Hollywood’s Silicon Beach

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by Alan von Kalckreuth

Hollywood: June 30, 2014

Silicon Beach Fest just wrapped down by the pier in Santa Monica.  It’s the way the world should be, brilliant ideas, movie glamor and the pacific winds cooling the hopeful under the shade of palm trees.

The SBF is in its third year and was well attended making it clear to business developers, theSiliconBeach City of Los Angeles, the movie studios and the keen observer that technology is moving fast and smartphone users, tablet users and traditional computer users are fertile ground certain to provide bountiful harvests for shrewd seeders.

The impact digital technology is having on consumer behavior is obvious, the less obvious matter however is how do you deliver content and information and make money doing it.

Does Hollywood have a role to play in this new eco-system? According to Daniel Ornstein, Warner Brothers’ Home Entertainment front man, all the studios are primed with digital divisions and these divisions “spend a lot of time and energy not looking at the obvious ways of doing things, but in innovative ways”.  He gave the example of dealing with DVD distribution and returns as a drain on funds that disappear as soon as you introduce downloads.  And it is start-ups and outside sources that fuel this “reinventing” of delivery, access and marketing of WB content he declared.

“We work with accelerators with more than just money and advice,” he explained, but didn’t elaborate.  Instead he revealed one of the significant benefits to the WB, “Soft benefits –our “spend” time with people who think completely different than our people.”

Maria Pacheco, DreamWorks Animation, Sr. Director Marketing (Mobile) told the techies in attendance, “At Dream Works there are six of us and sometimes we get a little crazy, we are charged with internal education.”  This theme of the studio juggernauts lumbering through the new digital ecosystem wishing they could navigate the unpredictable landscape as nimbly as skateboards is one of the primary reasons that start-ups should reassure their parents, their “investor” uncles and their angel investors that they are in with a chance –not only do they ride skateboard, but they are not hampered by mega-systems that react with sloth-like slowness.

“We’re finally getting everyone on the same page,” Pacheco stated with a triumphant exhaling.  She cited their success with How to Fly Your Dragon, but revealed that it took al their muscle to get behind that one app.

Ornstein suggests start–up get shrewd about navigating the studio system, “Find the right department to approach,” he advises, “not the highest caliber person on LinkIn.”  Pacheco adds, “Have a strong 15 second elevator pitch”.  She explains that she gets hundreds of calls and e-mails every day, “if they don’t catch me in the first couple of seconds I’m on to the next.”

The possibility of techies finding traditional money to pursue their app dreams was slapped down… gently… by Steve Shapiro, City National Bank, Senior Vice President – Entertainment Division.  “We are looking for a person who has done well in a previous company and puts their name on the line (read: has the money to back the loan and signs it away along with children, all personal water crafts and expensive jewelry), or if a studio is backing them a purchase order, same as film financing.”  Shapiro did apologize for being dressed like a banker not a skateboarder, but made no apologies for being a banker.  “How are you going to pay us back?” was pretty much his embossed reverse side of his business card.

Shapiro did suggest a traditional model that he believes translates to techie start-ups, “Packaging, get a celebrity behind it –we’ll get involved based on the strength of the celebrity.”  Most of the attendees quickly scrolled through their iPhones and sighed.