Panel Debates Social Media's Impact on Hollywood at THR Business Managers Event

"It's an enormous weapon" for actors, says Anonymous' Michael Sugar during the event, which also featured UTA's Eric Kuhn, Commotion's Steve Stabler and Akin Gump's John Burke.

To succeed in show business today, it's necessary to utilize social media to reach, involve and influence the audience.

That was the consensus of a breakfast panel Wednesday at the first Hollywood Reporter event for business managers, sponsored by UBS.

"Once you really engage the opportunities are endless," said panelist Eric Kuhn, an agent at the United Talent Agency specializing in the digital space. "You may not make money off tweeting, but it can lead directly to endorsement deals and other opportunities."

Michael Sugar, manager and producer at Anonymous Content, said that when he receives queries about his clients, potential employers want to know if that person is using social media and Twitter. "No question right now you have to be conscious of your digital presence," Sugar said. "And it's not just actors. It's also directors, producers and studios. It also matters who is looking at you."

Sugar noted that an actor's digital presence can affect the box office performance of his or her movies. "So it's an enormous weapon right now," he added. "If artists aren't aware of that fact, they're missing the boat right now. Your audience has to know about you in advance."

But Sugar said the quandary is that while his clients may want to be known, they often don't understand how they should be interacting with their audience.

The panel, held in conjunction with THR's Power Business Managers special issue, was moderated by THR news director Matthew Belloni and attended by many of the honorees included in the magazine's Entertainment Business Managers Power List.

During the discussion, producer Steve Stabler of Commotion Pictures said social media activity might influence whether he hires an actor. "The more brand awareness of an individual -- a writer, director or cast member -- the better it is for us. And it produces better results at the end of the day."

John Burke, an entertainment finance attorney with Akin Gump, said his clients often see an investment in entertainment as fun and glamorous. But while there is nervousness now about investing in a movie, everyone wants to be on the ground floor of the next big thing in media. "They want to invest in the next Twitter or Facebook or the next big game," says Burke.

The panel discussed a deal announced this week for singer Lady Gaga to release new music through Zynga, by making it available to players of the game Farmville. Gaga will have a farm within the world of game called GagaVille, where beginning Tuesday her new music will be available before public release.

That is a great way to "cut through the clutter" in the media world, said Kuhn, who before UTA was a CNN reporter. "It's a really cool way to go straight to the people."

"The scary part and the exciting part is being able to talk directly to your fans," Kuhn added. "You can bypass the publicist or producer and other middle people and talk straight to your audience."