The second-richest man at the Oscars

Steve Jobs, with his tux and his iPad, is a force to contend with in Hollywood

Photo: Zadi Diaz. Click to enlarge.

At the end of his amusing Infoworld post Monday about the 82nd Academy Awards, the writer who calls himself Robert X. Cringely asks a series of rhetorical questions:

“Who was the richest person in attendance? Who has the most influence and commands the biggest audience? Who’s the least bound to Hollywood’s old ways of doing business?”

The answer to all three, Cringely suggests, is Steve Jobs. I’m not sure about the second two questions, but having consulted Forbes‘ list of The World’s Billionaires, released Thursday, I see that he’s almost right about the first.

Unless one of the Google (GOOG) guys, the Microsoft (MSFT) billionaires or the Walton (WMT) gang snuck into the Kodak Theater unnoticed, Jobs — with a net worth in Apple (AAPL) and Disney (DIS) stock alone of more than $5.8 billion (Forbes, which hasn’t caught up to Apple’s recent stock increases, lists his total net worth at $5.5 billion) — had second-deepest pockets in the room that night.

Rupert Murdoch, who was also at the Oscars, is worth $6.3 billion according to Forbes.

Hollywood, of course, is full of rich and powerful people. David Geffin ($5 billion), George Lucas ($3 billion) and Steven Spielberg ($3 billion) come to mind.

But Cringely is talking about more than money.

“The point here,” he writes, “such as it is: Hollywood has officially been taken over by the geeks — and not just James Cameron and his army of blue-skinned cartoon cats. There have always been techies making movie magic. ET didn’t really fly that bicycle. I’m talking about the business side of geekdom: the decision makers. That’s what’s changed.

“Jobs’ understated appearance at Hollywood’s biggest party was his way of announcing that the nerds are driving the bus, and all you pretty people need to step to the rear.”

It’s no coincidence, Cringely writes, that Sunday’s Oscar broadcast also marked the debut of the first  iPad commercials.

“As those ads amply demonstrate, the iPad is a content-delivery device — possibly the first gadget to deliver every kind of content possible, from newspapers and books to movies and video games, to any location anywhere within reach of an Internet connection. It won’t be the last, by any means, but everything else is already in catch-up mode.

“So Steve’s message to the gowned and tuxedoed assemblage boils down to this: You make the content (or at least some of it), I’ll deliver it. And I’ll create another $10 billion-a-year market in the process.”

Will Hollywood play along? We’ll see.

Apple is said to be locked in tough negotiations with the studios to repackage their movies and TV shows for the iPad. Jobs didn’t have any fresh deals to announce in January, when he unveiled the device. He’s got another three and a half weeks to make them before the iPad ships — with or without the pretty people.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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