Grey dishes on past, future

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Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey provoked a lot of laughter from a tired crowd Tuesday night as he reminisced about his career in Hollywood and his more serious plans for Paramount's new-media future.

His after-dinner exchange with Forbes magazine senior editor Brett Pulley took place during the Forbes Media, Electronic Entertainment and Technology conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Grey said he aims to change the perception of the studio while embracing new technology.

"We want the audience to enjoy what we produce in every form they can," said Grey, noting that after years of hearing that better download speeds and broadband technology is just another five years away, they now really seem to be here. "What we can't do is afford to lose the revenue from the physical DVD business we now enjoy."

When Pulley asked why someone as successful as Grey would take a position at a studio that has experienced such a period of upheaval, the exec said he thought it was time to try something new.

"It really is kind of a privilege if you love that chair," he said. "I don't own it -- I have custody of it. If I'm given the time, I think I can build this into a vibrant studio."

Grey, who relayed tales of business dealings with Michael Eisner, Barry Diller and even current boss Sumner Redstone in a way that almost made high-pressure Hollywood stakes seem recreational, also recapped his evolution from his post as founding partner of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment.

He also addressed the recent high-profile departures of Viacom's Tom Freston and Tom Cruise.

"I miss him," Grey said of Freston, describing his reaction as "stunned" upon learning of the CEO's exodus. "But this is high-stakes poker."

When asked about Cruise and the way his public departure played out and was handled by Redstone, Grey said he would have handled it differently but the result would have been the same.

"Would I have personally announced it differently? Yes, but Sumner Redstone is Sumner Redstone ... that's his prerogative and privilege. He owns the candy store -- or the majority of the candy store."

As for Paramount's future, Gray said the business always has been about talent and relationships and will remain so. But he also made clear the studio's place in the digital age.

"We're a content company ... for us not to embrace it would be insanity," he said, adding later, "We're open for business and making deals as we speak."
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