There was an after-dinner chat with Brad Grey last night at the Forbes MEET 2006 confab held at the Beverly Hills Hotel. PaidContent.org filed on the Paramount Pictures chairman & CEO’s talk. (The website is a media sponsor of the confab.) According to Staci Kramer, “Grey, whose desire to stay at Viacom was questioned in the wake of Tom Freston’s departure, was quite careful to distance himself from Chairman Sumner Redstone’s way of handling both Freston and Tom Cruise—and was equally careful to do respectfully. ‘Sumner Redstone, in my opinion, is Sumner Redstone .. that’s his prerogative and that’s his privilege. He owns the candy store.’ He quickly corrected himself given Viacom’s status as a public company — ‘the majority of the candy store.’ As for Freston, he said he feels badly and misses him ‘but this is high-stakes poker.’ Grey is a funny guy — he actually had a pretty tired audience laughing out loud with his tales of business life with Michael [Eisner], Barry [Diller] and Sumner — but he’s quite serious when it comes to Paramount’s new media future. The subject didn’t come up until the end of the after-dinner conversation with Brent Pulley, Forbes senior editor, but Grey got his message across: ‘Everybody would be very foolish not to embrace technology,’ he said, adding later, ‘For us not to embrace it would be insanity.’ Paramount is approaching it ‘in a robust way, as aggressive a way as we can. We’re embracing it and really trying to understand the smartest digital distribution future.’ Deals have been announced (Akimbo)and more are coming. ‘We want consumers to enjoy what we produce in every form we can… What we can’t do is we can’t afford to lose the revenue from the physical DVD business we now enjoy… We want to learn, we want to experiment and we want to be profitable.’ On electronic sell thru, Grey said he’d been hearing for 15 years that easy movie downloads were on the way. Now, he’s finally beginning to believe it.”
So I reached Staci at the Polo Lounge today to hear some of those “funny” stories Brad told. “He was asked a question how he ended up buying his company Brillstrein-Grey back multiple times, and he started talking how it came to be that Disney ended up owning half the company. There was the time he said Diller said to him in an elevator, ‘Let’s have lunch tomorrow at the Four Seasons,’ and Brad wakes up the next day and find out that Barry has been given charge of Universal by Edgar. And the time that Brad and Bob Iger flew up to Aspen on the Disney jet to discuss with Eisner the fact that Disney, in buying ABC, now had acquired half of Brillstein-Grey, And Disney hates owning just half of a company. So Eisner met them at the Aspen auirport and suddenly Brad sees a guy in a Disney cap chasing a labrador dog down the runway, and it’s Eisner.”
Kramer also filed on the opening session and “the 100-foot view” from IAC’s Diller as interviewed by Eisner. The forty-plus years of competition and friendship showed as CEO-turned-talk-show host Eisner peppered Diller with questions and Diller just as quickly edited them. (Yes, the obvious thought cropped up – Diller adjusted early and is firmly new media now; Eisner didn’t and has a show on CNBC.) Some highlights: Eisner asked if Diller saw old media absorbing most of the new media companies, suggesting that when you look in the eyes of Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone and the rest, you see panic. Diller said whatever happens we’re on the eve of change as we move away from the distributors of scarcity. ‘All of these companies were based upon being dictatorial and telling people how they would do business with them.’ That’s not how it works anymore. As for the morphing old media, ‘as they get more diversified they get less well managed.’ Would Diller buy NBC with its proven multiples but current problems or YouTube for $1.6 billion? Diller suggested a better question: ‘Would I buy either? The thing is I didn’t buy either.’ As for the YouTube price tag, from his perspective Google isn’t paying anything for the ballyhooed acquisition because it is just a sliver of stock. Diller: ‘I don’t think they paid anything for it. … I think the people who received that paper for the time they can cash it in (get something) …’ As for NBC, he views the local affiliates as the network’s greatest assets. Asked if he would buy Tribune, he singled out the television stations but upshot is he doesn’t want to buy any. Been there, done with that. Diller values editorship, so much so that he repeated the point. The more content, the more editorship ‘as clear, as narrow as possible, is going to be prized.’ (I’ve heard similar thoughts more than a few times in the last 24 hours.) The final convergence: Asked about Steve Jobs, Apple iTV and convergence in the home, Diller said he has no doubt it will happen but when and who is TBD. ‘No question [there will be] a system in the home that will receive all this data that’s coming in … a home system that will throw what comes in there to any form factor that comes into your house.’ For the transaction-fixated Diller, it will include an execute button (not for humans, he clarified) that puts transactions a click away. “That really is the final convergence.’ ”
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