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My Top 7 Takeaways From TheGrill 2014: Data Science, Social Media and Charm Go a Long Way

Here’s what we learned from the interactions onstage and off

TheGrill 2014 is over and as usual it has left me breathless from the conversations I’ve had, and feeling like my brain is bursting with new ideas and information.

Here are my top 7 takeaways from the interactions onstage and off:

Data science is still scary to the best content creators.
Josh Sapan, the CEO of AMC Networks, surprised me by saying you can’t “science your way” to great content. Not because that isn’t true, but because it flies in the face of popular wisdom. I could almost feel the tech people in the audience grind their teeth. But the movie studio presidents essentially said the same thing: they see the benefit of technology in marketing movies, but don’t see any point in drawing that into the process of creating great stories.

Also read: TheGrill: AMC Networks Chief Josh Sapan Says You Can’t ‘Science Your Way’ to Great Content (Video)

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 07: AMC Networks President and CEO Josh Sapan speaks onstage during day two of TheWrap TheGrill 2014 at Montage Beverly Hills on October 7, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Buchan/Getty Images)

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Brands are aggressively going to disintermediate the relationship between talent – writers, directors, actors – and producers – studios, networks and production companies.
Pepsi CMO Frank Cooper made no bones about the fact that Hollywood is “failing” (his word) at creating quality content geared to mobile consumption. And everybody knows that’s the fastest-growing, youngest (read: desirable) category of content users. He, among others, intends to occupy the ground being ceded by legacy producers. Brands don’t always succeed at this but some will, and Red Bull already is.

Also read: TheGrill: PepsiCo, Red Bull Execs – We Will Do What Hollywood Can’t (Video)

The movie studios are lying to themselves about serving the female audience.
An attendee asked the studio presidents panel – which included only one woman, Warner Bros’ head of international marketing and distribution Sue Kroll – why there were so few movies with women in leading roles. The answers came back defensively: “Lucy” is an action movie with a leading lady; “Cinderella” is beloved at Disney; etc etc.  Later several attendees – both men and women – approached me to say they found these responses  disingenuous. Legitimate responses would have been “Twilight” and “Hunger Games,” but Lionsgate wasn’t on the panel. The jobs of the studio presidents are not easy, granted. But Hollywood is not addressing this question deeply enough and lip service isn’t cutting it.

Also read: TheGrill: Hollywood’s Studio Presidents Vie For Chance to Make ‘Rain Man’ Today (Video)

Sue Kroll

The movie studios are way savvy about social media…
And not at all inclined to buy into the hype sold by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram that these are the must-have platforms to launch their features. Movies are a mysterious blend of story, tone, theme and star-power. As Kroll pointed out, it is a complex brew that resists the simple approach of trying to enforce virality through a movie star’s tweet.

Also read: TheGrill: How Top Hollywood Executives Use Social Media for Casting Movies (Video)

Morgan Spurlock is one hard-working mofo.
That’s what it takes these days to win at the content game. The gadfly documentarian has a half-dozen projects ongoing on every platform you can imagine: a series on Showtime, a show on CNN, a new channel on Maker, a shorts series “We The Economy” to be launched on 40 different platforms at once. The guy is the definition of platform-agnostic, and despite his 15 years of success, does not let down his guard for a moment. He is constantly using whatever his current project may be to lay the groundwork for the next one. That’s how you grow a career in this crazy-quilt media world, and have longevity.

Also read: TheGrill: Morgan Spurlock on Making ‘Super Size Me’ and Saying No to Yes-Men (Video)

TheWrap - TheGrill 2014 - Day 1

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They’re not lying when they call Ron Meyer the nicest guy in the entertainment industry.
I’m absolutely sure there are times when the vice-chairman of NBCUniversal is awful, cynical, an egotistical sob. But if so, it was not this week. In his revealing talk with Jason Blum, Meyer did a fantastic job convincing people that he has the kind of wise world perspective that is the antithesis of Hollywood’s blowhard image. In case you missed this: the guy dropped out of high school, joined the Marines and was working in a clothing store when he kept begging for a way into Hollywood. Today he’s the closest thing we have to a Lew Wasserman, and I’m guessing he’ll be pissed that I just said so. Too bad.

Also read: TheGrill: Ron Meyer on ‘Why You Don’t Have to Be an Asshole to Survive’ in Hollywood (Video)
                       TheGrill: Ron Meyer on His Two Biggest Successes and Why ‘Titanic’ Is His Biggest Regret

Jeff Bewkes could charm his way out of an Ebola infection.
Threw everything I had at the guy – Turner layoffs, Rupert Murdoch, CNN ratings, Netflix envy, Alibaba acquisition . He (sadly for me) came out with out a scratch. Though I had the guy when I asked if he should have bought Netflix. He smiled that affable and not-condescending smile – and where did that little drawl come from? – and said “The only good answer for that is… I wished I owned it personally.” And I did love his response as to why Netflix’s Ted Sarandos didn’t make it to TheGrill this year: “He’s too big for it now.”

Also read: TheGrill: Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes Talks Cutbacks, New NBA Deal and Why CNN’s Ratings Don’t Matter (Video)

Watch Bewkes talk Netflix: