Hollywood studios spend millions every year trying to get people to watch their movies. At Warner Brothers Entertainment, Darcy Antonellis is trying to get them to stop watching -- illegally, that is.
Antonellis oversees the studio's growing worldwide anti-piracy efforts as Hollywood's attention shifts from bootleg DVDs made in China to the problem of copyrighted television and movie clips showing up on sites like YouTube and MySpace.
While producers and celebrities garner most of the attention in Hollywood, technology executives like Antonellis are at the forefront of the industry as they try to protect the studio's control over its content.
With movies like the Harry Potter series and Ocean's 11 franchise and television series like Friends, Warner has one of the largest libraries in Hollywood. As a result, it can exert more influence over its relationships with online partners, making it one of the most-watched studios both inside and outside the industry.
"People want to be more interactive and have a voice," Antonellis said. "We need to consider all the opportunities."
Piracy may seem like the biggest threat to Hollywood, but Antonellis suggested instead that changing consumer behavior will have a greater impact on the entertainment business.
Movie studios, like their peers in music and television, are in the midst of a significant and frightening shift as almost every form of media is becoming ubiquitous on the Internet. And through sites like YouTube, viewers have grown accustomed to seeing whatever they want to see, free.
"People thinking it is OK to take this stuff for free on a worldwide basis has a bigger impact than anything," Antonellis said.
Many entertainment companies are growing impatient watching companies like YouTube distribute clips of movies and television shows free. At the same time they are concerned that YouTube earns advertising revenue from Web sites that offer pirated movies for sale on the site. Even while negotiating with YouTube, NBC Universal and Fox announced their own joint video service, and Viacom filed a US$1 billion lawsuit against Google, which owns YouTube.
Missteps made today could have consequences for the future, particularly when it comes to consumers' willingness to pay for movies and television shows online, Antonellis said. To illustrate the point, she tells of her niece's fish, named Mortimer, who one day leaped from his bowl, flopped on the table.
"Mortimer took the leap to freedom," she said. "He said, `I'm free, but I'm dead.'"
Warner and other entertainment companies are moving cautiously ahead, but their interests are divided. All want to share their content online with consumers but are, at the same time, imposing constraints that risk alienating a younger, Web-oriented audience.
On the piracy front, Antonellis said Warner has created four small teams that range from a two-person operation to nearly a dozen people in a larger group.
The teams are based in Burbank, London and Hong Kong, and most have dual roles in piracy and other Warner operations, like the legal department.
Antonellis said she wanted the teams to understand both areas because "you can't hand down policies in a vacuum. It doesn't work."
Warner's emphasis shifts depending on where piracy is most rampant. As well as cracking down in countries like China, where pirated DVDs are sold on street corners for as little as US$1 on the same day a movie is released, the company also works with the US Trade Representative's office to monitor pirated movies.