Alumnus Chris Wilson joined 21st Century Fox in March of 2015 as the company’s first Vice President of Government Affairs responsible for regulatory and policy matters relating to Internet governance. Growing up in Washington, D.C. and being exposed to federal policy at an early age helped spark Chris’s initial interest in government relations and public policy. His experiences throughout his professional journey, including his tenure with the firm, fostered these interests along the way.
Chris joined Drinker Biddle in 2001 as a Government Affairs Specialist after spending nearly four years on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide to the late U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter. While working full-time at the firm, Chris attended law school part-time and earned his J.D., cum laude, from American University’s Washington College of Law. While there he served on the Administrative Law Review. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Vanderbilt University.
In this issue of “Alumni Spotlight”, Chris tells us more about his time at the firm, gives us additional insight into his current position and shares his thoughts on Internet policy and other issues telecommunications and media companies should be monitoring in 2016.
Q: Describe the career path that led you to your current position.
A: After graduating with a degree in public policy from Vanderbilt University, I worked on Capitol Hill for the late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (PA). During that time, I became interested in pursuing a J.D. but wanted to make sure the legal profession was one I wanted to pursue before jumping into law school. I heard about an opening in Drinker Biddle’s Government Relations practice group and learned the group was expanding and the practice was burgeoning. At the time, Gregg Melinson was head of the group. He knew Senator Specter’s Chief of Staff very well, which made for an easy transition when I started. I was able to really sink my teeth into the legal industry during my tenure at the firm and was able to determine that the legal profession was in fact one I wanted to pursue. I was given a lot of responsibility and worked with many great attorneys. Drinker Biddle was the launching pad for my career.
At the firm, I had the benefit of being exposed to many different practice groups, including intellectual property, communications, and education. I continue to tout my experience at Drinker Biddle as I progress throughout my career. I honestly believe that the breadth of experience I got at the firm has allowed me to advance professionally in an industry I truly enjoy and those experiences prepared me well for future positions.
Q: What was the most influential thing you learned at Drinker Biddle or what have you carried with you throughout your career?
A: First and foremost I learned all about client service which has served me well. The firm did and continues to do a wonderful job of servicing its clients and providing outstanding advice and counsel. I quickly learned what it means to be a legal professional.
Q: What are your chief responsibilities and priorities at 21st Century Fox?
A: My position was created at the beginning of 2015. I am the company’s point person for Internet governance policy concerns. That primarily involves issues with regard to an entity called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and certain other policy discussions and policy making within the United Nations.
- ICANN is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet's unique identifiers. ICANN coordinates Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which are key technical services critical to the continued operations of the Internet's underlying address book, the Domain Name System (DNS).
It’s a broadly defined position that has both international and domestic components to it. I deal with cyber security issues, privacy issues, intellectual property law and telecommunications policy, among other topics. There’s a lot of activity taking place in these particular arenas and the company wanted someone in-house who could devote their full time and attention to those spaces. I’m really enjoying the role, and have been meeting a lot of interesting people and traveling some as well.
Q: How do you stay on top of the latest Internet governance issues and the rapid pace of change?
A: It’s an ongoing exercise. Thankfully we have the help of consultants and third parties that we work with - outside counsel and other general experts. Networking and constantly interacting with people who work in this space is also important. I’m heavily involved in ICANN and other venues. It’s critical to be up to speed on all the latest issues and changes because you are confronting them on a daily basis. It’s not easy to keep up but I think that’s part of why my position was created. The company needed someone who could spend their days keeping up with it all. It’s challenging but it’s doable, and I enjoy it.
Q: Is there something you're currently working on that you find particularly satisfying or rewarding?
A: I’ve been working a lot on what’s known as the IANA transition within ICANN – basically the process by which the U.S. government is relinquishing full oversight over ICANN and transitioning its role relating to the Internet’s unique identifiers system. The community of people that makeup ICANN will be taking a much larger role in how the global organization is run and how it functions. Those of us within ICANN are concentrating on defining ICANN’s accountability to the community without structured government oversight. We are also trying to make sure the organization acts prudently as it matures along with the commercial Internet. As the Internet and ICANN evolve there are a variety of issues that can come to the forefront with regard to fraud, abuse, illegal activity on the Internet and how those things implicate domain names and the domain names system. There’s a great deal of work involved in the transition process and the reformation of ICANN policies and procedures. It has a direct impact on our company and the Internet generally. I’ve been involved in working through these issues and it’s been a nice accomplishment to know I’ve contributed.
On top of that, I was recently elected chairman of ICANN’s Business Constituency, a group within ICANN that represents business and commercial users of the Internet. The group gives those users a voice within the ICANN community on policy matters. It’s a nice personal accomplishment as well as professional. Starting January 4th, I began taking more of a leadership role within the ICANN community.
Q: What is involved with taking on more of a leadership role within ICANN?
A: The Business Constituency encompasses a variety of businesses that use the domain name system and have a vested interest in how it operates and functions (businesses such as Fox, Google, Twitter and Facebook, for example). As chairman of the BC, I help organize the group and bring us together on issues of concern to the group. My role also includes serving as the voice of the BC within the ICANN community and the leadership of ICANN (i.e., the board of directors). I have meetings with other constituencies and stakeholder groups as well as the leadership of ICANN itself. I serve as the face and voice of the BC group and help drive consensus within the group. It’s a fascinating role that I’m glad and honored to have. It’s forced me to learn even more about ICANN very quickly.
Q: How has networking impacted your career journey?
A: I’ve had all sorts of different experiences in finding jobs in Washington. In some cases the position was publicly advertised, I saw it and then reached out to people who either I knew in the organization or were people I knew that knew people. In other cases, a position was not advertised and people within my network came to me and said, “Hey we heard about a position at XYZ company. Let me know if you’re interested.” I try to join as many relevant professional associations as I can. For instance, as an attorney, I’m a member of the American Bar Association and a member of the Federal Communications Bar Association. I tell people that if there’s one networking event that I attend every year it’s the Chairman’s Dinner in December. I make sure to attend that because there are over 1500 professionals in the communications bar that attend. I’ve met new people every time I attend and developed professional and some personal relationships as well. Especially in Washington, D.C., it’s important to get out there and be meeting and talking to different professionals and others I come into contact with. I run into people in the industry that I know or recognize and I reach out to say hello. I’m always open to doing that. Opportunities may present themselves that you didn’t otherwise know about.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for younger associates that might help them in their professional journeys?
My advice would be to always strive to learn. Sometimes you get stuck and you’re working on something and are devoted to the task at hand. You want to get the job done but it’s also important to take some time to think about what you’re learning by performing the job or task. There may be times when this can’t be done but I strive to do it as often as I can. I also think one of the greatest skills to hone is interpersonal skills, especially in the legal environment where your word is very important and how you interact with people or how you treat them is critical. Often when you’re job searching, it can be the deciding factor or a tie breaker among candidates. Interviewers consider whether they would want to work with the interviewee. He or she might be quite intelligent and smart but if they won’t get along with others then they won’t get hired. Focusing on being a good colleague is as important as being a good worker. I think that certainly has served me well. I’ve been blessed to have worked with some really wonderful people who I learned much of this from and many of them worked at Drinker Biddle.
Q: Looking ahead into 2016 what are some Internet policy and government issues that telecommunications and media companies should be monitoring?
A: I think all companies should be interested in how the Internet is going to be managed. For any company that wants to do business on the Internet or with the Internet, the goal is to make sure that no one entity dictates policy matters - that those policies are driven by collaborations and consensus that involve all stakeholders, with the ultimate goal to be ensuring that the commercial Internet is a safe and trustworthy place to engage in expression and commerce.
Q: There has been a lot of change in the video industry in the past several years especially when it comes to distribution models for media consumption. For instance, we have Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which didn’t exist even ten years ago. What do you see as the next potential business model, service or technology that will really rock the telecom and media world, and what types of regulatory or policy challenges do you envision those will bring?
A: I think we will continue to see an evolution of [television] content distribution models and the Internet becoming the primary platform. We’ve more recently seen the evolution of Netflix to a streaming service, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, of which 21st Century Fox is a part owner. I’m sure there will be others.
As we continue to experiment with different ways for consumers to engage with content, we will need to be thinking of about how we will manage the new distribution channels. The FCC has looked at this a bit with regard to the regulatory treatment of “over-the-top” video providers, but the marketplace has been evolving so quickly it has often obviated the need for regulatory or legislative intervention.
A key technology that I think is going to revolutionize how consumers view content is the notion of virtual reality. Fox recently made an investment in an augmented reality company. We did a demonstration at the most recent Consumers Electronic Show where we put together a 30 minute movie using footage from “The Martian”. We turned it into an augmented reality feature where the viewer felt as though they were becoming an astronaut themselves. I think it’s going to be something we’ll see both through our company and others in the near future, where entertainment becomes much more immersive– in essence, you are the entertainment. It will be interesting to see how this implicates legal and regulatory matters. The evolution of television taking over the Internet is going to change the dynamics both from a business model perspective and also the legal and regulatory world. It remains to be seen how that’s all going to play out. The next few years are going to be fascinating.
Q: Do you have any hobbies or passions that you like to pursue when you’re not working?
A: I’m an avid Washington Nationals fan and a huge baseball fan generally. In the spring and summer months if I’m not working, rearing my children or tackling household chores, I’ll be trying to catch a Nationals game either in person or on TV. I also enjoy reading when I have the time, especially biographies. I’m also, not surprisingly, a fan of TV and film. There is almost too much good TV out there now. I’ve found that I don’t have enough time in my life to catch all the shows that I would otherwise want to watch. I will say a nice aspect of working at 21st Century Fox is that I strongly believe in the product, the business and the industry. It’s nice to come to work each day and fight for an industry and business you enjoy and believe in.