Understanding legal practice in the media


Jim Slattery is an experienced media attorney with broad-based transactional expertise. He is a seasoned negotiator in licensing and distribution of programming services, television stations and content to multi-platform distributors. He has also been involved in negotiating the Olympics. Most recently Jim was Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs at NBCUniversal. Previously, Jim spent 19 years in the media industry in various roles at USA Networks and All American Television.

Recognised for his expertise in dealing with issues arising from the evolving digital media landscape, Jim has been a featured speaker at several leading industry events and will be joining us at the 2017 General Counsel Summit in Sydney, Australia.

In this exclusive conversation, Jim gave us his expert opinion on the state of legal affairs in the media.

1. What’s currently on your radar as the most important trend in media distribution and consumption habits we can learn from?

I believe that the most important trend in media distribution and consumption habits is the disaggregation of the traditional viewing platforms and content (i.e., sitting at home in front of the television and watching a set schedule of programming from a set group of television channels) into a multi-platform mobile viewing experience of consumer-selected content from a virtually unlimited menu of choices on any device at any time and at any place that the consumer so desires to watch such content.

2. What do you project will be the most pressing legal challenges media groups and large-scale businesses will face in years to come?

I project that the most pressing legal and business challenges that media groups and large scale businesses will face in the years to come will derive from the issues presented by the proliferation of live streaming, whereby any person with a smartphone can now transmit live images instantaneously across the internet. Aside from the threats posed by online video piracy (copyright infringement and revenue impairment), large media organizations need to recalibrate from their concepts of the traditional media model and address the issues, threats and opportunities presented by the new digital media landscape. This includes such concepts as programmatic targeted advertising, disaggregation of content across various platforms, rights issues, and revenue sharing determinations.

3. How has working with a media group as dynamic and vast-reaching as NBC Universal transformed your understanding of current legal practice in media?

I think that working with a great global media organization such as NBCUniversal has given me a fantastic perch to view the disruption, concern and issues presented by the digital media revolution over the last decade, especially in the last five years. Also, having such a large in-house legal group of over 200 lawyers worldwide meant that there were many lawyers with different areas of specialization, be it trademark, copyright, litigation, bankruptcy, technology, or international law, which meant that you had all this expertise available to you in-house that you could avail yourself of as issues arose.

4. As issues around copyright continue to swell as an ongoing concern for all content creators, how can businesses future-proof themselves from the threats current content sharing trends present?

I don’t really think that businesses can really “future-proof” themselves from the threats the current content sharing trends present but I do think that businesses need to be aware of such current trends and technologies and be proactive in trying to address such issues. For instance, copyright owners of video content should have a process in place to register such content with the streaming service providers such as Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat to make sure that anytime unauthorized third party copyright-infringing video content is uploaded onto such services, it will be automatically taken down by the automated screening technologies utilized by such organizations. Businesses need to be always vigilant and informed as well as flexible and adaptable in a dynamic and quickly evolving environment as we move forward into the future.

5. Social media platforms are also thought to be challenged not only the way we consume content, but present new challenges when it comes to reprocessing and repurposing existing content. How do you believe businesses should be dealing with this?

Once again, I think that adaptability and flexibility are the key here in being able to craft creative solutions to the changing dynamic. Instead of viewing such social media platforms as the enemy, perhaps it would be more beneficial to think of such platforms as a marketing resource which can help to generate alternative sources of revenue which may serve to offset and even surpass the traditional sources of revenue which such platforms may be viewed as supplanting. If you look at the music business over the last decade and the slow response to the damage invoked by Napster to CD sales, you’ll see a business which has, in large part, rebounded through live concert sales, merchandise sales, music downloads and subscription services.

6. Could you provide some insights and ways you believe we can best make use of these trends? What role can social media play in positively paving the way to connecting consumers with new content?

Social media needs to be viewed, not as a threat, but as a tool which can help to preserve and enhance present revenue streams and create new revenue and marketing opportunities. The technology is not going away. While we should be proactive in protecting our current content and rights, we should also seek ways to take advantage of these new technologies in beneficial ways that the consumers of such content will accept and embrace.

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