Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has turned to Hollywood to fill out its content team, hiring Malik Ducard, who is currently senior vice president of digital distribution at Viacom-owned film studio Paramount, according to sources.
Ducard declined comment and deferred to Google PR, which hasn’t yet responded to the inquiry.
What exactly Ducard is doing at Google is unclear. But it is certain he will play a role in Google’s mysterious programming strategy, which seems to be escalating its ambitions judging from recent moves that have fueled speculation likely only to continue with Ducard’s hire.
The likeliest scenario is that Ducard will be charged with bringing in content for YouTube and/or Google TV from the studio operations he knows well, having four years under his belt at Paramount, which were preceded by stints in the home video departments at MGM and Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF). At Paramount, he oversaw distribution of films to digital platforms including iTunes, XBox, Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and cable operators. He even managed to swing deals to have the likes of “Iron Man” and “Star Trek” come preloaded on Dell PCs and Seagate hard drives.
But it’s possible that may not be what Google has in mind for Ducard, or it could be just a portion of the role. He would essentially be switching sides from selling to acquisition, and Google already has a buyer in Robert Kyncl, the dealmaker who was lured over from Netflix in September. Which isn’t to say both men couldn’t be working the same role.
The company may also be giving Ducard the difficult task of playing ambassador to the content companies on behalf of Google TV, which has been stymied by broadcasters like Fox and CBS (NYSE: CBS) who have blocked access to their programming online.
The hire comes as Google seems to be stepping up efforts to buy the premium content that has eluded the company for years, which would benefit both Google TV and YouTube. With the acquisition of internet-video technology firm Widevine earlier this month, Google signaled it was getting serious about easing Hollywood’s fears about content protection. Google is also said to have entered into negotiations with Miramax for rights to its library of movies. And there have been reports for years that Google may want to start buying top-shelf product to become a serious competitive threat to the likes of Netflix and Apple.
That could help shore up a real weak spot for Google. YouTube made some noise nearly a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival with the launch of YouTube Rentals, the site’s first transactional VOD platform. But that site has gotten little promotion since, not to mention a woeful library of film almost completely absent of major studio product save a few experimental release strategies from Lionsgate.
To date, the studios have done little more than experiment with YouTube as a distribution platform. Though tempted by YouTube’s massive global footprint, Hollywood has balked at Google’s refusal in negotiations to commit significant dollars up front, if any dollars at all, in favor of pure ad-revenue shares. With the tensions that have long simmered between Google and Hollywood partly a function of cultural differences, the choice of Ducard could represent bringing someone in who knows how to speak the language in Los Angeles.
Ducard wouldn’t be the first person Google hired out of the content business to help improve relations with that community. Before moving on to lead AOL’s content efforts, David Eun spent several years as Google’s vice president of content partnerships after stints at NBC (NYSE: GE) and Time (NYSE: TWX) Warner.
Google may also be making a statement by luring someone from Paramount, which is owned by Viacom (NYSE: VIA), the conglomerate that has long been embroiled in a legal battle over copyright infringement on YouTube.
Ducard survived layoffs at Paramount in September that claimed 53 employees, but was shifted from Paramount Digital Entertainment, which ow focuses on production, to the studio’s home-video division. He began his career in advertising at Young & Rubicam in New York.