Amazon's Roy Price and TV Vets on the Future of Content

Jose Mandojana
Roy Price

"One thing's for sure, no one is ever going to download our movies" — said a studio exec to Amazon 10 years ago

For the traditional powers that govern television, HBO's and, perhaps more significantly, CBS' recent moves to stand-alone streaming services are prompting navel-gazing, panic and opportunity. Enter five major players in the TV business who were already scheduled to discuss the future of content at the "TV: Are Content and Deals Becoming Unplugged?" panel at the University of Southern California Law School's Entertainment Law and Business panel Saturday morning.

Entertainment lawyer Tara Kole, partner at Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown, moderated the talk featuring veteran producer and CEO of The Jackal Group Gail Berman, head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, president of Xbox Entertainment Studios Nancy Tellem and executive vp business operations at NBCUniversal Beth Roberts. Of note to some, the panel consisted of four women and one man.

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Here are four takeaways:

1. Technology moves quickly — that, we know. Ten years ago, Amazon's Price came to L.A. to talk about licensing TV shows and movies. One studio executive said to him: "One thing's for sure, no one is ever going to download our movies." Obviously, it's 2014. Rewind back to two weeks ago, when the moderator, Kole, was discussing cord-cutting with Tellem, and prognosticated: "It's never going to happen at a broadcast network." Cue CBS' announcement last week, which took the industry by surprise.

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2. There's still a schism when we talk about old business models and the culture differences between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Consider, for example, Berman's take on Yahoo. "Yahoo is a content company. They have news, they have sports. Yet Yahoo refuses to call itself a content company. Content sounds old-school, it's not high-tech, it's not valued the same way. Wall Street prefers it that way, rather than say what Yahoo really is, which is a content company supported by advertising, a model we all know."

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3. Content is king; so goes the common refrain. But who owns it? "The ownership of content is critical. Because that gives you the way to distribute it to make as much revenue as you can. I think the traditional businesses are going to push harder to own it. The licensing model is not going to work anymore, or it's working less and less. At the same time it's putting more pressure on the content creators. The issue is going to be, because there are so many platforms, you may be a brand in and of yourself. Whether you're cable or network or a producer, you have to own your content," says NBCUniversal's Roberts. Not so, says Price, "There are some licenses that are looking more and more like ownership, in terms of how you use it and the duration. So, you can get a really long license and get everything you need. We just want the best possible show."

4. Personalities and brands may be content in and of themselves. The future may hold a J.J. Abrams or Amblin Television (Steven Spielberg) or Louis C.K. channel, says Berman.

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