TV Trumps Film in Digital Era, ICM's Chris Silbermann Tells THR's Power Business Managers (Video)

7:00 PM PST 10/03/2012 by Alex Ben Block

UPDATED: Silbermann spoke Wednesday at the magazine's Entertainment Business Managers Power Breakfast in Beverly Hills.

Major Hollywood performers who have refused to do television in the past are now being drawn to the medium – especially to cable  – because of the improved quality of the shows and as an outgrowth of the digital revolution.

That was among points made by Chris Silbermann, partner at talent agency ICM Partners, in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter news director Matthew Belloni at the magazine's Entertainment Business Managers Power Breakfast in Beverly Hills on Wednesday (pictured below).

Silbermann said his TV clients are much more willing to experiement on digital platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. “The television business is so much better for the modern digital era,” Silbermann said. “Really, it is just so much more organically aligned.”

He said the episodic nature of many TV shows makes more sense in the digital realm, especially as shows that find an afterlife on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and elsewhere.

The breakfast event, held at Cut restaurant at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel, brought together the top business managers in Hollywood, as well as showbiz agents, lawyers and finance specialists. The event coincided with the publication of THR's third annual Power Business Managers list.

Likely pleasing the moneymen in audience, Silbermann described the increased opportunities for talent to generate revenue in unconventional ways.

“There’s a lot of money that wasn’t there before,” said Silbermann, “making up for some of the DVD fall — not all the way — but it accounts for a lot of it. And the creative has never been better.”

He said digital revenue is helping to increase production budgets for television series, and profits are beginning to reach talent.

"Digital dollars trickle down,” said Silbermann. “We’re seeing a lot of shows, particularly from cable, that would not have had an afterlife in syndication being sold (to digital).”

He cited as an example FX's Sons of Anarchy, created by ICM client Kurt Sutter. In the past, FX would have refused to share its hit with another channel. But Fox, which owns FX, is willing to do deals to show older episodes on digital mediums like Netflix because it generates revenue and brings viewers back to FX to see original episodes.

Still, Silbermann said, the show House of Cards, which is being produced for Netflix, will be an important test.

“A lot of people have said it will be a watermark show,” said Silbermann. “If they promote it well and it does well, then the flood of talent is going to go there. They have to prove not only that they can make a good show, but they have to prove they can market it.”

Silbermann led the recent buyout of ICM and its rebirth as ICM Partners. He said “ICM was too top down and didn’t encourage collaboration” before the transition. He said the new business model, where top agents become owners, “encourages strong agents to get involved with clients and to feel engaged.”

His goal, he said, is not to grow ICM in all directions, striking a contrast with larger rivals CAA and WME.

“To use a Wall Street analogy, we want to be more of an Allen & Company than a Goldman Sachs," Silbermann said. "We want to be sophisticated Hollywood advisors. We want to be in partnership with our clients.”

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