THR Next Gen 2008: New Media
EmptyMalik Ducard, 35
vp digital distribution
Paramount Digital, North America
A former adman and home video exec for Lionsgate and MGM, Ducard is now one of the studios' leading digital dealmakers. He struck an innovative pact to put Paramount movies on new Dell computers, and hammered out the first commercial-goods arrangement between a studio and a virtual world (Habbo). Paramount is the only film studio with a stand-alone digital division. "One of the things that sets us apart is our comfort level with being an early mover," the Columbia grad and UCLA M.B.A. says. Watching over content on a slew of digital platforms from Xbox to Amazon, Ducard says, "you've got to be constantly innovating how to sell product with them."
Lane Merrifield, 29
Walt Disney Internet Group
For Club Penguin co-founder Merrifield, the $350 million acquisition of the kid-centric virtual world by Disney last year marked both a new beginning as well as a return to his roots. "My first job was at Disneyland, where I controlled a crocodile on a float as it went down Main Street," he says. Merrifield later returned to his native Canada, holding several tech and marketing jobs before he and several colleagues launched the online world for kids in 2005. Now back at the Mouse House, he runs all of Disney's virtual-world initiatives from an office featuring a poster of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse -- a reminder of the founder's focus on children. "There's a lot of people entering virtual worlds truly for financial reasons," he says. "But for us, if it doesn't matter to kids, then it doesn't matter."
George Strompolos, 28
content partnerships manager
If you still think YouTube is just cats on skateboards, consider Strompolos' accomplishments in bringing high-end original content to the world's top Web video destination. This year he struck a landmark deal for "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane's breakout "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy." That wacky video with Diet Coke bottles exploding like volcanos? He brought in Coke and Mentos as sponsors. "That opened up my eyes to tying brands directly to content creators," he says. But what really revs Strompolos' engine is the ability to build a massive audience for unknown talent like YouTube sensation Fred. "It's really thrilling to me to see a 15-year-old kid in Nebraska do that."
Jake Zim, 32
Safran Digital Group
Zim toiled long enough in the studio system to know he would have to operate outside it to blaze new digital trails. So the former Fox Atomic exec joined manager-producer Peter Safran's digital startup, shepherding lucrative programming deals like Xbox's first-ever original series. "We ended up essentially creating a new market with Xbox," he says. Zim then raised eyebrows with comedy webisodes he put together for Spike.com called "PG Porn," which teamed TV actors like Michael Rosenbaum (CW's "Smallville") with real adult-film stars to lampoon the genre sans actual coitus. "It's for people who love everything about porn -- except the sex," he jokes. Zim also takes his work home with him, blogging regularly at JakeZim.com on the evolution of the digital marketplace.