Khushbu Shah ’18
Internship: Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, California
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Favorite Yale SOM class: Competitor
These are notable times in Hollywood: In January of this year, little more than a century after the founding of Hollywood, Vanity Fair published an article titled “Why Hollywood as We Know It Is Already Over.” The film industry has made few changes to its business model since the first film studio was built in 1911. Film technology has changed with the advent of sound and color and with the invention of digital film. Film distribution has changed with the coming and going of VHS and DVD and with the invention of streaming video. The core functions of a film studio—content acquisition, financing, production, marketing, and theatrical–however, still closely resemble the bygone era of Hollywood.
This summer, I worked just down the street from that first film studio, on the lot of Paramount Pictures. Paramount Pictures Corporation was created as a start up in 1914 and has since grown into one of the “Big Six” major studios. As a testament to its history, Paramount houses an extensive film archive in a refrigerated warehouse on the lot. One of the first movies I watched this summer, Mommie Dearest (1981), was pulled out of the Paramount archive and screened on film at the Paramount Theatre. In a transfixing opening scene, Faye Dunaway (as actress Joan Crawford) executes a severe beauty regimen to prepare for an early morning on a movie set. The movie is a camp classic that delivers memorable performances and quotable lines, but it also depicts the business of film as a simple production assembly line with few inputs and few outputs.
People no longer “go to the movies” as they did in the decades before the internet. Instead, we use smartphones to watch video games; we use tablets to livestream strangers’ videos; we use laptops to binge television; and we use smart TVs to rent movies, all at our own leisure. For Hollywood, these disruptive changes have affected the outputs produced and the inputs required.
In MGT 410 Competitor with Professors Judy Chevalier and Joyee Deb, we learned about industry life cycles and how companies must pivot within a changing marketplace. Professors Chevalier and Deb taught that a company in a competitive environment, with the threat of substitutes, should establish an advantaged position and explore new areas of growth.
Paramount Pictures and its parent company, Viacom Inc., are savvy to these changes and face them head-on. In the past year, the film studio has hired a new CEO (Jim Gianopulos), new marketeers from Google (Rebecca Mall, Mo Rhim, and Reggie Panaligan), and a new “Futurist In Residence” (Ted Schilowitz). The Vanity Fair article called film executives in this industry “smart and nimble” and “defiant” as they try to figure out a solution. The film studio also brought on a team of five MBA interns, including myself, to work within Digital Business Development (headed by Howard Hsieh and Dawn Yang).
Our task this summer was to build something for the future of the film studio. First, we spent time understanding the core competencies of the company to determine new revenue streams in growing markets. Then, we built a new product. We researched consumer needs and the competitive landscape. We met with developers and perfected the product design. We forecasted a financial model and staffed out a team. We created plans for bringing the product to market and sustaining its growth. At the end, we presented the pitch to senior leadership to propose the development of the product, in a new but corollary industry, that would put Paramount Pictures in an advantaged position.
Professor Amandine Ody-Brasier highlighted the importance of this type of innovation team in MGT 421 Innovator. With my summer experience, I put the design thinking framework into application and learned how to sell innovation to an established corporation. I learned that you must find the visionaries in the company at every level. These are the people who believe in a future that looks different from current models of success. These people are curious and look to other industries for lessons.
There are also people who say no. There is paper on a bulletin wall in the SOM building with a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that states, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” These employees prefer to operate within an established mode of procedures and can stand in the way of progress. Yet, as we learned in MGT 420 Employee with Professors George Newman, Jim Baron, and Lisa Kahn, these employees also serve a crucial role in the implementation of a new idea. Navigating the politics of the organization and winning the support of these employees is central to the success of innovation.
It was instrumental to have a year at SOM under my belt going into this internship. I had to use management principles in every step of our process, as we had 10 weeks to build a start up for a product, within a traditional company. I also learned what makes an SOM student distinct in the corporate world. I attended a Paramount marketing focus group led by research scientist Karen Hermelin ’88. We watched three potential trailers for a film directed by a well-known director, and she mediated questions and responses. When I asked her afterward how she transitioned seamlessly between the creative and the quantitative, she spoke of her multi-disciplinary background and its value within the SOM community. SOM brings a different perspective to the table, she explained, one that can look ahead to the future and understand how to get there.