Studios in no rush to renew MPAA search

Will likely change recruiters, won't have new CEO before Jan.

If you think Hollywood's top lobbying group will rush to find the next Jack Valenti now that former Sen. Bob Kerrey is out of the running, think again.

There appears to be little urgency among the studio chiefs who must make the selection, several of whom are on summer vacation. It's likely they won't have the next CEO of the MPAA in place before January.

Annoyed and embarrassed after the dragged-out, all-too-public negotiations with Kerrey, they will let things settle down while the search begins anew, probably with a new executive recruiter to seek candidates -- which could include government officials who will be unemployed after November.

The search that led to Kerrey was conducted by Korn Ferry, but a studio source said the studios are "not that thrilled" with the results and likely will talk to others, such as Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles, before making a choice about whom to work with.

Meanwhile, there is a sense that the MPAA staff, led by interim president Bob Pisano, is capable of staying on top of the issues, which these days mostly means fighting piracy and censorship -- the two things on which the big six studios and their parent conglomerates agree. Pisano is under contract at least through fall 2011.

At present, there is no shortlist of potential candidates; in fact, there doesn't appear to be any list at all. That might be hard to believe when you consider the job description:

Wanted: Well-connected former politician to lead high-profile trade organization, rub elbows with stars, lobby Congress and the White House, attend D.C. cocktail parties, host private screenings, testify before government regulators, make lots of speeches and travel the globe first class; oversee a staff of about 150; annual salary is more than $1 million (plus expenses).

But some candidates might want more. The last full-time president and CEO, former congressman Dan Glickman, made $1.34 million in 2008, according to the National Journal (Valenti drew a similar salary in 2004, his final year with the MPAA). Former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, who once passed on the MPAA job, pulled in $2.9 million as a lobbyist for big pharma that year. Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was paid $3.7 million. Even the head of the NFL Players Assn., the late Gene Upshaw, earned nearly $2.4 million.

Most of them work for com¬panies or industries with a clear mandate, while the MPAA answers to masters who are highly competitive with one another and are part of multi-faceted conglomerates fraught with conflicts in terms of their business interests. In other words, what is good for cable or TV networks at Disney may not be what is best for consumer electronics at Sony.

That is why the MPAA's mission has evolved toward one of the few things the studio chiefs can agree on -- they hate pirates. So the main job of the MPAA has been to lobby for laws against piracy in Washington and worldwide, and then push governments to enforce the law.

So that can mean sipping tea in Beijing, raising a toast in Moscow, eating steak in Buenos Aires or facing indigestion in Islamabad, all in the quest of cooperation.

There also are efforts to deal with state legislators, especially as movie subsidies have led to expanded production, on everything from tax laws to local efforts at censorship.

Alex Ben Block reported from Los Angeles; Georg Szalai reported from New York. Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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