UCLA Entertainment Symposium Tackles Paramount Issues With COO

Diane Haithman

Paramount Pictures COO Andrew Gumpert said it was a bad cold — not cold feet –that led Paramount chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos to bow out as Saturday’s keynote speaker at the 42nd Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium at the university’s Freud Playhouse.

Gumpert joked that Gianopulos Friday evening call to his right-hand man did nothing to make him feel more confident about taking on questions about the direction of the troubled studio from Ken Ziffren, co-founder and partner at the law firm of Ziffren Brittenham. Gumpert said Gianopulos told him not to worry: “Ken and I have prepping for four days.”

No matter. On the second day of the March 23-24 event, Gumpert, who became COO in January 2017 shortly after exiting as head of Sony Pictures business affairs group, was more than ready to take on tough questions about the direction of Paramount, along with telling the obligatory war stories of mentors and career breaks.

The executive called Paramount’s changes over the past 14 months “Paramount 2.0.” He cited executive changes, new marketing initiatives, financial partnerships, and successfully persuading talent to stick with the studio as part of Paramount’s reinvention. He said the studio had to change a vibe Paramount could feel in the industry that said: “You are our last stop.”

He cited Hasbro, Skydance, and J.J. Abrams as entities with “one foot out the door” that chose to reinvent and extend their deals with Paramount rather than leaving. He also mentioned new deals with Neil Moritz and Graham King. He also spoke about growth in Paramount Television, which he described as “double digit in terms of production, in-house, and third party…we are playing with all of these new worlds and platforms”.

Regarding the high-profile flame-out of Paramount’s $1 billion financing deal with China’s Huahua Media following clampdowns from the Chinese government: “What can I say? Paramount, and some others in that exact moment, just got caught in that change.”

Ziffren pressed Gumpert for his thoughts on Hollywood’s “frenemies” – that is, Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming entities that are disrupting the legacy motion picture studios. He said that while streaming does challenge traditional movie going, catalogue and licensing deals between Paramount and such entities are energizing the business.

On Cloverfield and Netflix: Ziffren didn’t have to ask, Gumpert brought that one up himself. He said J.J. Abrams Robot Productions film gave Paramount executives “pause” about its marketability. He praised Netflix strategy of premiering Cloverfield after the Super Bowl. “Many, many more millions of people saw the movie” than they might have in tradition release. “It’s an example of them (Netflix) being a friend.”

Gumpert anticipated another question by bringing up the pending CBS-Viacom merger: “Folks are thinking about bigger is better. I guess we shall see,” Gumpert said. “Managers of ‘just Paramount’ have our helmets on, our shoulder pads loaded, and do our job every day” on the path to success, he said.

Gumpert was less bullish about the threat of premium video on demand (PVOD). “Paramount is still a believer that there is a business in the traditional windowing schematic,” he said. However, he warned, that early windowing could increase the risk of piracy early in the process, closing the window to future profits.

Ziffren asked if Gumpert could cite One That Got Away: Jordan Peele fan Gumpert said he thought it was a misprint when he first read that Peele was making Get Out for Universal, not Paramount. “I don’t know if it got away. We never had that,” he said.

The jam-packed hour session had time for only one question, and it was the big one: A female questioner pointed out that Gumpert’s cited mentors were all men. She pointed out it’s harder for women to find such mentors in the industry.

Gumpert agreed, but had a ready answer: He said Viacom has a female owner, Shari Redstone, as well as the GAIC (Global Inclusion Advisory Committee), of which Gumpert is a member. He noted the recent appointment of new women execs, including Jean Chi, EVP of Business Affairs; Mary Daly, Paramount’s president of international theatrical marketing and worldwide home entertainment; and animation chief Mireille Soria.

“My personal view is one of equality, he said. He added the committee is mindful not only of gender diversity, but ethnic diversity as well…(that) has to lead to better results downstream.”

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