DWA and actually has much greater implications in the larger field of high-end complex computer graphics."
Its stock repeatedly has been hit by news of underperforming 3D film releases. But as the 3D landscape continues to evolve, one constant in the process is RealD, the largest provider of 3D technologies to film exhibitors and increasingly also to electronics manufacturers and PC game developers.
Recent adoption by filmmakers including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg should ensure the vitality of the company founded by Lewis, 48, in 2003.
Over the past year, RealD has partnered with Disney on the upcoming 3D release of Beauty and the Beast and pushed further internationally, striking a deal to outfit up to 600 screens across France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Before Murdoch was making headlines for his role in the phone-hacking scandal, he was one of the most well-respected, digitally astute media execs in the U.K. Rupert's 39-year-old son was almost entirely responsible for championing 3D broadcasting and production at a time when rivals were playing catch-up with HDTV.
While chief executive of BskyB, he positioned the company at the cutting edge of technology, where it remains. Under his chairmanship, Europe's leading 3D broadcaster offers free 3D to premium HD customers and is creating an unrivaled bank of sports, music, ballet and live music entertainment for its Sky 3D channel.
But all this has been obscured by the increasingly ominous cloud of scandal enveloping the former heir apparent to the Murdoch throne, and for him, the big question now is not, "What's next in the digital revolution?" but "What did you know, and when did you know it?"
At age 69, the Oscar-winning filmmaker delivered Hugo, a family movie about cinema history that allowed him to bring an auteurist approach to 3D technology.
That the big-budget film has thus far grossed only $65 million worldwide leaves open the question of whether other less genre-bound filmmakers will get similar chances to push those boundaries at that scale -- but critics have praised him for pioneering the use of 3D in serious film.
Under Stringer's leadership, Sony has championed 4K imagery, which delivers more than four times the resolution of today's HDTV.
"All of a sudden the consumer and professional worlds are coming together," he says. Sony's 4K home-projection system previews in January at Sony's booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Its highly anticipated F65 professional 4K digital inematography camera is slated to ship before Feb. 1. "4K will catch on because the precision of the picture is so exciting for the home theater," says Stringer, 69.
"That will create excitement at the high end -- people will get used to 4K in movie theaters."
Tsujihara, 47, and his team fired on all cylinders in 2011. They were first out of the gate with titles (Green Lantern, Horrible Bosses) for UltraViolet, the online movie rental service, and in May, they bought Flixster, the movie-buff social network that gives Tsujihara's marketing team direct access to its consumers.
Warner's now offers movies directly through Facebook -- the first studio to do so -- and, building on that relationship, developed Aim High, a live-action series that allows Facebookers to see their profile pictures and those of friends -- on posters or high school lockers -- throughout the show.
"We have a built-in audience that never knew life without a Facebook page," says McCormack, 42, who oversees MTV's channels as well as VH1, CMT and Logo.
"If you don't put out the right product, they call you on it." Buzzy content like Jersey Shore and the multiplatform O Music Awards, which let users (more than 22 million for last November's second annual show) vote for the most digitally innovative artists, keep MTV and its nearly 100 million Facebook followers ahead of the multiplatform curve.
For 46-year-old Flannigan, who heads digital strategy for Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land, Tosh.0 host Daniel Tosh is the ace in the hole.
His show averages 4.2 million viewers, up 63 percent from the previous season and 250 percent from season one.
The Tosh, Futurama and The Colbert Report iPhone apps have been downloaded by more than 2 million users, and with the presidential election season under way, expect spikes in Jon Stewart's Daily Show thanks to Indecision 2012.
Lanzone jumped into the spotlight in March when CBS bought Clicker, the guide to online shows he founded in 2009, and, as part of the deal, the Eye brought him on board as president of Interactive.
The 40-year-old former CEO of Ask.com now has a global reach, overseeing CBS.com, GameSpot, CNET, TV.com and CBSSports.com.
With hundreds of millions of unique visitors worldwide each month, CBS Interactive is a global top-10 web player. And instead of joining the other broadcasters as a co-owner of Hulu, CBS has struck selective deals for library content with Netflix and Amazon -- protecting both profits and ratings.
in 2009, Levinsohn moved from the role of president of Fox Interactive Media to become the digital content head of Fox Filmed Entertainment.
He is responsible for managing the online, mobile and gaming aspects of all content created for the film division. Last year, his team worked on a deal that will see Netflix resurrect Arrested Development.
"Bringing a classic show back to production on new episodes exclusively for Netflix customers is a game changer," he said at the time. Levinsohn, 45, also expanded a distribution deal with Netflix that made some past seasons of Fox hit show Glee and FX's Sons of Anarchy, as well as older series, available for instant streaming.
Proclaimed a "media visionary of 2011" at the inaugural Media Festival held in Montreux, Switzerland, Miller, 55, and News Corp. began the year debuting The Daily, an iPad-only digital newspaper app -- a first of its kind.
Steve Jobs, then ailing, was reportedly very pleased with the app -- high praise from the late design-oriented CEO. The Daily has since launched an Android version and a social news application for Facebook.
Miller also presided over the sale of the money-losing MySpace and took a hands-on approach guiding Hulu (a joint venture with Disney and NBCUniversal) through its growing pains.
Reporting directly to chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, Miller's team also worked on the CES 2012 news that Microsoft's Xbox Live is getting apps for four News Corp. content entities -- Fox, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and gaming-focused IGN.
Moore, 42, who began her career at HBO in the marketing department before going to Flooz.com (where she worked with MTV's Dermot McCormack), returned to HBO in 2003 as director of brand development.
These days, she oversees digital strategy, development and operation for HBO.com and HBO Go, the network's TV Everywhere app, which has reached 98 percent coverage, has been downloaded upward of 5.5 million times and offers more than 1,400 hours of series, movies and documentaries for HBO subscribers.
Allowing only HBO subscribers to access the network's content online -- the so-called authentication model -- was key for HBO executives as they sought to protect lucrative subscriber fees while satisfying consumers' desire to watch the network's popular shows, including Game of Thrones and True Blood on mobiles and tablets.
"There's a lot at stake," says Moore. (And now premium cable rival Showtime, already having pared down a streaming deal with Netflix, has launched its own authentication service.)
HBO's social footprint has grown to more than 55 million connections in 2011, primarily driven by Facebook as well as Twitter and GetGlue. Last year, HBO launched HBO Connect, an experimental platform that aggregates social activity around key shows.
The longtime paramount marketing executive, 36, has overseen innovative social media and marketing efforts for Paramount films such as Paranormal Activity, Super 8, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and now The Devil Inside.
In particular, her work on 2007's Paranormal Activity -- which included an Internet campaign that asked the public to demand that the horror flick play in their town -- is credited with the initial success of the found-footage franchise, which launched in 2009 and has spawned two follow-up films.
In December, Powell was promoted to president of Paramount Digital Entertainment and Insurge Pictures, the studio's microbudget distributor that was launched after the wild success of Paranormal. The Devil Inside and Justin Bieber were released under the Insurge label.
For now, the segment, charged with building digital experiences for the next generation of Disney fans, continues to lose money -- $308 million for the fiscal year ended Oct. 1, 2011, with the company vowing to turn a profit in 2013.
But hit video games like Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and Cars 2 in 2011 already started boosting console game results, and social gaming arm Playdom is beginning to crank out popular games like Gardens of Time, which became the most recommended Facebook game of the year.
Disney Mobile's Where's My Water?, featuring the alligator Swampy, reached the top of the paid-apps chart for three weeks in the fall and was downloaded more than 6 million times between Christmas and New Year's Day.
Also helping results is stronger traffic to Disney Online, which attracted nearly 37.8 million unique visitors in December (its best month ever), and news of an alliance that brings Disney.com and YouTube together to fund premium content.
When Steve Burke and BobGreenblatt moved NBCU's digital efforts away from original content to focus on support for NBC's existing shows, Zigler, 53, managed to continue innovating.
The NBC.com site has been nominated for 17 Emmys and won three (for web content related to 30 Rock, The Biggest Loser and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon).
In a major innovation in April, NBC launched the beta version of NBC Live, a viewing experience in which fans are able to interact with one another, participate in polls and answer trivia, all in real time along with NBC programming.
Beckstrom's three-year reign at ICANN, which orchestrates the Internet address system, ends in July. It's not been without controversy. Beckstrom, 50, introduced the .xxx address suffix for porn sites and spearheaded an initiative to allow just about any word to follow the dot in a web address.
The move to exponentially expand the number of generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, has the entertainment industry in a state over who will control .movie, .film and .music.
The hefty $185,000 application fee, an annual fee of $25,000 and technical costs of up to $1 million for running a portion of the Internet would mean added costs for entertainment companies, but the potential revenue upside is unclear. Beckstrom hasn't disclosed what he'll do next, but he says the final months of his tenure will be guided by the principle "One world, one Internet."
When neophyte filmmaker Nick Lewis needed cash to shoot his soccer documentary Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story, he pitched the concept on Kickstarter.com. Within 60 days, he had $225,000 from thousands of strangers, including actor Seth Meyers. Chen, 35, with co-founders Yancey Strickler, 33, and Charles Adler, 38, is pioneering "crowdfunding," whereby folks invest (donate, really) in what they consider worthy artistic projects.
Since launching in 2009, Kickstarter has seen users pledge $45 million to help fund 4,700 film projects, and three funded by Kickstarter made the 2012 Oscar documentary shortlist, a first for the company.
He has cautioned industry CEOs that making too much TV content available online could ultimately affect TV viewership. And he has criticized Hollywood for making too many 3D movies and charging "excessive ticket prices."
Greenfield, 38, is one of Wall Street's most outspoken voices on the risks and opportunities in the industry's digital realm. He stands out because he challenges the status quo and openly questions companies' strategies.
His predictions for 2012: TV viewing will begin to decline amid increased online video viewing; Netflix will redefine its image with original programming success; and Dish or Verizon will launch a virtual multichannel video-programming service as an alternative to facilities-based pay TV providers.
The 44-year-old co-founder of LinkedIn has become a sort of divining rod for finding hot social-media properties that come out of nowhere and change Hollywood.
Hoffman arranged the first meeting between Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel, who became an investor in Facebook -- Hoffman invested alongside him. He also put money into and joined the board of Zynga during its first round of funding.
He joined Greylock Partners two years ago and runs its $20 million Discovery Fund. Hoffman's other investments have included Flickr, Digg, Ning and Last.fm.
If the old Hollywood dream was to act and direct, the new one, which Kutcher, 33, and Timberlake, 30, have realized, might be to invest in Internet companies and make yourself relevant in social media: Timberlake has 7.8 million Twitter followers and Kutcher 9.1 million.
After a few early dot-com failures (Internet phone service Ooma, animated web show Blah Girls), Kutcher runs A Grade Investments with Madonna's manager, Guy Oseary, and has a portfolio including home runs like Skype and Foursquare, and startups with potential like Airbnb, which lets people rent out their apartments or spare rooms online, and Hipmunk, a travel search engine.
In June, Timberlake made a risky investment in former News Corp. albatross MySpace with Specific Media. At CES 2012, they unveiled MySpace TV, a social-TV service that will allow viewers to chat about what they are watching while they are watching it.
Bing, the underdog search engine, could become Hollywood's favorite pet if Lu, 50, succeeds in his goal to expand the site's reach and relevance. And he's got parent company Microsoft's money to do it with.
In 2010, the company joined with Jay-Z to promote his book with an interactive game and ad placements in 15 cities around the world. In 2011, Bing partnered with AMC's The Walking Dead in an online contest whose prize was a walk-on role on the series, and a deal with The CW included integrated product placement (for example, characters "Binged" instead of "Googled").
Along with Digital Sky, now known as Mail.ru Group, the 51-year-old Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist runs its spinoff, DST Global.
Through his companies, Milner has invested in some of the hottest tech firms and IPOs of recent years: Facebook, Zynga, Spotify and Groupon, as well as a Russian Facebook equivalent called VKontakte. In August, he led an $800 million funding round for Twitter.
Morgan, 47, could be one of the most important people you've never heard of. Simulmedia compares real-time television-viewing data against Nielson ratings, Tribune Media Services and even metrics from the U.S. Census to make predictions about what types of ads will be relevant to individual households.
By the company's estimates, Simulmedia has achieved a 75 percent increase in effectiveness for its television ad clientele. The ultimate goal: Allow TV ads to be as targetable as web ads.
While most digital innovators are merging practices from "old media" with new online distribution, Morgan is going the other way, taking what's best about new-media advertising and making TV spots that much more valuable.
In 1999, Parker co-founded Napster and forever changed the music industry. Five years later, he became Facebook's first president, bringing in the initial round of funding that would help launch a company now valued at nearly $100 billion.
In 2010, he saw an opportunity to close a circle and invested $15 million in Spotify, a legal service for online music. Not every venture he has backed has been a winner, but as one-sixth of Founders Fund, which has issued four suites of capital since 2005 totaling more than $1 billion, the famous line attributed to Parker (as played by Justin Timberlake) in The Social Network seems particularly apt: "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? A billion dollars."
Celebrities and Twitter already go hand in hand, but under Costolo, 48, the social media monster continues to build its global reach to create a powerful analytics tool and marketing machine -- and create revenue for its popular service with Promoted Tweets, Trends and Accounts, targeted to reach the most relevant followers.
Paramount launched its first marketing campaign using Twitter's new tools for Super 8, aiding its $259.7 million worldwide box-office take. Research firm eMarketer has estimated Twitter's worldwide ad revenue will hit $260 million in 2012, up from $45 million in 2010.
With nearly 1.9 million Twitter followers, Day is demonstrating serious new-media staying power. Her popular sitcomlike web series about gamers, The Guild, now in its fifth season, is distributed on Microsoft's Xbox Live, MSN and Hulu, where episodes rack up some 200,000 views each.
Electronic Arts turned to Day to create a six-episode digital series, Dragon Age: Redemption, connected with BioWare's Dragon Age video games. Day, 32, and her Knights of Good company also were included among recipients of YouTube's new slate of original channels. The name of hers: Geek and Sundry.
"Plenty of websites post celebrity photos, but the celebrities don't get any of the benefits," says Ellis, 40. That's why he created WhoSay, which hosts free, easy-to-update online content for invite-only celebs like Tom Hanks, Enrique Iglesias, Stan Lee, Steve Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rihanna.
WhoSay stars collectively boast 570 million fans across Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other platforms, and their pages draw 10 million unique users each month. All those eyeballs, he says, will be worth money one day through endorsements, advertising and e-commerce, and WhoSay will split the revenue with its celebrity partners.
Iskold, 38, gets social TV. His New York-based GetGlue website and mobile app is like FourSquare for TV: Users "check in" -- that is, announce they're watching a particular show (or movie or song) via the mobile app or site and can share their check-ins, ratings and reviews on Twitter and Facebook.
Users checked in 100 million times in 2011. Seventy-five broadcast and 10 movie studios are working with GetGlue to promote thier shows and reward fans with exclusive offers and stickers.
Harnessing dual passions for technology -- he started a computer games software business when he was 14 -- and movies, Needham co-founded the Internet Movie Database in 1990 and sold it to Amazon in 1998 for an undisclosed mix of cash and stock.
IMDb, the go-to site for information on movies, TV and actors, lists 2 million entertainment titles, attracts 110 million unique visitors globally each month and has a paid-subscriber level. Its mobile app has been downloaded 30 million times. Needham, 44, also oversees the Internet's top box-office reporting site, BoxOfficeMojo, which IMDb purchased in 2008.
Finland-based Hed, 34, has infiltrated the market with the same force and dexterity players use to hurl the winged creatures in Rovio's Angry Birds, one of the most popular casual games for mobile devices.
With estimates of 400 million to 600 million downloads to date, the Hollywood opportunities are endless: Rovio purchased Finnish animation studio Komba, hired former Marvel Studios chair David Maisel to help develop an animated TV series and an eventual feature film and had a tie-in with Fox Animation's Rio. The company also is believed to be eyeing an IPO sooner or later.
Chicago-born Pincus, a regular at the annual Allen & Co. media and tech mogul retreat in Sun Valley, launched his social gaming power-house in 2009 and took it public in 2011 in a closely watched IPO.
Analysts predict Zynga will continue to dominate the social gaming space; its 232 million monthly users play Mafia Wars, FrontierVille and CityVille, the largest social game in the world with 75 million monthly active players. Hollywood has been taking note: The San Francisco-based company has increased its integration deals with studios, TV networks and music companies.
In 2011, Pincus added DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg to the board, launched in-game promotional partnerships with Paramount, DreamWorks Animation and Columbia Pictures, and worked with Lady Gaga to debut several tracks from her Born This Way album on FarmVille. Pincus has said he wants Zynga to become a verb synonymous with "playing," the way "Google" means "search online."
Drabinsky, 53, is convinced that postproduction houses like Deluxe will evolve into data hubs where every aspect of a digital project can be managed.
"When I look at the future," he says, "there are opportunities across the whole production/postproduction/distribution pipeline for providing more services in a data environment.
As digital platforms grow, I think you'll see postproduction companies becoming more like technology businesses." Deluxe, one of the world's largest postproduction conglomerates with operations in North America, India, Australia and Europe, is leading the way, offering color correction, digital effects, compression, authoring, archiving and asset-management services.
The 50-year-old Oscar-winning director in 2011 produced The Adventures of Tintin, the performance-capture blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg that has earned $331.3 million worldwide.
Now the New Zealander, whose The Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed more than $2.9 billion, is working on one of 2012's most anticipated films: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. On his return to Middle-earth, Jackson packed 3D technology -- Red Epic cameras on 3Ality rigs -- and plans to film entirely at 48 frames per second.
(That's double the standard rate; proponents say it offers a more truthful image.) Hobbit will be the first major digital feature film lensed in this manner.
Lucas, 67, has pushed technological barriers as a filmmaker and entrepreneur for nearly four decades.
He used Star Wars to launch Industrial Light & Magic into a cutting-edge special-effects company; was the first to make and show movies using digital capture and presentation; and has won more than two dozen Academy Awards for innovations, including the development of image-based modeling software.
Now Lucas has employed state-of-the-art visual effects to create airborne battle scenes for Red Tails and significantly raised the bar on digital 3D conversions for the February rerelease of Star Wars.
DECE, a consortium that includes Sony, Lionsgate, Paramount, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros., in the fall launched UltraViolet. The cloud-based movie access system creates virtual lockers for its customers, allowing viewers to buy once and subsequently access their purchase on a number of platforms and devices.
There are kinks to work out, but Singer says, "The entertainment industry has made it so you go online, you rent it, you watch, you're done. You are locked to a platform and can't share with your family. But with UltraViolet, we took the friction out of collecting a digital media library."
A cursory viewing of any number of viral videos -- with their irreverent tone, ramshackle aesthetics and simple approach to narrative -- might give the impression that fame in the digital video world largely rests on luck. But the founders of Maker Studios, a Culver City digital production company that is home to several YouTube stars, say that lasting online stardom is serious business.
"When I am meeting talent, the first thing I want to know is, how committed are they to it?" says Lisa Donovan, who co-founded Maker in July 2009 with CEO Danny Zappin. Zappin says that when mainstream talent tries to cross over on YouTube for self-serving reasons, audiences see through it, whereas with successful YouTube personalities, viewers "feel like they are talking to normal people."
Success on the video-sharing website requires dedication, says Donovan, along with a willingness to show a personal side that some might be loath to reveal. "Do you understand you have to engage with your audience?" she says. "This isn't TV and this isn't film."
But hitting it big online can lead to work in those mediums. Donovan would know: She parlayed her success on YouTube -- where her channel, under the moniker LisaNova, has received 200 million views -- into a stint on Fox's MADtv in 2007. Other Internet video sensations to cross over include Justine Ezarik (known as iJustine), who has appeared on Law & Order: SVU and Criminal Minds, and Kevin Wu (KevJumba), who was a contestant on the 17th cycle of CBS' The Amazing Race.
Maker has 200 employees and operates a full-service studio that its stable of YouTube personalities uses to shoot videos. It's a straightforward business model: Talent has access to nearly everything needed to make those clips -- from extras to costumes -- and in exchange, Maker takes a portion of the ad revenue they generate.
The company declines to discuss financials, but COO Courtney Holt stresses that Maker is "very friendly with talent; we try to be transparent with them. We make money in building out these brands." Maker is home to several notable YouTube personalities, including comedian Peter Shukoff, who posts clips under the name NicePeter that pair historical figures in absurdist rap battles (think: Darth Vader vs. Adolf Hitler). Shukoff's clips have been viewed 343 million times. Another, Ray William Johnson, best known for Equals Three, a series that offers commentary on viral videos, has 5.1 million subscribers, the most of any YouTube personality.
In October, YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, announced that as part of its $100 million slate of new programming, Maker had secured three new channels, including recently launched Tutele (bilingual cultural programming) and The Mom's View.
As the website evolves, Zappin believes it will morph into a hybrid of television and the Internet. But ultimately, success in the realm still will require forging a deep connection with audiences. "A lot of traditional people will look at YouTube and the people that are successful and won't see that as talent," he says, before emphasizing, "But we are looking for talented people."
Mocking L.A. life's mundanities has become David Wittman's calling card. The film and commercial music scorer made a name for himself last summer when his cheeky DIY video "Whole Foods Parking Lot" went viral (sample rhyme: "I'm riding slow in my Prius/All-leather, tinted windows, you can't see us/Everybody's trying to park you can feel the tension/I'm in electric mode, can't even hear the engine").
He recently debuted a follow-up called "Yoga Girl," also shot partly guerrilla-style in heavily trafficked locations near his Santa Monica home such as Urth Caffe, which includes the rap, "Your aura's glowin' your tarea steady flowin'/I signed you up for my newsletter without you knowin'."
Why another jab at yuppiedom? "The yoga folks are a trip," Wittman, 37, tells THR. "They're these caffeinated rich girls showing up in BMWs, finishing their lattes, double-parking, being mean on their cell phones -- then they run into this yoga class and all of a sudden they're centered and spiritual. It's basically the irony of Westside culture."
And now the East is calling, with Madison Avenue enlisting the Bay Area native and his Fog and Smog collective to write and star in a Hyundai ad -- though he's not giving up his day job just yet.
"The idea is, let's do something where there are no boundaries, and we can really collectivize and see what comes of it -- that's the path we're on," he says. "It's an amazing time because with YouTube you can get stuff out and connect quickly, but it's also a slippery slope because if you turn it into a job, then it may lose some of what makes it fun."
Tiger Woods crashes his car as his wife chases him with a golf club. Beyonce gives birth to her first child in a New York hospital. It's the big story of the day, except there's no video footage … until suddenly an animated 3D clip pops up and becomes a viral sensation.
These are the brainchild of Jimmy Lai, 62, the Hong Kong and Taiwanese tabloid king (think a more fun, more charming but less political Rupert Murdoch) who runs Next Media. Lai had the idea in 2007, but it took two years and $30 million to develop a proprietary system that could render simple animation in minutes (versus hours for Pixar's cinema-quality animation).
Launched in November 2009, Next struck gold when its Woods video went viral that month, scoring more than 2.5 million views on YouTube. Other winners include Charlie Sheen's Plaza Hotel meltdown and a piece on passengers with "airport rage" from invasive security checks.
Next's clunky 3D animation might bear only a passing resemblance to the real people and places, but the style has become so recognizable it has been parodied on everything from Parks and Recreation to The Good Wife and copied by established networks to visualize things like drone attacks on al-Qaida terrorists.
While the animation looks simple, Next Media is a lean and sophisticated operation, going from concept to finished product in just a few hours. Next produces 10 to 15 minutes of animation a day, an astonishing number by the standards of film and TV production.
Popularity came quickly for Next, but profits have proved elusive. In fact, when the Woods video hit big, Lai hadn't yet figured out what to charge news outlets for usage, coming up with $300 on the spur of the moment. Next makes some money on advertising and by creating the occasional custom videos, but the revenue doesn't come close to offsetting expenses.
Lai's answer is to grow first and worry about profits second. In November, he established a beachhead in the U.S. with Big Apple Daily, a New York City-centric site staffed by two local editors, and added News Direct, which offers straightforward news animation as an alternative to the sensational fare on the main channel.
The early response has been so-so. A couple of videos have scored more than 20,000 views, but many have languished, recording just a few hundred views on YouTube.
This gets to the heart of Next Media's dilemma: Generating viral hits
for sensational stories hasn't translated into a steady audience. For Next to become a profit center, Lai needs to figure out a way to turn a novelty into a regular destination.
Still, Lai thinks he's hit on the future. "This is like watching a video game," he says. "But it's the news!"
He made weibo (way-bwah), China's Twitter-like micro-blogs, the web's biggest buzzword in 2011. A journalist-turned-tech tycoon, Chao, 45, led Sina to become the country's most influential social networking service with 230 million users and counting. A power tool of civilian journalism and social accountability, Sina users shame government cover-ups and interact with their favorite celebs.
Super blogger/Internet voice of a generation
He races cars, sells books by the tens of millions and releases rock songs. The most-read blogger in the world, with well over 300 million hits, Han, 29, is hailed as the voice of a generation. A subtle critic of the suppression of artistic freedom, particularly in the realm of film, he is closely followed in times of political unrest.
A Stanford Business School grad, Koo, 45, founded Youku, the YouTube of China, which boasts more than 200 million visitors. He recently signed deals with Warner Bros. and DreamWorks to bring Hollywood films like Kung Fu Panda to the site and is developing original content and a paid premium on-demand service.
Co-founder and CEO, Baidu
Li, 43, runs Baidu, China's state-endorsed search engine, which sees some 500 million daily users. The country's second-richest man, worth $9.2 billion according to Forbes, he has made bold forays in recent years, including the financing of iQiyi.com, China's first Hulu clone. In November, iQiyi partnered with Paramount to secure exclusive digital rights to Transformers: Dark of the Moon -- a promising milestone for legitimate Internet distribution in China.
While CAA works on digital content distribution, social media management and branded entertainment for its clients, the company has a unique focus: incubating digital startups. Michael Yanover, head of business development for the agency, says that while the companies CAA has incubated have been built with an eye toward profit, there has been a "dual benefit of providing a service to many clients and nonclients."
He says Creative Mobile Labs, which launched in 2011, fits that bill in this respect: The firm brings Hollywood talent together with application developers to create content for mobile platforms.
"It is actually providing something to our clients that didn't exist before," says Yanover, who oversees a team of about 10 people. The company also has incubated WhoSay, a social media service for celebrities and influencers, and Funny or Die, the ubiquitous humor website. In each case, CAA has a stake in the company as a founder.
At ICM, the goal is "to take our clients' artistry and find new avenues for it -- and hopefully new monetizable avenues," says George Ruiz, senior vp business affairs and head of new media at the agency. He is ICM's sole agent dedicated to the digital realm on a full-time basis, though about 20 agents from various disciplines also work in the space.
Ruiz has worked with some of his traditional acting clients, including Felicia Day, to broaden the scope of their digital projects. Day, for example, is the creator, writer and star of The Guild, an award-winning web series that was started in 2007 and centers on a group of online gamers.
Along the way, Ruiz has cut deals for the series with Netflix and Hulu, and it can be seen on Xbox Live, iTunes, YouTube and Amazon. There's also a comic book from Darkhorse Comics. "Every project has its own needs, but we really like to approach this where digital is the starting point, and we can take it other places," Ruiz says.
Paradigm did away with a formal digital department in 2009 because the digital arena "is a huge panorama -- you couldn't have three or four people who are focused on the entire client list," says Andrew Ruf, head of the agency's finance department.
He says every agent is expected to be conversant in the digital realm, serving clients' social media, licensing and distribution needs. For agency client Katherine Heigl, that meant helping develop "Katherine Heigl Hates Balls," an irreverent public service video about neutering dogs that debuted on Funny or Die in November and racked up nearly 1 million views.
Paradigm represents Alliance Entertainment, a distributor of music and movies that is co-owned by Platinum Equity and the Gores Group, the respective investment firms of Tom Gores and Alec Gores, brothers of Paradigm CEO Sam Gores. The agency is helping Alliance transition into digital distribution; the company will look to acquire original content.
UTA lays claim to a handful of firsts: It was the first major agency to form an online entertainment division (2006) and a social media practice (2011). Brent Weinstein, head of UTA's digital media department, says the company's willingness to stake out territory ahead of competitors sets it apart.
"The agency has always been very innovative and very aggressive about being leaders in the digital space, even when it wasn't necessarily in vogue and when other companies were taking a more conservative wait-and-see approach," says Weinstein, who oversaw formation of the online entertainment division before decamping for a two-year stint at 60Frames Entertainment, the web video startup UTA incubated (he returned to UTA when 60Frames folded in 2009).
UTA's digital department has six agents including Ophir Lupu, who joined the company in November after departing CAA, where he was co-head of the video game department.
SuzAnn Brantner heads WME's digital division, overseeing a department that includes six people and takes a full-service approach to all things digital: "We are a digital source for every client and every department."
Her department's work ranges from securing buyers for digital content to finding distribution for material that has been produced. For former agency client Lisa Kudrow, that meant cutting a deal with Lexus-owned branded entertainment website LStudio.com to screen the actress' improvised comedy web series, Web Therapy.
The Webby award-winning series, which launched in 2008, was later aired on Showtime -- a deal the agency also cut. "Branded entertainment is becoming an incredible growth engine for high-quality digital content," says Brantner. WME also has secured funding for clients such as Amy Poehler, who have cut deals with YouTube as part of its new original channel push.
Early MTV music makers couldn't monetize costly videos, but Vevo was a game changer, producing ad revenue for YouTube clips; it has paid out $100 million to artists and labels since its 2009 launch. Sony, UMG and EMI have a stake, and Caraeff, 36, has seen viewers double to 63 million uniques as Vevo delves into live events, original programming and Xbox integration.
Sell songs to a public used to getting music for free? At 28, Ek, the Swede who founded cloud-based streaming service Spotify, proved it was possible. His 3-year-old, $2 billion company now accounts for half of all music sold in Sweden and boasts 2.5 million paying customers globally. It launched in the U.S. in 2011 with Facebook and all four major labels signed on.
Since its 2002 launch, Shazam has helped more than 175 million users instantly identify 1 billion songs and spend $100 million on digital music. Under Fisher, 42, the service expanded to television, where "tagging" the screen will bring up credits, brand info and bonus content. NBCUniversal
and Super Bowl advertisers are on board. Next up: a Shazam player.
Director of content partnerships, Android
A well-known player in the litigious world of licensing as the former chief counsel for YouTube, Levine, 43, is now applying her "pitbull" negotiating skills to business development at Google Music (launched in fall 2011), where she deals with the music industry. So far, Universal Music, Sony, EMI and such prominent indie labels as Merge, Matador and XL have signed on.
In Internet radio, Westergren, 46, defines forward-thinking. He launched Pandora 11 years ago, and today, some 125 million users spend an average of 18 hours a month tuned into its radio stations on more than 450 devices, good for 68 percent market share. Those numbers bolster the company's valuation of more than $2.6 billion and put it in competition with terrestrial broadcast giants.
Technically, the first video game appeared during the Truman administration -- a dot on a screen that players aimed at targets. Today the sophisticated industry is transitioning rapidly from packaged goods to digital downloads, and PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts revenue will surpass $82 billion worldwide in 2015.
"Probably 45 out of 52 weekends a year, a video game outgrosses the No. 1 movie," says John Riccitiello, the 51-year-old CEO of Electronic Arts. The company's Madden NFL franchise alone has generated north of $3 billion.
"I thought by now we'd have evolved into more of a storytelling medium," says Bobby Kotick, 48, CEO of Activision Blizzard. "But what really propelled us is the social and interactive components. I expect that to change during the next five years as big-name movie directors and screenwriters embrace video games as actors already have."
Activision's Call of Duty franchise is approaching $5 billion in global sales, about twice the worldwide box office generated by the Spider-Man movie franchise.
Perhaps no one understands the nexus of Hollywood and video games better than Strauss Zelnick, former president and COO of 20th Century Fox and now CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software, home of Grand Theft Auto, which has sold 114 million units worldwide.
"The structure of the video-game industry is similar to the movie business in the 1940s, with talent on staff. It's very interesting," says Zelnick, 54. "I don't believe for a moment that console video games will go away, just as I don't think tentpole films will go away."