Google's Eric Schmidt Says Hollywood's 'Storytelling Wins' in 'The New Digital Age'

Eric Schmidt - Speaks At Council - 2010
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Major studios still have the advantage in producing content, but should look to the Internet as a home for its farm team, say the search giant's chairman and his co-author, former diplomat Jared Cohen in their new book.

This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Forget all the talk about the machines taking over," write Google chairman Eric Schmidt and former State Department adviser Jared Cohen in their just-released book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. "The future is up to us."

It's a future the pair says will be made less by the 2 billion people in the developed world who already have the Internet than the 5 billion who get it next. The co-authors, who met when Cohen, 31, escorted Schmidt, 58, around Baghdad in 2009, just before Cohen became head of in-house think tank Google Ideas, talked with THR about the future of Hollywood content, the enduring power of celebrity and the digital "sex talk."

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The Hollywood Reporter: What's the place of Hollywood content in a world where everyone is connected to the Internet?

Schmidt: The American system produces the greatest storytellers. In a globalized market, it is the storytelling that wins. The scripts, the production value, the storytelling is how, was, is and always will be the solution to such problems.

Cohen: American studios will continue to have the comparative advantage, but with 5 billion new people [coming online], you have 5 billion new potential stories and creative people. Most of them are going to connect over smartphones. We've interacted with all these North Korean defectors who live in South Korea. They're all making documentaries about their lives with their smartphones.

Schmidt: One way to look out for writers is to wait for people to send you scripts. Another one is to look at the user-generated content and use that as your farm team. Let's see who is telling the best stories in this less-expensive, more-populous medium, and let's give them a shot at the big leagues. The right way for the studios to think about this is trying your idea on YouTube, which is inexpensive, and if it works, spend a lot more money.

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THR: How about the idea of celebrity? Will that change?

Schmidt: The world obsession with celebrity will allow celebrities to become trusted brands. You can imagine the Jay-Z newspaper. You see this with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart with young people. They don't necessarily go to the old, established brands.

Cohen: What's interesting is, activists and dissidents are watching Psy's video ["Gangnam Style," with 1.6 billion views] on YouTube now. I'm sure they like "Gangnam Style," but they're trying to figure out what he did tactically to get so many people to watch it. There's a phenomenal crossover between the entertainment world and the political world around tactics. Both want a lot of people to see their content, and even though it's two different contexts, the tactics are reasonably similar.

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THR: You write about online security and privacy as a shared responsibility. Where does the balance between users and companies lie?

Schmidt: It's 50-50. We can't guarantee that you have a safe password because you might be reusing it somewhere else. The online world is not a substitute for judgment, and companies have an absolute requirement to keep your information secure. But you have a requirement to behave with proper security mechanisms.

Cohen: There's another point to this, and in some respects it's hard for the three of us to relate: People are putting sonograms of their children online, which we argue is weird.

Schmidt: Jared's on a personal campaign to make people stop.

Cohen: A child should at least have to squint or burp in consent. In the womb they can't …We're joking, of course, but there's a point: Parents have to talk to their kids about the importance of online privacy, security and data permanence years before they have the sex talk with them.

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THR: In the global context, can copyright work as a shared responsibility?

Schmidt: Follow the money. If people are making money by stealing copyright, we can find them because the money has to go somewhere. If you just randomly copy something just because you're a jerk, it's not going to be a big deal. But if you're a company that sets up to steal information, which is highly illegal, we can find the money, and we can report you to the authorities.