Ari Emanuel in Abu Dhabi: Silicon Valley, Hollywood Are 'Working Together Pretty Well'

2012-35 BKLOT Abu Dhabi Ari Emanuel P

Three years ago, Abu Dhabi put on the first-ever Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Now held in October, it is back for its third edition with the likes of WME's Ari Emanuel, YouTube content guru Robert Kyncl, Bill Gates and former MTV and Viacom boss Tom Freston.

UPDATED: The WME co-CEO tells the annual media summit in the emirate that cooperation is "actually getting a little bit better" and that crowdfunding will increasingly become an option for content creators.

William Morris Endeavor co-CEO Ari Emanuel told the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Tuesday that "Silicon Valley and Hollywood are working together pretty well" and that crowdfunding increasingly would become an option for content creators. 

Right now, "there is actually a great deal of conversation going on," he said, adding that Google has made inroads in notifying and moving down sites in its search results when they get complaints. "They are participating in the process," the agency head said.

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In a fireside chat entitled "Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley: Let's Be Friends," the talent agent said that "there is partnership," but there are also areas of disagreement. "I love them -- I just don't like them when they are not restricting people who take our content."

He cited the fact that Netflix and Amazon fast becoming big buyers of content increases competition and boosts the amounts his creative clients can earn and content firms' profits at the same time. And, of course, clients now can sell shows directly to the new digital players. "Content creators can get better economics," he said, adding that new digital content buyers could continue to emerge.

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"It is actually getting a little bit better," Emanuel also said when asked if he has been taking diplomacy lessons recently after more adversarial comments about tech giants he had made earlier this year. He then quipped that he does have a family member in politics: brother Rahm Emanuel, of course, the mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff to President Obama.

The agent also acknowledged that there is more upside in the digital space. "Advertisers, content and distribution in new media need to come together," Emanuel said to the Media Summit.

Earlier this year, Emanuel had urged tech companies to join Hollywood in fighting piracy. "We need Northern California to figure out how to keep our intellectual property from being stolen," he had said. The uber-agent had said it was particularly key for Google to join the piracy fight, calling on the online giant to filter out international piracy to help reduce content theft and criticizing it for not doing enough to help Hollywood in its battle against piracy.

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After Google advertising executive Susan Wojcicki called those Emanuel comments "misinformed" and emphasized that Google wasn't looking to build a business on piracy, he later suggested that entertainment and technology executives "get in a room with all parties to figure" out the issues surrounding piracy. "This is a larger conversation," he said back then. "It’s time for Hollywood, our government and Silicon Valley to step up and collectively resolve this problem."

Asked on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi about the piracy fight in international markets, Emanuel said that is a conversation for the major studios and big networks and the U.S. government. "We have had conversations," but it is really a topic for them, he said.

Emanuel didn't directly discuss any progress in reviving the failed SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills. MPAA CEO Chris Dodd recently declared them dead. He has in recent days also said that the MPAA isn't focused on getting similar legislation passed but is looking to sit down with tech giants and opponents of the legislation to see what both sides can agree on.

Emanuel also said he "wouldn't go into the studio system" these days or into the cable business. While those models continue to work, he predicted they will be challenged over time. But he said cable networks' increasing content spending "is a fantastic development" for his clients and that TV looks great. "I think movies are great right now," he also added.

Emanuel also was asked about the future of broadcast networks. "I love them," he said. "I don't see them going anywhere." He also called them a great business.

Discussing WME’s deal with Silver Lake Partners, which agreed to buy a 31 percent stake in the talent agency, Emanuel said his company has increasingly focused on technology and digital opportunities, which attracted the investor. It is really about bringing together content and technology, he said.

Discussing crowdsourcing as an opportunity, Emanuel cited an estimate that 10 percent of films going to Cannes and Sundance likely already are or soon will be at least partially made that way. WME has a whole group working on that because "there is no place we won't go to help clients," he said. He called equity splits a key challenge that needs to be worked out in this field, though. "It is a viable alternative depending on budget" -- in film, TV, online, music and even books, the superagent said.

WME has worked on some crowdsourced projects, some bigger projects are coming down the pipeline, and "we will see how far we can go with them," Emanuel said. But "for large-scale product, you can't crowdsource," he emphasized. "That dog don't hunt." The sweet spot so far has often been in the budget range below $1 million, he signaled. But he said WME is talking to Facebook and Path about "doing a slightly bigger movie in that space."

Earlier in the afternoon, the third annual Abu Dhabi Media Summit -- which runs through Thursday -- featured a keynote appearance by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates about global development under the title "The Next Road Ahead." 


Twitter: @georgszalai