As the winner of the ‘Intellectual Property Team of the Year’ at the 2016 Global Counsel Awards, we asked Viviane Eisenberg, senior vice president and chief counsel of Home Box Office Inc., her opinion on what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise senior leadership and what winning the award meant to her and the team.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
I am responsible for HBO’s legal matters pertaining to:
- production and content review of non-scripted HBO original programming (eg, sports programming, documentaries, news and talk shows);
- acquisition of film programming for our network;
- international distribution (theatrical, television, digital and on-demand) of all HBO original programming;
- brand protection, enforcement and licensing;
- negotiation of music licences with performing rights societies, necessary for the operation of our networks; and
- administration of our catalogue of original music imbedded in HBO original programming.
My team comprises 40 people, including 15 attorneys, and I report to the general counsel, Eve Konstan.
What led you to a career in-house?
As a lawyer, I always wanted to be an integral part of a well-respected company operating within an industry which I was interested in and felt passionate about. I am passionate about the media and entertainment industry because I love advising creative talent and helping disseminate innovative, cutting-edge and thought-provoking programming. I also love the challenges of tackling IP legal and transactionalissues.
In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
The most significant challenges we face and will face is dealing with an ever-evolving industry where our programming and distribution decisions have to keep up with cultural and consumer trends and with new technologies, which impact production and distribution of programming (eg, on-demand and interactive distribution, time and place shifting, cross border distribution and brand protection).
Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
We tend to handle content issues, production issues and transactional issues in-house. We rely on foreign outside legal experts.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
A deep knowledge and understanding of the industry worldwide, both from a business and legal perspectives and a close relationship with the business executives who should feel comfortable seeking and trusting our advice. The business executives should feel that you are working with them. Always think of creative solutions if the initial business decisions are not advisable. Finally, you need to empower every member of your team by granting them decision-making authority, encouraging them to take risks after thorough legal analysis and supporting them in the process of making sound decisions.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
Do your homework first. Do not be afraid to deliver news which may be potentially unwelcome. Emphasise that you are delineating the risks and that they are the ultimate decision maker.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
The legal department contributes to HBO’s growth through cost-efficient functioning: as mentioned above, transactions are negotiated and memorialised by our team; litigation costs are contained as a result of our watchful pre-publication review and our outstanding in-house litigators. Also, as a result of the constant interfacing between the lawyers and their business and creative colleagues, our team is able to spot legal issues at the initial stages of production or distribution decisions and to provide business affairs counselling as well.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
Globalisation and technological developments in the media and entertainment industry, as well as an increase in the amount and quality of original television programming and major changes to the viewing habits of end users.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
A foreign affairs television correspondent.
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
It made Eve and me proud of our team. We had a very successful 2015 and we all appreciated the recognition of the excellence of a team which successfully manages the legal IP issues pertaining to HBO programming and to the global operations of our company.
The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions. To make a nomination for the 2017 awards please click here.
For further information on the awards, please visit www.globalcounselawards.com.