MGM Exec Controls World’s Largest Modern Film Library …

… and He’s Giving them Away?

Leeds School of Business at CU-BoulderPublished in Portfolio (magazine of the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder)

“OH, NOT THAT DEAL AGAIN,” says a suddenly exasperated Jim Packer (’85 marketing), President of Worldwide Television Distribution at MGM. “I was the first person to ever put a feature film on YouTube, and you’d think I created YouTube!”…
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WEB EXTRA – Jim Packer (BS ’85, marketing), heads up Worldwide Television Distribution at MGM. Here he shares his perspective on: the entertainment business in a recession, quality programming vs. the infomercial, and, yes, the 24-hour “American Gladiators” channel.

Portfolio: How did you turn a business degree into a career in movies and TV?
Jim Packer: I got interested in the entertainment business in a number of ways. One was growing up in Los Angeles. Two was my experience at CU: I went to the film school and learned a lot about the art of film, if you will. But I realized I wasn’t into making films; I wanted to be in the business side. I transitioned to ultimately becoming a business student when I realized that’s where I wanted to focus.

P: Is the entertainment business recession proof?
J: It’s shielded. It’s not recession proof, because people aren’t buying as many DVDs. They don’t have as much disposable income, so the economy still does affect it. What the entertainment business has–that other businesses don’t–is that in good times and bad, people want to be entertained. Some will say they do it more in bad times than they do in good. And that translates to a better business base for us.

P: Are infomercials starting to win out over quality programming?
J: It’s complicated, but the easy answer is: they aren’t necessarily winning, but they are definitely competing for eyeballs. People have more choices. Back in 2000 you might have sat at your house and watched the local TV station while probably 30% of the market had over-the-air TV. Cut to today, 80-90% of almost every market has cable or satellite and 300 choices. So while the paid programming may be taking time periods, that does not necessarily mean that quality programming doesn’t exist… because the viewers can go get it on cable.

P: Arguably that puts more pressure on having quality programming so eyeballs come to your channel instead of your competitors.
J: Exactly. Some people will try to compete with quality programming. Some will decide that in certain time periods they just can’t compete, and they just sell an infomercial. There are enough outlets trying to compete that there’s always going to be good quality programming. The market has shifted even for quality dramas. In 2000 if you wanted to watch a quality TV show you went to the networks. Today you’re just as apt to find one on TNT. Even going to AMC, you’re watching “Mad Men” which won a Golden Globe® for best series. So this is actually a good time: all these other outlets having grown and matured, they can actually afford to put on good quality programming.

P: With all these new outlets for MGM’s 4,100 movies and 10,000 hours of TV, you’ve got a pretty big job.
J: Whether it’s starting the cable channel [MGMHD, a 24-hour channel in 1080i high definition, featuring selected MGM films], selling something to HBO, putting it on KUSA in Denver, or putting it on YouTube, if I can monetize it and get it in front of somebody’s eyeballs, then I’m doing my job. The trick is picking the appropriate product; putting the right properties on the right space. We use spreadsheets… I have a whole team, a rights team, of three or four people that have been with me for a long time. But you still get down to: “should we do that movie on that platform?”

P: So where can I watch “American Gladiators” these days?
J: YouTube! Why? Because one of the highest clips, as far as views, was from this bodybuilder called Malibu. It was this pirated clip from some fan and it had over a million views. A light bulb went off and I said: “If a million people watch this cheesy clip, then I should give the people what they want and put the series up.” You know, it’s not rocket science. Sure enough, we started an “American Gladiators” channel on YouTube and it’s done really, really well!