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Miramax CEO Lang Grilled: ‘We’re Focusing on the Library’

The studio’s new chief talks its rich catalog, digital distribution and his plans to make Ron Tutor’s $660 million bauble pay

Movie lovers still rave about  "Pulp Fiction" and "My Left Foot" — but after a year on the auction block, does anybody still care about the studio that produced them?

One group that hopes the answer is a rounding yes is the Ron Tutor-led consortium that snapped up Miramax, the indie label behind those classic films, from Disney this month.

No one is more familiar with the challenges facing Miramax than its new CEO Michael Lang. His mission — make Tutor’s $660 million bauble pay. 

Lang is a digital veteran and a former News Corp. executive, where he helped the company with the acquistion of MySpace and the creation of Hulu.

Fresh off his new appointment, he was grilled by TheWrap on his plans to re-establish the Miramax brand, the future of digital distribution and his plans to turn a classic library into a new media player. 

So, what’s your vision for Miramax?
For the first two years we’re going to focus on the library. I’m a firm believer that there is still going to be growth in the home-entertainment sector and with physical discs. On TV sales, Disney had done good job, but there is still room for improvement. There are more and more pay TV platforms globally today, and there is a lot of opportunities on the digitial front.

Miramax has been on the auction block for so long. Have people forgotten what films make up the library?
Clearly there have been a lot of people who have forgotten just what the library is. The history of the library got tangled up with the Disney company, and they did a great job with many aspects of the studio, but they were not really focused on making the brand resonate. We’ve put together a compilation tape on Miramax.com that details the history of the library. I think a lot of people will be surprised how rich it is and how many great films there are in it.  

Will you be producing original content?
Over the long term, we’ll do more and more on our own, but our focus has to be on the core library. That doesn’t mean we won’t do new projects either through acquisitions or by developing the sequel rights we received as part of the deal. We got hundreds of projects that are in various stages of development.

Should we expect “The English Patient 2”?
No. We don't want to get into specifics, but the sequel rights are something we are going to exploit aggressively. There are a lot of titles, and some might not make good sequels, but maybe they’d be good ancillary TV shows. Many have already been sequels, so we can extend a franchise.

When we do get involved in that, we’ll do a lot through partnerships.

When you talk digital, one thinks instantly of Netflix. Is there a deal in the works?
Netflix is a great company, and we’re eager to discuss opportunities with them. The subscription business is only one component of our long-term strategy. It’s just one place where you can drive value. I had the honor of being part of the development of Hulu, and I’m a great believer in free ad supported content. I’m also bullish on the cloud and the digital locker. Those could be big opportunities for the entertainment industry.

Those are ambitious ideas. Can a small company like yours deliver?
We can be more innovative than a larger media company. I really believe that we can be a little company at the forefront of different business models. I’m struggling to find a disadvantage that we’d have. We aren’t encumbered by historical business practices or relationships. We’re bringing people with an innovative mindset together at a time when the industry is at a crossroads.

What are your thoughts about the universal file format? Will Miramax be involved in DECE?
I think the problem with DECE and Ultraviolet [the name for the universal file format being developed by several studios] is that it is sort of the tail wagging the dog. It should be about taking a concept and finding a business model. At Hulu, we didn’t worry about what the standards would be, we just went and built a business and got it done. I don’t know if that’s something we do on our own or something we do as part of Ultraviolet.

How big do you see Miramax getting?
We’re going to hire between 50 and 60 people this year. We’ll have hundreds of people working for us through partnerships. We’ll have partners on the home entertainment side, for instance, so we won’t be starting from scratch. I want us to remain a virtual and nimble company.

Who will you be partnering with?
I can’t say yet. We have been looking for partners on the development side and the home entertainment side. We’ll be announcing some big deals in the near future.

Finally, I have to mention: You’ve been blogging.
I wrote a blog introducing myself on the site. It’s about re-establishing the brand and what the company represents. It’s a way to position ourselves as a new type of media company in a new landscape. 

I’ve been involved in the digital media space for years, and I understand that you have to be close to consumers to be able to talk to them directly and build relationships. It’s also a great way to recruit new people and show them the kind of company they could belong to.