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Paramount Makes Moves Toward the Digital Future

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by Anne Thompson
July 30, 2013 6:15 PM
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As much as many of us bewail the studios' pokey moves into the digital future, the truth is, they are not stupid.  What they are doing--and why they can be counted on to make many ill-advised decisions going forward--is thinking about how to buttress their bottom line, satisfy stockholders, and cover their huge executive salaries and overhead. That's why making more big movies that may score big and pay all their bills is still their prerogative, rather than more less risky small movies--even after six so-called tentpoles tank in a row. 

Amy Powell

The real problem for the studios is their attitude. They are not thinking about how to please the consumer. They're accustomed to a top-down shove-it-down-your-throat with advertising approach. They are used to being high and mighty. They also tend to get into power games (see CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves declaring, “We are now at war” with Time Warner Cable after CBS-owned stations were briefly pulled from TWC systems). The studios that humbly admit that they are going to have to give the consumer what they want when they want will win.

Thus it is significant that Warners Bros. put digital czar Kevin Tsujihara at the head of the studio. And that Paramount elevated its digital marketing chief Amy Powell to president of their new TV division. (The studio then promoted Megan Wahtera as its new head of interactive marketing.) And Paramount just brought in acquisitions executive Jeff Deutchman from New York's VOD-oriented IFC Films to join their revamped homevideo division under newly promoted Syrinthia Studer (Senior Vice President, Marketing and Acquisitions for Paramount Home Media Distribution). Deutchman will not only be hitting the festival circuit for acquisitions, but will lead the way toward a revamped indie division with an eye on multiplatform VOD releasing. 

(Meanwhile Sean Berney has moved up to manager of acquisitions at IFC; he's the son of Picturehouse's Bob and Jeanne Berney; Jeff Deutchman's father is Columbia University film professor and Emerging Cinema partner Ira Deutchman.)

Because of Powell's innovative marketing and distribution campaigns for "Paranormal Activity" and the release of "Grease," among other things, studio chief Brad Grey gave her the reins of Paramount Digital Entertainment and Insurge Pictures. Paramount Digital produces both apps and games as it pushes content to devices such as Xbox and Playstation as well as web shows such as Emmy-nominated “Burning Love.” The Insurge label has released inexpensive hits “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and “The Devil Inside.”

Jeff Deutchman

The strategic decision behind "Paranormal Activity"'s success was to avoid trickle-down marketing, where a studio hard-sells audiences on what to watch, in favor of a grassroots movement propelling its own decisions about what to see. Word-of-mouth has always been the most potent way to sell a movie. Now the Internet spreads it with the speed of a click.

Powell, who began her career at CNN before moving to Sony Pictures in interactive marketing and then Paramount in 2004, will take what she's learned and apply it to Paramount TV, She has clearly has been given a mandate to continue to innovate and experiment as she finances and develops television for multiple platforms, from digital episodic content to primetime series, using her expertise in new distribution platforms and social media marketing. 

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