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Former Universal Executives Have Big Plans for MMG

A tech startup’s chances of survival are always a crapshoot, but the newly launched Santa Monica-based Massive Media Group has two cards up its sleeve: an innovative solution to the problem of preventing creative content from being pirated off the Internet, and the Hollywood adage that it’s about who you know.

Former top Universal Studios Inc. executive and now Massive Media Group Chief Executive Howard Weitzman put together a management team that includes such names as Frank Biondi, former Universal Studios and Viacom chief, and Greg Meidel, former chairman of Studios USA and Universal Studios Television Group.

MMG is selling a software system that both protects and gives owners greater business control over digital content, be it new movies or beloved Golden Era television shows. The core technology was developed by Santa Clara-based InterTrust Technologies Corp., with which MMG forged an agreement to market and to cooperatively develop new applications in the entertainment and advertising industries.

The first and largest hurdle MMG faces, however, is getting the notoriously slow-moving studio behemoths to bite. That’s where the long resumes in the entertainment industry come in.

“We all have Rolodexes that get us meetings with the decision-makers, who have so far been eager to see what we have to offer,” Meidel said.

“Then it all comes down to performance,” continued Weitzman. “We have to prove that the technology really works. No one doubts that the future of entertainment lies in the digital world. The question is how.”

What distinguishes MMG’s and InterTrust’s system from standard encryption methods is that it protects material sent over the Web, satellite system or even a wireless phone after the first person decrypts the file. Nothing currently stops someone from buying a popular CD via digital download, then e-mailing the music to all his or her friends. The InterTrust software stays embedded in the content for its entire journey, preventing any unauthorized eyes or ears from having access.

The technology is just as much a business tool as a security one. Owners of the content can make whatever rules they want. The music enthusiast could e-mail his friends that album, for a price per head. Or a movie studio might encourage teen-agers to e-mail promotional trailers to their friends by giving them a free ticket to a screening.

Advertising and e-commerce opportunities could follow the content around cyberspace. A host of new business practices and theoretically new revenue streams should be opened up to the entertainment industry.

“When I sat through all those strategic planning meetings at the studios, there wasn’t a presentation that didn’t include a line about how to bring in additional revenue,” Meidel said. “Now I can go back and tell my friends that I have what we were all looking for.”

US Search Finds New Niche

Marina del Rey-based US Search.com is best known for bringing background checks to the masses letting, say, a father of the bride research his son-in-law but its recent deal with leading management software developer QuickHire reflects the company’s new emphasis on the business-to-business sector.

US Search’s pre-employment screening services soon will be included in the QuickHire software suite, widely used by government agencies and large corporations to streamline the hiring process.

“This deal is an example of what we’re going to be doing quite a bit now: Integrating our service with key business Internet portals and software,” said US Search Vice President Bob Anderson. “It was clear to us since (last year) that the business-to-business area was a sweet spot and that we would make it a primary focus.”

US Search’s main source of revenue is individual consumers, with more than 400,000 visitors utilizing the company’s various public-record information search products in January alone, according to Anderson. But lured by the more lucrative B-to-B market, US Search hopes more than 50 percent of its revenue will stem from business-sector activity within a year.

The company forecasts a democratization of sorts for background checks, which officials believe will become commonplace for companies of all sizes to better protect themselves from risks and make better hiring decisions.

Further announcements similar in nature to the QuickHire deal are on US Search’s horizon, Anderson said.

News & Notes

Content streaming pioneer SightSound.com has entered into an exclusive, five-year Internet distribution deal with production company Franchise Pictures. The first 35 movies will be available for consumers to download by the end of the month. Franchise Pictures whose “The Whole Nine Yards” is currently in theaters will become a shareholder in the L.A.-based Internet company

Contributing columnist Sara Fisher can be reached via e-mail at latechtalk@yahoo.com.

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