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Former Sen. Chris Dodd to head Motion Picture Assn. of America

March 1, 2011 | 10:40 am

Former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a veteran Washington insider, is Hollywood's new chief lobbyist.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America said Tuesday that Dodd will become the new chief executive of the MPAA, the lobbying arm for the main studios that also oversees the film ratings system.

Dodd succeeds Dan Glickman, a former Kansas congressman and Secretary of Agriculture, who stepped down a year ago after five years on the job. Dodd will pull down more than $1.5 million in salary, 25% greater than the $1.2 million Glickman received. Dodd

In selecting Dodd, the MPAA's board is counting on the one-time U.S. presidential hopeful to restore some of the clout that the organization had during the four decades it was run by the legendary Jack Valenti, the former aide to President Lyndon Johnson who turned the lobbyist's role into a starring turn.

Dodd’s appointment caps a year-long search for a successor that showed how much the MPAA job, once a coveted position, has diminished in recent years. Last summer, the job looked like it was going to be filled by former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.). But the MPAA's board eliminated him from consideration after he expressed last-minute reservations and the prospect of moving to Washington from his home in New York.

The 66-year-old Dodd is taking over the MPAA at critical time for the organization and the film studios whose interests it represents. 

The major media companies are suffering from declining DVD sales, which have traditionally been a main source of revenue; falling theater attendance; and a digital revolution that is disrupting the entertainment industry's longtime business models. The studios are also threatening to make movies available for home viewing earlier, angering theater owners who believe it will undercut ticket sales.

In addition, Hollywood is facing the seemingly intractable problem of how to stem losses from piracy, which have accelerated as broadband Internet access spreads worldwide, making it easier for consumers to watch movies and TV shows without paying for them. Pressing countries such as China to open its market further to American entertainment is another priority for the MPAA.

As Glickman experienced, Dodd’s biggest challenge will be to wrangle consensus among the five major studios, which are all now units of competing media conglomerates with often conflicting agendas.

Even on issues on which there is broad consensus –- such as fighting piracy -– approaches differ.

For example, while ABC and other networks have embraced the dynamics of the Internet by striking deals with Google’s YouTube site to promote shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures parent Viacom Inc. filed a $1-billion lawsuit over the use of unauthorized clips from programs such as Jon Stewart’s "The Daily Show" on its video sharing service.

“It’s a very awkward time to be stepping into this thing," said Gigi Johnson, a lecturer at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management who specializes in the media industry. “You’ve got so many forces going in different and not necessarily positive directions and you’ve got a group of incredibly opinionated members each with different perspectives and business models. Making all of them happy is probably nearly impossible.”

Of course, that could also be said of Washington, where as a senator Dodd developed relationships across the aisle, including with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.).

Dodd is expected to work closely with Interim MPAA Chief Executive Bob Pisano, who is viewed a veteran executive and was himself a candidate for the job.

The MPAA's search committee recently settled on Dodd largely because of his stature and connections in  Washington.

Dodd served five terms in the U.S. Senate, where he was known for his expertise on family and children's issues -- he was the author of the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act -- as well as financial services. He served as chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, where he steered a massive banking overhaul.

But his political career also had blemishes. He took heat for his role in allowing insurance giant American International Group Inc. to pay $165 million in bonuses in 2009 at a time when the company was receiving federal bailout money.

In 2008, Dodd also was investigated by a Senate ethics panel over allegations that he received improper discounts for mortgages he received from Countrywide Financial Corp. In August 2009, the committee found "no credible evidence" that Dodd had violated any rules but criticized Dodd and his former Senate colleague Kent Conrad of North Dakota for not avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

[Update, 10:26 p.m.: For more, see the story in tomorrow's Times on the selection of Sen. Chris Dodd to head the MPAA.]

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) speaks to the media after a visit to the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven to discuss the Family Medical Leave Act in New Haven, Conn. Credit: AP Photo/Jessica Hill.

 

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