Wagner, Silverman: Int'l TV market key for H'wood

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CANNES -- Two of the industry's most innovative executives told buyers and sellers at MIPCOM on Tuesday that Hollywood must look to the international marketplace for growth and will need to overhaul its financial and creative models to survive.

United Artists CEO Paula Wagner warned that the industry faced "crucial issues" as it considered strike action, while NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman said the network would source more of its content internationally and "put more and more globalized content on the screen."

In a keynote interview with THR editor Elizabeth Guider, Wagner said that the potential strike action could prove damaging for an industry already struggling to connect with consumers.

"We are on the threshold of a potential work stoppage, and we all have to look at the economics and come up with a financial model that works for this time," Wagner said, noting that the industry needs to move to a model that shares the upside across artists and investors alike. "We all have to look at ourselves and look at the studio system and how aspects are perhaps antiquated and create a model where we all share and are financial partners, as well. Ultimately, the financial sources are putting in this money, and they deserve a return."

Sidestepping a question about whether the intense press scrutiny of Tom Cruise's personal life had affected their working relationship, Wagner would only say that her longtime collaborator's focus remained "on the work."

"Tom and I have worked together for 25 years," she said. "The wonderful thing is that his extraordinary professionalism and commitment haven't changed from the day I met him, and he brings that vitality to every thing he does.

"Everyone who is in the public eye is under media scrutiny, and sometimes the media has a tendency to blow things out of proportion," she added. "As an artist, you have to stay focused and concentrate on the work."

Meanwhile, announcing to a packed auditorium at the Palais des Festival NBC's acquisition of Oxygen Media and the return of 1980s hit "Knight Rider," Silverman said that the international television marketplace was more important than ever.

"At NBC, we want to be your partners, and we want you to partner (with) us in the long term," he said. "A huge part of our growth strategy is international -- we are looking at it as a growth engine for the entire company, and I personally believe in it completely."

Noting the success of the Colombian format "Yo soy Betty, la fea," which became ABC's "Ugly Betty," Silverman said the international pool for creative ideas is getting bigger.

"It used to be that the U.K. and Holland had a leadership position in new ideas, but now there is an idea that content can come from everywhere," he said.

NBC programs like "Heroes" also put a range of geographical backgrounds, cultures and languages at the heart of the narrative, he said.

"It was unheard of to have subtitles on a primetime show," Silverman added. "Previously, we would have put characters with foreign accents onscreen, but in this show we have Japanese actors, Indian actors, British actors, and that has made it stronger," he said, noting that "more and more of our content will be built for a globalized audience."
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