Nancy Tellem, Microsoft’s new president of entertainment and digital media, said on Wednesday she has the means and the ambition to make a “Game of Thrones”-like series for the new studio backed by the technology giant.
“I have the ambition” to make a show as grand as “Game of Thrones,” said the former president of CBS entertainment at TheWrap‘s Power Women Breakfast at the Montage in Beverly Hills.
“That, to me, was greatest testament to how wonderful television can be and how engrossed people are and committed – and it was a social experience,” she said.
And, she said smiling, Microsoft’s budget was “enough for me to do my job, let’s just say.”
See photos: TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast 2013
Tellem left CBS in 2010, and was hired a year ago by Microsoft to head a new initiative to create high quality content, one of many forays into content by technology companies. She described how difficult it was to transition from a career in broadcast to the new world of digital.
She said the two years after leaving CBS were “the most difficult two years and the most important two years of my life.”
“I really had to try something new,” Tellem said. Television was changing, and “I really wanted to be a part of that change.”
“If I didn’t jump I was going to miss that moment to be a part of that change.”
She found that at Microsoft. “I loved that within this big company they had these entrepreneurs,” Tellem said. “They see the potential of things that don’t even enter my mind … it’s a different type of creativity.”
Not being bound by the constraints of a 22-episode season or even show length and with the technology to engage the viewer through the Xbox platform allows Tellem and her team to “focus on the content itself” and then way viewers can “share that experience.”
Tellem said she expects that Microsoft will begin rolling out its new shows — which will range from sports programs to scripted series — as soon as the spring. She says they have not decided whether to release the episodes over time or put them all out at once, like Netflix.
Asked about binge viewing, Tellem said she was not sure if Microsoft would release all its content at once, observing that interactivity was more the distinctive purview of Microsoft.
“There isn’t one right way” to release shows, she observed.
Among the top women executives who attended the event at Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills were Hannah Minghella, president of production at Columbia Pictures; Linda Lichter, partner at Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler and Feldman; former mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel; Sundance Lab director Michelle Satter; Kathleen Connell, executive director of the Screen Actors Guild; Carolyn Folks, executive producer of Entertainment Studios; producer Laura Bickford; actress Sharon Lawrence; Teri Schwartz, dean of UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television; Jill Calcaterra, chief marketing officer for Cinedigm; and Ruth Vitale, executive director of Creative America.
The breakfast also featured the four recent honorees of the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Award: Najiba Ayubi of Afghanistan, Edna Machirori of Zimbabwe, Bopha Phorn of Cambodia and Nour Kelze of Syria.
Kelze was unable to leave in Syria, but Ayubi, Machirori and Phorn were on hand to speak about their experiences as female journalists in countries that were not necessarily receptive to working women or journalists in general.
All three women said they dealt with adversity by refusing to be deterred.
“You just keep going,” Machirori, the first black female newspaper editor in Zimbabwe, said when asked about the gender-based discrimination she faced in her own newsroom in her 50-year career.
“You believe in yourself and what you’re doing,” Phorn said, noting that even after she was nearly killed while investigating illegal logging she couldn’t stay away from her newsroom for too long.
Ayubi, now managing director of the Killid Group, a nonprofit media initiative, spoke of how there was a time when her country, run by the Taliban, had no media to speak of. “We had no radio, no TV, no newspaper — nothing,” she said. Though being a journalist in Afghanistan has not been easy for Ayubi – she’s been threatened by public officials several times in her 25-year career and state-run media has published false defamatory reports about her – she’s appreciative that there’s now at least an opportunity to inform the world about her country at all.
The event raised money for the IWMF which is seeking $100,000 for an emergency response fund to help the many female journalists around the world who are stuck in positions much like the four honorees.
Bank of America sponsored the event for the second year in a row, along with Naturepedic.