by Shari Ross Altarac (B ’82)
On May 8, 2012, GEMA LA hosted a diverse panel of Hoya alumni women who represent movers and shakers in the Hollywood industry. The informative “Hoya Women Making a Difference in the Media” highlighted today’s changing media landscape and digital space with senior media executive panelists who work across the broadcast, cable, film, and music industries. These remarkable women shared their insights with audience members at the RealD Screening Room in Beverly Hills. The session concluded with a lively Q & A and reception.
The panel consisted of Nicole Bernard (L’ 90), Senior Vice President, Fox Audience Strategy; Amanda Marks (F ‘86, L’89), Global Head of Digital Accounts, Universal Music Group; Elizabeth Raposo (C ’98), Senior Vice President of Production, Paramount Pictures; and Marci Wiseman (F ’85) Senior Vice President/ Head of Business Affairs, AMC. Nicole LaPorte (C’ 96), entertainment industry journalist and author, served as moderator for the evening’s panel discussion.
Background of panelists
Interestingly, Bernard, Marks and Wiseman all began their careers on the legal side of entertainment and media. Bernard had a strong desire to pursue a career in the entertainment industry throughout law school and a tremendous passion for music. Though many tried to dissuade Bernard from her career aspirations, she remained steadfast. Seeking employment in New York City after receiving her J.D. degree, she was very strategic in networking in the music business as well as at events involving album releases, video shoots, and launches of new artists.
She described how to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she was hired as Director of Business Affairs at the Uptown/MCA Records joint venture straight out of law school at age 23, “It was sink or swim, and I aligned myself with mentors and counsel who were the best in the business.” In subsequent years, she gained significant experience in various facets of the industry including television, theatre, and film production and worked with “creative partners, storytellers, executive producers, showrunners, our creative people internally and external communities” in a position of viewer advocacy which led to her current role at Fox.
In the School of Foreign Service, Marks always remained service-minded and had a deep interest in international affairs and politics. After Georgetown undergrad, Marks attended Georgetown Law and then after law school, she worked in commercial litigation and criminal law in LA. Afterwards, her love of travel and languages led to a short-lived career in international human rights work in New York City.
Marks became what she considers a transactional lawyer in her first entertainment industry job at a company that handled the touring side of the music business. She later ventured into recorded music at Polygram’s Mercury label and started getting interested in the Internet in the mid-1990’s. Gifted in languages, she was able to pick up the lingo of the Internet and started to distinguish herself within the industry as someone ahead of the curve in the digital music arena.
While at Georgetown, Wiseman became involved in politics and worked on Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. She decided to go to law school as it combined her interests in politics and the law, convinced at the time she would become a First Amendment lawyer. Long interested in entertainment and having done theatre in high school and college, Wiseman decided “not to defend the New York Times, but go to Hollywood and defend artists’ right to say what they wanted to say.” After graduating from NYU law school, she joined the entertainment department of one of the largest law firms in L.A. A natural negotiator, Wiseman was able to bring together her business expertise and knowledge of entertainment and law and make complicated deals happen throughout her career. She did, however, take a brief hiatus from her entertainment career to work for the City of Los Angeles as Assistant Deputy of Economic Development under Mayor Dick Riordan, where she served as liaison for the TV industry.
Raposo grew up in a household that valued a creative background; her father Joe Raposo was the musical director and co-creator of “Sesame Street” and her mother Pat Collins was a TV news veteran. She talked about the fact that her parents worked all week long, so weekends were reserved for enjoying films together. That is where she learned film appreciation and was exposed to many great films. She knew her career path would lead to the entertainment industry when she walked through Healy gates, but thought a broad-based education at Georgetown was more valuable than studying film specifically. Raposo, a Literature and American Government major, sought out internships during college to reflect her career interests. She interned at PMK PR, Miramax and Conan O’Brien. She reminisced about her early days as an intern running through the streets of New York, delivering costumes and running all sorts of errands.
Challenges, Opportunities and Trends in the Media Industry
Diversity and Audience Strategy Bernard discussed how audience strategy and diversity are two very distinctive ideas. “The television industry has moved beyond diversity. It means a lot more than has been historically applied.” According to Bernard, Audience Strategy is “a transactional activity, day-to-day operations, or business operating unit that provides services and strategic resources across our entertainment properties.” If the goal is to augment business, it may be defined in terms of increased viewership or sales for that division. A key to audience strategy rests on determining who the audience is and how to grow that audience. She talked about the important role of “connectivity” from a business and creative standpoint across the company. With demographics in domestic and global markets shifting, there is a greater need to discern who the current audiences are and how to engage those viewers.
According to Bernard, there is a bigger question of how to engage broader and diverse audiences. She pointed out that, “There are more people self-identifying as transcultural. Diversity is ethnic diversity, gender diversity, regional diversity, diversity of perspective and thought” and this “keeps us all interested in some way, shape or form.” It’s about “changing the conversation” where “we’re not couched as the Asian film, the Black film, just a great film. This will send a signal across the industry.”
Changing models in music industry: digital
Marks addressed the challenges of the digital and physical formats in the marketplace. Increasing trends in subscriptions in the music industry is very evident. “The Digital business has grown to a point where it is significant, and, in the US, the growth of digital has outpaced the decline in the physical. Of course, CD sales continue to decline and likely will continue to decline to a point where they will level out.”
According to Marks, the necessity of developing different business models has arisen from losing significant revenue in the music industry. This necessity has led to a plethora of new ways to make money from the music and music related products we create, including ad-supported platforms like Vevo and Youtube.
She talked about the growing importance of 360 deals in the industry. “We’ve had to change our business model. We’re like little venture capital firms. We invest a lot of money in different artists, most of whom do not succeed. In the past, revenue streams from music companies were solely based on the sale of recorded music. According to Marks, the music industry can no longer afford to rely on a single revenue stream of recorded music as the company did in the past. “We cannot recoup the investment from that one revenue stream, when the marketing we do to break new artists creates all these others.” As part of their current deals with artists, Universal now negotiates a piece of other revenue sources including touring, merchandising, endorsements, music publishing, royalties, and artistic careers to make up for diminishing sales in recorded music.
Movies – on risk-taking and plate spinning
Moderator LaPorte questioned Raposo whether there were more challenges getting blockbuster films that are not comic book adaptations or sequels produced. On the flip side, she also inquired whether these films allow for greater risk-taking vis-a-vis smaller properties. It was notable that Raposo had just flown in from San Francisco after working on the latest installment of Star Trek.
Raposo reported that she is delighted when films perform well, even those produced by competing studios, because it permits the industry to keep making movies. She argued that the movies that are getting made are either “the biggest of the big” or “the smallest of the small.” She explained that, “At all studios, the movies in the middle generally don’t exist anymore. Movies have to get made for a price now, and that’s why you find movies in the two extremes.”
Raposo also discussed how the business requires her to “have her antennae up for new material all the time” whether it means reading a script at lunch or taking home a couple of books at night. Her work in film involves a lot of “plate spinning” in different directions, where simultaneously she is managing work in production, in post-production or getting projects on the runway.
Cable television: windowing, engagement and more
Wiseman described how cable has long been considered the darling of the media industry and protected by having the advantage of both subscriptions and ad support. “The old adage was that we were better off than our broadcast partners because we had a dual revenue stream.” According to the AMC veteran, the current concern in the industry is “cord-cutting,” where viewers cancel their cable subscriptions and view shows on Netflix, ITunes, and Amazon Instant in a commercial-free environment. Netflix is just one of the different strategies AMC is pursuing to meet transformed viewing habits. Viewers have the ability to watch missed episodes in multiple cable airings or consume shows in a variety of venues if they do not have basic cable or travel. “Several hours after the West Coast feed of Mad Men Sunday nights, you can download current episodes of Mad Men on ITunes and watch the series on your computer or you can buy a season pass.”
Wiseman declares that it is a transactional model. “We evaluate ways the consumer can access our programs; a lot of it is based on what the economic proposition is at it relates to proximity to when a television show airs.” The ability to have viewers be able to catch up on their television programs is very important. An exclusive deal arrangement with Netflix was controversial in the industry, but Wiseman believes that the highly serialized nature of the content makes sense to work with these platforms.
Being Female in Hollywood: Does it Really Matter?
LaPorte questioned the panelists about their thoughts on what it means to be a woman in male-driven Hollywood and whether there were any disadvantages. It is of note that gender does not appear to hinder any of the panelists in terms of their success in the business nor is being female particularly relevant in their day-to-day life in the entertainment industry.
According to Wiseman, there were “no glass ceilings preventing women from attaining jobs.” She has seen a number of inspiring women in key leadership roles over the years. Though it is evident that the panelists do not appear to focus on gender in their careers, they are certainly aware that they have often been the lone female in meetings. According to Raposo, “I am aware of perceptions, but I just focus on the work and blow past anything gender-related.” Bernard explains that she sees herself as a competent professional who knows her business. The time she notices being a woman most is walking that fine line of balance as the mother of six-year old twins, not in the day-to-day meetings. Marks quipped “It’s good that I understand sports analogies.” The senior Universal executive does believe that many women in the business striving for balance have “decided not to pay the personal cost, and self-select themselves out.”
Advice for Hoyas Starting out in Entertainment Careers
In giving advice to those starting out today in entertainment, these senior executive Hoyas pronounced that while the media business remains tough, the new digital space and nascent technologies have opened up a lot of doors as points of entry into the profession. Wiseman states, “I think the fracturing of opportunities actually creates a ton of them.” Bernard feels that start-ups, “something that might be the Wild West,” remain an excellent option for young people seeking entertainment careers. They all agree that it takes a lot of hard work and determination to succeed but there are certainly a multitude of doors to enter.