Hollywood’s Ari Emanuel talks tough on piracy

RANCHO PALOS VERDES -- William Morris Endeavor Entertainment co-chief executive Ari Emanuel used the platform of the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital Conference to call on Silicon Valley and Hollywood to work together to curb Internet piracy -- in his own provocative style.

“I’m going to get a lot of people [angry],” Emanuel said at the onset of his remarks, noting that Southern California’s entertainment industry “probably screwed this up” and contributed to an impasse by pressing Congress to adopt the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act. The measure flatlined earlier this year amid fierce opposition from some of the largest Web companies and civil liberties groups.

Northern California’s technology companies, meanwhile, have failed to do their part to curb rampant online piracy of movies and TV shows, which threatens the economic underpinnings of the entertainment industry, Emanuel said.

“We should be able to figure this out together,” said Emanuel. “I actually don’t think Northern California wants to do it.”


Emanuel called on search giant Google Inc.and video distributors such as AT&T and Verizon to block access to pirated content in the same way they do for other objectionable material, such as child pornography.

The conversation about online piracy ultimately will take place, Emanuel predicted, when these Internet players realize that they need the high-quality content created by his clients, which include “The Social Network"writer Aaron Sorkin, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator Larry David and “Family Guy” animator Seth MacFarlane.

“Eventually, I think people are going to pay for not two cats on a couch, they’re going to pay lot more money for  Aaron Sorkin,  they’re going to pay a lot more money for Seth MacFarlane.  Eventually, this conversation has got to happen.”

William Morris Endeavor, meanwhile, has been investing in digital startups that play at the intersection of technology and entertainment.


The agency acquired a minority stake in online and mobile marketing firm Red Interactive Agency in Santa Monica, funded a social publishing group called “The Audience” and backed a Los Angeles-based visual effects company called OToy Inc.

Indeed, convergence has been a major new focus for the agency since the venerable William Morris Agency merged with Emanuel’s Endeavor.  And it attracted investment from Silver Lake, a private equity firm with stakes in Groupon, Skype and Zynga.

“We spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, kind of figuring out how we could start coming together with what we do and what Silicon Valley does,” Emanuel said.

Indeed, Emanuel talked about potentially capitalizing on the latest fund-raising craze, crowd sourcing, to raise money for a new film, inspired by the critically acclaimed television series about football in Texas, “Friday Night Lights."  He said the project could draw contributions from the show’s million-plus Facebook fans, or spark interest by posting story-boards on the photo sharing social network site Pinterest.

“I could go the traditional route, put the cast together and have a conversation with the studio, or I could go back to the studio and say I have X-amount of money,” Emanuel said. “I would like to figure out if we could do that, change paradigms.”


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