Content Industry Connect: Disney-Maker Deal 'Fantastic' for Multi-Channel Networks

West Hollywood, Calif. -- The Walt Disney Company's deal to acquire Maker Studios was the first topic of conversation Wednesday at the BANFF World Media Festival's Content Industry Connect summit in West Hollywood, Calif.

"It's fantastic, obviously," said Allen DeBevoise, CEO, chairman and cofounder of Machinima, when asked by moderator Andrew Wallenstein, editor-in-chief of digital at Variety, about the agreement announced Monday between Disney and Maker. Machinima, like Maker, is a multi-channel network that distributes digital-video content via YouTube. "It's a thesis that will play out more often, which is media companies getting involved in these YouTube brands."

In the panel "Digital Storytelling" DeBevoise joined John Roberts, senior VP digital media and commercial affairs, Endemol USA; Bernie Su, executive producer, co-creator and director of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; and Ezra Cooper, COO of Fullscreen, another YouTube multi-channel network.

"There's a generation that won't grow up, go to college, then go buy cable as we know it," Cooper said when talking about the Maker deal. He added, "If you're Disney, you're saying, ‘Wow, we can't build that. Let's go buy it.'"

DeBevoise touted the flexibility of digital platforms, and the ability of companies like his to create entire channels or content streams around particular niches. "People love what they love and they want more of it, and on Youtube you can get that down to a granular level," he said.

Disney-Maker wasn't the only deal to get play at the summit.

An audience member asked what the panelists thought about Facebook's recently announced deal to buy virtual reality company Oculus Rift, and whether that agreement would change filmed entertainment.

The speakers overwhelmingly agreed that it would with Su saying, "I think it definitely will within the next five years."

The conference conversation then turned to the currency side of the changing industry with the panel "Solving Business Challenge With Content."

Moderator Phil Alberstat, COO of Contend, kicked things off by asking whether viewers are leaving traditional media.

"I don't think anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘I want to watch something on my phone,'" or on any other specific platform, said Chris Argentieri, president, Source Interlink. "I think they just expect it to be available on all platforms and ready to consume whenever they want."

Argentieri was joined by Steven Amato, CEO and chief content officer, Contend; Amir Shahkhalili, agent, non-scripted television WME; and Howard Stein, strategist, global creative solutions, Facebook.

"The one thing TV has going for it is scarcity," said Stein, saying that there will always be people who want to unplug and lean back for a few hours a night. He added, "TV is always going to have primetime and they're always going to be able to sell that."

Amato disagreed. "People are tuning in to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it," he said. "They certainly have no affinity to a network or where they're going to see it. They just want that show."

Scott Free Productions President David Zucker appeared in the next session, a one-on-one interview conducted by Broadcasting & Cable Editor-in-Chief Melissa Grego.

Zucker serves as executive producer of The Good Wife, and was asked by Grego to talk about how the decision was made to kill off the character Will Gardner, played by actor Josh Charles, in Sunday's episode.

"The decision most importantly wasn't ours, it was Josh's," Zucker said, noting that Charles had indicated he wanted to move on from the show. "And the blessing, if there was one, was that he gave us a chance to write the character out."

Zucker also noted that the producers took no extraordinary measures to keep the death a secret, going only so far as to limit distribution of scripts—a practice that is de rigueur in film and television production.

"Honestly, I'm really shocked that this secret was kept," he said.

Zucker contrasted the current development landscape to the one that existed when Good Wife was launched.

"Now we are in an environment in which it is fairly rare, at least in our experience, for writers to come up with ideas anymore," he said.

He noted that it is increasingly common for projects to be developed around existing properties, and for writers to be attached to the development of those properties. Klondike, he said, was developed in this manner at a time when Discovery Channel was specifically looking to do a scripted project set in the Gold Rush era.

But when asked what the vision for Scott Free Productions is, Zucker put the writer at the center of what the company does.

"It goes back to the same thing that it was the day that I started, which is that it begins with the writers and it begins with the ideas," he said. "When there is mutual interest to put a project together, then it's our objective to find the best way to serve that project."