‘It took a crisis in order to make changes,’ Golden Globes owner

The return of the Golden Globes to NBC on Jan. 10 will mark not only the 80th anniversary of the awards ceremony, but the long journey of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. to rehabilitate its image and get back into Hollywood’s good graces.

It also underscores how dramatically the group has changed under its new owner, billionaire Todd Boehly, chairman of private equity firm Eldridge Industries, the parent company of longtime Golden Globes producer Dick Clark Productions.

Earlier this year, Boehly, a Dodgers co-owner, also made headlines with the record-breaking purchase of Premier League soccer club Chelsea FC for $4.93 billion.

No longer a nonprofit group of foreign entertainment journalists, the 96 members (including those with emeritus status) of the newly reconstituted for profit are now paid employees of the Golden Globes Association under the Eldridge umbrella.

They will earn $75,000 a year to screen films and television series submitted for Golden Globes consideration, vote on nominations and winners, write content for the organization’s website and organize materials for the awards show and group’s history, according to a copy of the employment contract reviewed by The Times.

Under the new plan, the association’s tax-exempt status will be dissolved, and the new association will allow members “the opportunity to share in its profits.” The new private entity will manage its Golden Globes assets while maintaining the charitable and philanthropic programs in a separate nonprofit entity. The plan must still be approved by the California Attorney General.

In an interview with The Times, Boehly said the changes were necessary steps.

“We had the combination of the business model that was changing, challenged governance and a sense of power, which ultimately resulted in the catastrophe that we all witnessed,” Boehly said. “And it took a crisis in order to make changes.”

In September, the HFPA added 103 international non-member voters, greatly expanding the group’s diversity and geographical reach. This group of voters will not be paid, creating, in effect, a two-tier system.

Boehly, who became the group’s interim CEO last year, said he expects the number of international voters will grow to make it it less “reliant on the existing members,” while expanding the voting pool overall and the organization’s global presence. The goal, he said, is to establish what he called, “events around the world under the Golden Globes brand.”

Proponents of the new setup say it is a way to replace the old broken system, in which some members garnered paid journalism assignments predicated upon the exclusive access the HFPA was given to talent through screenings, press conferences and other events.

By providing salaries, guaranteed for five years, as well as benefits including medical and dental, and accrued vacation and bonuses, the reasoning goes, Boehly can exert a greater level of control over members by eliminating their demands for exclusive access that became a point of contention for many in the industry.

“Now by making [members] not reliable on press conferences, I take away the kind of conflicts of interest that were embedded in the organization that might have created the opportunity to be swayed by things other than just being authentic and having real integrity,” Boehly said.

Further, he said the for-profit structure will allow the organization to adapt and operate with the kind of accountability, governance and flexibility that was absent from the HFPA.

Industry critics, including a number of Hollywood publicists, have long complained that the HFPA outsized influence in the awards ecosystem and that its members behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally at press conferences, frequently snubbing talent of color.

“We were all complicit working with the organization and holding our noses,” said one publicist who acknowledged the HFPA had made a number of strides in its reform efforts.

Over the past 20 months, the HFPA established a new code of conduct and bylaws, banned gifts, instituted a hotline for reporting misconduct and put curbs on travel. The group also hired its first chief diversity officer and admitted 21 new members, six of whom are Black.

Abandoning exclusive press conferences became a front-burner issue for a contingent of more than 100 power publicists who demanded significant reforms and boycotted the HFPA following The Times’ investigation that exposed a lack of diversity in the organization’s membership and raised concerns about its ethics and finance practices in 2021.

Over the years, internal and external critics claimed that the HFPA, flushed with nearly $30 million annual payments from NBC to broadcast the Golden Globes, had become corrupted by the huge flows of cash to the organization.

The Times investigation found that the nonprofit HFPA regularly issued substantial payments to its own members in ways that some experts said could run afoul of Internal Revenue Service guidelines. HFPA members collected nearly $2 million in payments from the group in its fiscal year ending in June 2020 for serving on various committees and performing other tasks.

The HFPA said the members were properly compensated for their services and that the payments were in line with market rates and industry practice.

Boehly said paying members will create a “system of checks and balances.”

“So how do you make people accountable? Boehly said. “Well, you transition the organization from a not-for-profit with no accountability and bad governance to an organization where there is employee-based accountability.”

Still, some look askance at the $75,000 salaries and benefit package, saying it elevates the role of money inside the organization, effectively making its member employees paid voters.

Kelly McBride, senior vice president of the Poynter Institute and chair of its Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership, said the arrangement is unusual.

While sports journalists vote for the Heisman winner and other journalists vote for Pulitzer winners and other journalism awards, “I have not heard of another group of voters [who] get paid,” she said.

“Mainly, it makes you wonder if the HFPA has an agenda,” McBride added. “$75,000 is a fair amount of influence. Anytime journalists get not paid by journalists, the question is what are they getting paid for and if influence is not being bought.”

Boehly downplayed the planned payments.

“I wouldn’t call them paid voters,” he said, adding that voting is only part of their role in the organization. “I don’t know why a paid journalist can’t also vote on something. Where’s the rule that says that?”

As paid employees, Golden Globes Assn. members can be fired without cause.

“This is about becoming professional,” said Boehly, saying the ability to terminate employees is part of “good governance and mechanisms to ensure that the organization is evolving with the times at a very professional standard.”

Included in the contract is a “walk-away” clause, in which members who sign the contract have 30 days to terminate their association and will be paid $225,000. Boehly said the payment was simply “severance.”

Even as the HFPA embarked on its reforms, various reformers and dissidents have claimed it has become less transparent. Over the past year, the association has quietly ejected a handful of members whom they have accused of violating its standards.

And some believe the new structure and financial payments are ways to keep members in line — and weed out those viewed as problematic.

Turning the HFPA into a for-profit venture “takes away the last shred of legitimacy,” said one former member who declined to be named for fear of retaliation. “They are now a commercial venture…opaque, even less trustworthy.”

As the new Golden Globes Assn. takes shape, another question is how paid members will navigate potential conflicts involving their new employer.

In addition to owning the Golden Globes, Eldridge Industries owns Dick Clark Productions, which produces the awards ceremony. For years, the two separate entities split the $60 million licensing fee NBC paid to broadcast the show. Eldridge also owns stakes in a number of trade publications including the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

At the same time, production companies including A24 are part of the Eldridge portfolio. The content produced by those firms will likely be up for consideration for Golden Globes. This year alone, A24 garnered 10 nominations in the film categories, second only to Searchlight.

“A question is what is the ultimate value of the Globes?” asks McBride. “Anytime you have these systems of awards, the Emmys or sports or the Academy awards, you want some sort of accounting so that you know the system is fair and that the … people who vote are legitimate.”

Boehly said there are processes in place to ensure responsible voting, including having the accounting firm of Ernst & Young tabulate the votes. “I don’t get involved in that one bit,” he said, adding that following the transition to a for-profit he plans to cede leadership to a new CEO and management team.

“I am not interested in having any influence because I think, frankly, that would damage the integrity of the brand. And of course, my number one goal is to grow the brand.”

Still, Boehly acknowledges that despite all of the organization’s efforts, skeptics remain.

“I have nightmares where it doesn’t work too, you know? I get it, you can’t convince all of the people all of the time of anything,” he said, “We know we have to add value and we know that we have to be part of the solution.”

He added, “We understand our place in the ecosystem and we want to make sure we achieve that — to be a professional organization with longevity.”

Staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.

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