Jeff Shell, a film novice, leads Universal Pictures into the digital age – Los Angeles Times

A sleek black screen fills an entire wall of Universal Pictures’ executive conference room. The enormous display, measuring 24 feet by 5 feet, resembles a futuristic version of the game board for the TV show “Jeopardy.”

It is a high-resolution, eight-dimensional digital calendar marking release dates of upcoming movies. Dec. 18 has been reserved for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” from Walt Disney Co. March 25 was claimed by Warner Bros. for its clash of superheroes, “Batman v Superman.” Universal has staked out July 29 for its next Jason Bourne spy thriller with Matt Damon.

“It was Velcro when I got here — just names of movies placed on the wall with Velcro,” Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.

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He became Universal Pictures’ top executive two years ago with a mandate to ease the 103-year-old film studio into the digital age. His elevation came amid seismic shifts in the entertainment industry. Theater attendance in the United States has declined, DVD sales have been in a prolonged slump, and streaming services such as Netflix are elbowing into turf long reserved for movie theater chains. All the while, high-quality TV programs now rival studio films for cultural relevance — giving consumers plenty of easy entertainment options.

When the veteran TV executive was named head of the film studio in September 2013, Hollywood’s entrenched power crowd was surprised, even incredulous, that NBCUniversal and its parent, Comcast Corp., would hand the keys to its most prestigious property to someone with no experience in the film business.

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