Jeff Shell, Les Moonves Zing Katzenberg: Movies 'Tremendous Growth Business'

1:55 PM PST 04/30/2014 by Paul Bond
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Jeff Shell

The Universal film head also told a panel moderated by Guggenheim Media Entertainment Group chief creative officer Janice Min that "Fifty Shades of Grey" would not be released at home the same day it hits theaters, despite the studio's enthusiasm for digital distribution methods.

With all due respect to Jeffrey Katzenberg, movies are "a tremendous growth business," Universal Filmed Entertainment Group CEO Jeff Shell said Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

Shell was responding to an assertion from the DreamWorks Animation CEO made Tuesday at the same conference that movies are "not a growth business."

Shell, though, said that the distribution of films on digital devices makes movies a growth industry, as does the popularity of American movies abroad. Seventy percent of Universal's movie revenue comes from international markets, most of which "are growing like crazy," he said.

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CBS CEO Les Moonves agreed with Shell, noting that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, during the conglomerate's Wednesday earnings call, "took a shot at" Katzenberg by suggesting that just because DreamWorks Animation isn't growing doesn't mean others aren't.

"The future is extraordinarily bright" for producers of content, Moonves said. "Anybody who says, 'I'm producing content, and it's not a growth area,' I think is sorely mistaken because we're seeing growth all over the place."

Shell and Moonves were part of a panel discussion that also included Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc and was moderated by Janice Min, president of Guggenheim Media's entertainment group, which contains Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter.

Shell wasn't even concerned when Min brought up the prospect, floated by some recently, of Netflix getting into the moviemaking business.

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"I hope they do," Shell said. "We make a lot of lower-budget movies, too, and we're often looking for places to put them when they are not worthy of wide release."

While Shell is bullish about harnessing digital distribution methods, he also noted that Fifty Shades of Grey would not be available in homes the same day it hits theaters.

"We're all going to benefit from our content being on lots of different platforms," Shell said. "Fifty Shades of Grey is going to be an intimate movie and one best watched the way the movie-maker wanted you to watch it: in a theater. ... The theatrical window is extremely important, and we're not going to go day-and-date with Fifty Shades of Grey."

Even though Kotick isn't in the movie business, he also took his turn denouncing Katzenberg's comments.

"The idea that these people would be spending their time in something that isn't a growth business with tremendous opportunity is incomprehensible to me," Kotick said, motioning to his fellow panelists.

Kotick also said that while a film is being made based on World of Warcraft,  Activision Blizzard is reluctant to get into the movie business because it's not something he and his company's top brass understand very well. That didn't stop Dubuc, though, from pitching the idea of something for her network based on the wildly popular game franchise Call of Duty.

"We're very reticent for our intellectual property to be used for anything other than gamemaking," Kotick said.

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Dubuc also bemoaned that in the TV industry there is more time spent on the deal than on the creative, and that's why so many shows are just copies of more successful shows.

"There shouldn't be 17 versions of Pawn Stars. That makes my heart sink," she said. "When I as a consumer turn on the TV and can't find anything to watch, shame on us."

Moonves also weighed in on Aereo -- a technology he has repeatedly likened to the the theft of TV content -- which is currently at the center of a Supreme Court case. While a year ago at Milken, Moonves boldly proclaimed that he could move CBS to cable and charge for it if Aereo forced his hand, he was less specific this time around.

"I'll stand by my statement that we have another alternative if per chance we should lose," he said.

He said Aereo was "clouding the issue" and that the argument that a decision against Aereo amounts to a hindrance of technological progress is "clearly silly."

He also acknowledged Aereo is owned by a company controlled by his friend Barry Diller

"I have great respect and admiration for Barry," Moonves said. "The truth is, early on, we had one conversation and we decided that it probably wasn't a good idea to the friendship, so we decided to never talk about it again."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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