Indie Suppliers Going Straight to DVD

On the eve of its 25th anniversary, the DVD is staging a comeback, at least among independent suppliers.

The five-inch digital disc was launched in March 1997 by Warner Bros. and MGM, but didn’t really impact the market until two years later, when Walmart began selling DVDs. Several years of explosive growth followed, giving the home entertainment business new respectability and a seat at the table in greenlighting movies.

Joe Amodei

But beyond the actual product, the DVD ushered in a digital revolution that would later bring us the Blu-ray Disc, digital distribution over cable and the Internet, and streaming.

With disc sales steadily declining, year after year, a number of independent suppliers are abandoning Blu-ray Disc and going back to DVD as the sole physical media distribution vehicle for their films. Their reasons range from cost to retail preference and consumer choice.

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“About 75% of our films get released on DVD along with the digital release,” said Joe Amodei, president and CEO of Virgil Films & Entertainment. “The other 25% are digital only. I’d say only about 20% of our releases get a Blu-ray. I am primarily docs, and they just don’t sell like they used to.”

At Shout! Factory, the push toward DVD is largely due to what’s happening at retail, says John Rotella, the company’s SVP of Sales.

John Rotella

“Our primary reason is due to Walmart being committed to DVD first and backing away from Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD, which sets the table for most releases that have mass-placement potential,” Rotella said.  “I can see us making more and more decisions to not release a Blu-ray on some Walmart-placed DVDs.

“Best Buy, on the other hand, is not interested in DVD and only takes Blu-ray and 4K, so on these Walmart DVD-placed titles if Best Buy decides to support a Blu-ray we will accommodate. If Best Buy passes on the Blu-ray then that, at times, is the death rattle.”

Target, Rotella notes, “leans toward the Blu-ray if the content is elevated by box office or cast or when the Blu-ray elevates a release by making it look more important. If they want to make the buying decision easier for the customer by offering a film at a lower price, the DVD will be the choice and possibly hurt the future of the Blu-ray. It all depends on content.”

Cost also is a factor, Rotella said. “Deciding not to release a Blu-ray can be a workload decision or if we have concerns with production costs,” he said. “Pricing is a barrier for Blu-ray on these types of films that simply meet consumer demand on DVD at a lower price. The DVD picture quality on modern Blu-ray players is good, so the quality difference isn’t enough to pay the extra dollars.”

Rotella said genres also factor in. “Black films, WWII films, Westerns, action films, and horror films have a stronger DVD base, so at times a Blu-ray Disc may not be necessary,” he says. “Big box office, big cast, pedigree, dramas, film noir, foreign, sci-fi, anime — these films do require a Blu-ray release, and the DVD is in jeopardy. We do make decisions to release a Blu-ray/DVD combo to allow us to have one SKU that caters to both sides of the aisle. The higher cost is an issue, but it does help strike a compromise.”

Not all indies are DVD-centric.

Alan Fergurson

“We are actually releasing more Blu-ray Discs than DVDs now,” said Alan Fergurson, SVP of home entertainment and business development at Kino Lorber. “That is driven by the number of major studio releases that we have licensed and release via our Kino Lorber Studio Classics label. In most cases, the studio has already exploited the DVD version, and we focus on the Blu-ray Disc as a collectible edition featuring a new HD or 4K master, new artwork and new extras such as interviews, etc.”

Still, Fergurson said, “On our Kino Lorber arthouse and documentary releases, we are releasing more DVDs. Our decision process is that our foreign-language arthouse and documentaries don’t have the wide, collectible appeal on disc, and the buyers are primarily direct-mail-order consumers who are still primarily DVD, libraries and consumers with a passionate interest in the individual films. We also look at the cinematic elements of a film before deciding not to do a Blu-ray, like is it a lush nature doc or a well-known international director with an avid cineaste following?”

Salzer’s Video Calls It Quits After 41 Years of Renting Videos in Southern California

Salzer’s Video, one of the last big video rental stores, announced via a Facebook page that it is closing down.

The store, located in Oxnard, Calif., is next door to Salzer’s Records, a mainstay of the local music community since 1966.

Owner Jim Salzer, who died last year, opened Salzer’s Video adjacent to the record store in 1980 to take advantage of the burgeoning video rental market. He later became a prominent voice in the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), the trade group for video retailers that produced an annual summer convention in Las Vegas that attracted thousands of independent video retailers — and huge show-floor expenditures by the studios to woo them.

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Salzer’s Video proved a worthy competitor to the superstores built by national chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertainment in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and still carries more than 20,000 titles.

In a Facebook post that went up at 3:19 p.m. PT on Sept. 30, the owners said, “It has been a pleasure serving Ventura County for the last 41 years, but it is time to call it a wrap. As one of the first video stores in the county, we began in a former gas station in 1980 and within five years moved into the superstore we’ve operated out of for the last 36 years. We’ll be having liquidation sales over the next few weekends, so stay tuned for details. We also have some exciting plans for the space to be announced in the near future. Thank you to all of our wonderful customers and employees over the years that have help make us one of the longest-running video rental stores in the country. Please note: our record store is stronger than ever and is NOT part of this closure. – The Salzers.”

In a subsequent post that went up less than an hour later, the Salzers provided more details on the store’s liquidation sales: “We are liquidating our inventory and will be having closeout sales for the next few weekends. This Friday through Sunday (10/1 – 10/3) all DVDs and Blu-rays — $5 each (this includes multiple-disc sets). The following Friday through Sunday (10/8 – 10/10) all DVDs and Blu-rays — TWO for $5. UPDATE: fixtures and other items will be sold at a later date to be determined. We may go a third weekend with even deeper discounts should inventory remain – stay tuned for details.”

Jim Salzer died early on March 15, 2020, after suffering a second fall. He had been hospitalized after an initial fall in late February. Shortly after noon on Sunday, March 15, he posted to Facebook, “I can’t keep up with Facebook currently. I’m having a bad time with recovery. See you on the flip side.”

His daughter, Sage, wrote on his Facebook page that in the late afternoon, “my dad and I FaceTimed and a few more hours passed and he is gone. Grateful for the countless hours we spent around the clock with him in the hospital after he took the first fall, breaking neck and back.”

Before venturing into retail more than 50 years ago, Salzer was a concert promoter, producing shows in Ventura, Santa Barbara and elsewhere in Southern California by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Buffalo Springfield.

A native of Chicago, Salzer was 78. He was survived by his wife, Nancy, and children Sage and Brandon.

Q&A With Garson Foos: The Ever-Expanding Universe of Shout! Factory

Garson Foos is CEO of Shout! Factory, a leading independent film distributor that since its launch in 2003 has branched out into streaming while doubling down on its commitment to physical media. A cousin to the legendary Rhino Records label, co-founded by older brother Richard and sold to Warner Music in 2001, Shout! is known for its lavish boxed sets and collections like last year’s award-winning collection of “Friday the 13th” movies as well as its support of anime and other niche genres.

Media Play News spoke with Foos as part an ongoing series of conversations with home entertainment leaders past, present — and future.

MPN: At a time when the big studios are still suffering from the lack of fresh product resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of movie theaters, you seem to be releasing more content, both digitally and on disc, than ever. Can you put a number on how many titles you’ve released over the past year and how that compares to the prior year? And what’s the driver?

Foos: Our deal and release flow is stronger than ever. We had a lot of titles in the pipeline prior to the pandemic, and we benefited from the vast majority of our releases not requiring a theatrical release. We released two to four new films a month, and another 10 to 15 library releases. Beyond that we released a good number of library films and shows digital only. We released hundreds of episodes of both “The Johnny Carson Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show” only digitally. We have broadcast rights to the entire Stephen J. Cannell library worldwide, and we have other digital rights on a smaller number of those shows. We also started releasing seasons of the “Ultraman” series for digital streaming, largely on our TokuShoutsu channels. So a large amount of content is released physically, as well as a lot of additional content coming out digital only.

MPN: Shout! Factory continues to be particularly strong in anime. What prompted this, and how do you market your product to anime fans?

Foos: We’ve always been really good at playing in the niches. We’re pop culture junkies from way back, and we got into the kids business big in 2009 with Hasbro and their animated “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” series, as well as “My Little Pony.” There were several rare Japanese-made “Transformers” series that we distributed.  We also had big success with the the “Power Rangers” series years later, and uncovered the Japanese versions — “Super Sentai” — and did well with those series. It made sense to move into anime from our roots. Melissa Boag is our head of Kids & Family and she had her eye on the anime business for years. She helped us acquire the film In This Corner of the World, which was beautiful and exceeded our expectations. Soon after that we struck up a relationship with GKIDS, who are the best in the business in anime film. Through them, we got the Studio Ghibli library in late 2017. Together with GKIDS we released new deluxe versions of the films on DVD and Blu-ray, and the sales were far beyond expectations. In late 2019 GKIDS was able to make the titles available for the digital transactional business and we worked with them on that. We’ve (via GKIDS) put out many other new and library films, including Promare and Weathering With You last year, which have performed extremely well. We also work with Eleven Arts, which had the film Silent Voice in 2019, which did very well, and we have several more really good projects coming with them. Anime is one of the best categories that is not dominated by the major studios, and it’s a growing category for us that we see continuing.

MPN: Despite your obvious commitment to transactional and, in particular, physical media, Shout! does have other business models. Can you give us a brief rundown about other distribution platforms you have under the Shout! umbrella?

Foos: We distribute directly to just about every account in all revenue streams. We’ve been highly focused on growing our digital and broadcast business in the last many years. Our combined non-physical businesses have doubled each of the past two years and will again this year. Our TVOD business and ad supported streaming are the two biggest areas. Licensing sales for streaming services and broadcast is growing rapidly and is also significant. The Shout! Factory TV business, including our Mystery Science Theatre 3000 channel, The Carol Burnett Show channel, Johnny Carson TV and TokuShHOUTsu channels are a big part of the ad-supported digital streaming business. They are FAST channels on some platforms and on demand on others, and they’re everywhere you’d want to be. We see a lot of growth potential in our channel business, and in our digital distribution business in general. As we continue to get more and better content both on the library and new film side, and see the number of platforms and market size grow, we’re going to see big growth for Shout.

MPN: What’s next for Shout, other than the growth areas you mentioned already?

Foos: We’re starting to do some of our own original productions and see a lot of opportunities here, while doing it with a low-risk approach. We partnered on the production of the Western Old Henry starring Tim Blake Nelson. It comes out in October and premiered at the Venice Film Festival to a fantastic response. We’ve made deals in all the major international territories thanks to the Venice success.  We had seen indie Westerns succeeding transactionally, and thought that it would be a good genre to produce ourselves. We had been trying to get one made for years, and finally with Hideout Pictures we were able to get Tim Blake Nelson to take the lead role, and it came out extremely well. We’re going to do another one with them.

With our partner Joel Hodgson we had rebooted “Mystery Science Theater 3000” after buying the rights to the library and brand in 2015. Given the passionate loyalty of the audience we had crowd-funded to raise the money for the first reboot season (11). We then sold it to Netflix, which ordered a second season but didn’t continue after that. We crowd-funded again this year and raised $6.5 million so we’re making another 13 episodes. The first one should premiere in February for the Kickstarter “backers” initially.

We also just completed a remake of the Roger Corman classic Slumber Party Massacre for the Syfy channel. It comes out in October. We own 270 films from the Corman library and have remake rights, so we’re working on films and series born out of that fertile I.P. We have other films and shows in the works as well, and it will be a growing part of our business.

We’re highly focused on buying film and TV libraries. We’ve bought a handful over the years and are looking to do a lot more in that area. We have a number of large library film distribution deals in the works and we’ll be announcing several soon, and more as they close.

We’re doing bigger new film pre-buys and pick-ups. The recent Mark Duplass/Natalie Morales film Language Lessons is a good example. It’s getting excellent reviews and we’ve licensed it to a major streamer to start next year. We intend to continue to up our game in genre films, and in smart and quirky indie films as well.

We see opportunity in the international business. Our business is growing there and we’re having good success with Cannell library, our Corman films and other content that we control internationally. We see continuing to partner with strong independent companies in each territory, and eventually having our own staff, or investing in local companies locally to make sure that we really understand the nuances of each significant territory.

Tell us about the Shout! Factory backstory — starting with the name.

Foos: We had a really hard time coming up with a name. Every time we liked one we couldn’t get the URL, or it was already taken. We wanted something that sounded active, and a little retro. We were coming off of our success at Rhino Entertainment, which was mainly a retro music business, and we thought that we would be a music, film and TV company. Shout! felt classic and then there’s the Isley Brothers song that everyone loves. We were going to be Shout! Entertainment then we had trouble getting that trademarked. We were told to add something to it to distinguish it so we came up with Factory.

And now tell us the Garson Foos backstory.

Foos: I grew up in Los Angeles, and went to college at U.C. Berkeley. I was entrepreneurial early on and started several cafes in Oakland with a friend. I realized that the restaurant  business wasn’t for me, and thought that maybe I’d like the entertainment business. I had worked at the Rhino Record Store that my brother owned in high school, and he had started the Rhino label years later. He gave me a paid internship at the label and my timing was great. Rhino was starting to take off, and I was able to learn the business and move up the ranks as the company expanded. I eventually became the EVP of marketing and one of the key executives. Richard and his partner Harold Bronson sold the company to Warner Music Group in 2001, and Richard decided to leave in 2002 and start another company. He asked me and our other partner Bob Emmer, who had been our head of BA at Rhino and later became an EVP of BA at Warner Music, to join him in his new venture. We started Shout in 2003, and over the years Richard has stepped out of the day to day of the business, and Bob and I are co-CEOs.

Redbox Expands Reach of Streaming App Through Vewd Deal

Redbox Sept. 23 announced it has signed an agreement with Vewd to pre-load the Redbox app on all new Vewd-powered TVs and set-top boxes in the United States.

Vewd is one of the world’s largest providers of OTT and hybrid-TV solutions. Vewd will also feature the Redbox app to existing customers on such brands as Hisense, Funai and Tivo, as well as pay-TV operators such as Evoca.

Redbox’s streaming app offers access to new-release movies and TV series through Redbox’s TVOD service. It also offers consumers the ability to watch more than 100 free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels, as well as stream thousands of movies and TV titles for free through its rapidly growing AVOD service.

This month viewers can stream for free Hunter Killer, starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman; Enders Game, starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield; the classic Notre Dame football movie Rudy; the drama Big Fish, starring Ewan McGregor; and the 1990s teen romantic comedy Can’t Hardly Wait, with Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Vewd’s software not only powers the OTT experience for its customers but also enables programmatic promotion of content from dozens of streaming video entertainment apps. Vewd has powered the streaming revolution for nearly two decades, having shipped its streaming software on more than 450 million devices to date.

“Vewd has a powerful platform that is used by millions of customers every day to access their favorite streaming content,” said Jason Kwong, chief strategy and digital officer at Redbox. “Partnering with a company like Vewd gives our consumers another easy way to access our library of both blockbuster new release movies along with a fantastic catalog of free movies and streaming channels.”

Discs Keep Spinning

The revelation that streaming now accounts for more than three-quarters of all consumer spending on home entertainment, according to the latest quarterly report from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, isn’t really surprising.

An all-you-can-watch offering at less than $15 a month is certainly enticing, much like those cheap gym memberships most of us have bought at one time or another. In many cases, the charge remains on our credit card long after we’ve stopped going to the gym.

I’m still being charged for Hulu, even though I haven’t watched that streaming service for months. But on the off chance that I do want to watch something on Hulu, I’m not ready to cancel – at least, not yet.

The transactional business model, whether digital or disc, is much different. Here, we have to make a conscious choice before we buy or rent something. And if we’ve gotten into the habit of surfing Netflix and watching at least some episodes in talked-about series like “Manifest,” that doesn’t leave much time to buy or rent something else, despite the loads of great content, including first-run movies, that the streaming services don’t have.

But I believe that when streaming fatigue invariably sets in – when the free trial periods are over and subscribers realize their monthly subscription bill is upwards of $100 – there’s a good chance the bubble will burst and we’re going to see significant consolidation.

That’s why the transactional business model is hardly dead, or dying – despite the overwhelming dominance of subscription streaming and the steady decline in disc sales and, according to the DEG’s latest report, EST and TVOD. (I should also mention that by not tracking PVOD revenues, the amount of money consumers are spending on the digital purchase or rental of movies is a lot higher than the numbers suggest.)

As for the disc business, we’re never going to see the numbers we saw in the heyday of DVD – but I do feel they will ultimately plateau. Collectors are a small but potent force – and we’re seeing two distinct camps that are keeping the business alive. On the one end, we’ve got the niche fans, consumers who love documentaries, foreign films, weird compilations, etc. Several indies with whom I’ve spoken recently said their DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales have never been better. It all depends on what you put out, and how well you monitor what the film buff community is saying and giving them what they want. Companies like MVD Entertainment, Shout! Factory, and Kino Lorber are putting out a wide range of eclectic fare, from obscure music docs to cult films from all around the world. And they wouldn’t keep doing it if there wasn’t a market for it.

On the other end, we have the movie fans to whom quality is everything. As our cover story this month attests, there’s a viable market out there for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, with collectors in many cases rebuying films they already own simply because they want the best possible movie experience. The big studios led the way in 4K, and now it’s the indies who are filling the ranks – while the studios continue to mine their catalogs for classics to reissue on 4K alongside their new theatrical releases.

Inferior products tend to disappear – eight-track tapes and VHS cassettes are two examples that readily come to mind. But choice, quality stuff persists, from hardback books and vinyl LPs to DVD and its descendants.

NAB Show Canceled for Second Year, Eyes Return in April 2022

Concerns over the coronavirus Delta variant, and the pullout of several high-profile exhibitors, has prompted organizers of the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show to scrap its live event, scheduled for October in Las Vegas.

Key elements of the show will be offered online, with a planned return to an in-person event in April 2022.

The move comes less than one month after organizers announced they would require attendees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

The April 2020 NAB Show was one of the first big events to be canceled after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

In a Sept. 15 email Chris Brown, EVP and managing director of Global Connections and Events at the NAB, wrote, “For more than a year we have worked tirelessly to bring our industry together safely in Las Vegas at NAB Show. Unfortunately, the pandemic and surge of the Delta variant has presented unexpected and insurmountable challenges for our global community. … It has become apparent in the face of these challenges that we can no longer effectively host NAB Show or our co-located events, the Radio Show and Sales and Management Television Exchange, in person. … We will not move forward with a show that delivers anything less than the excellence our community has come to expect and deserves from us.

While we are disappointed that we will not be together again in person next month, we look forward to converging at the 2022 NAB Show, April 23-27, 2022, to reignite our passion for our business and focus on a bright future ahead.

Stay tuned for details regarding virtual options for accessing select 2021 NAB Show content through NAB Amplify.”

The NAB Show has become increasingly focused on streaming in recent years.

Noted Film Historian George Feltenstein Rehired at Warner Bros. Entertainment

Industry veteran George Feltenstein has been rehired at Warner Bros. Entertainment as “WarnerMedia Library Historian,” effective August 2021, according to his LinkedIn profile.

His return comes nine months after WarnerMedia announced the elimination of his position, SVP of theatrical catalog marketing, in the second of two rounds of layoffs that rocked the company in 2020. The job cuts were announced in November 2020, but Feltenstein remained on the job until Feb. 19, 2021.

George Feltenstein

A Warner spokesman said Feltenstein’s “role is still being defined.”

Feltenstein’s return was first reported by the Home Theater Forum.

“Indeed, I have returned to the company, for which I am very grateful,” Feltenstein told Media Play News in an email.

Feltenstein came to Warner in January 1997 after seven years of effectively running MGM/UA Home Video, during which time he released a significant number of classic MGM and United Artists films on videocassette and laserdisc.

At Warner Bros., David Krause wrote on the DigitallyObsessed.com website, Feltenstein held “the keys to a kingdom of Golden Age treasures, a massive, enviable catalog that encompasses the collections of Warner Bros., MGM and RKO studios.”

Feltenstein was the primary driver behind the studio giving classics such as The Wizard of Oz, CasablancaSinging in the Rain and Gone With the Wind the royal treatment for their DVD and then Blu-ray Disc debuts.

Other Warner veterans who lost their jobs in November 2020 include Melissa Hufjay, Rosemary Markson and Jay Reinbold.

OTT.X Fall Summit — Finally, an In-Person Industry Event!

Trade association OTT.X held its Fall Summit in person at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles Sept. 1 and 2, holding all events outside in light of the still-surging coronavirus Delta variant. A much bigger-than-expected turnout surprised even association chief Mark Fisher, as representatives of such companies as Redbox, Xumo, Whip Media, Cinedigm, the MVD Entertainment Group, Breaking Glass Pictures, Fandango, The Africa Channel, Parrot Analytics and others jumped at the chance to once again meet and network in person at one of the first major live home entertainment industry events in more than a year.

Ed Asner Dies at 91; Legacy Lives On at Home

Ed Asner, who died Aug. 29 at the age of 91, has more than 400 screen credits, including long stints as grumpy newsroom boss Lou Grant on first “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77) and then its spinoff, “Lou Grant” (1977–82).

He won seven Emmy Awards and remained active long after those two series ended, most recently appearing as a guest star in a 2020 episode of “Modern Family.” A year earlier, he appeared in the Netflix dark comedy Dead to Me, alongside Christina Applegate, and in 2018 he guested on the Netflix series “Cobra Kai.”

Aside from Lou Grant, Asner is best remembered for Emmy-winning roles in the 1970s miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “Roots,” playing Santa Claus in 2003’s Elf, and providing the voice of retired balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen in the animated Pixar comedy Up (2009).

Asner also served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1981 to 1985.

Asner’s death was announced in a post on his official Twitter account, which read: “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head — Goodnight dad. We love you.”

Asner was born in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 15, 1929, to Orthodox Jewish immigrants – his father, from Lithuania, and his mother, from Russia. His first brush with show business came on a weekly high school radio program. He broke into theater while studying at the University of Chicago.

After a stint in U.S. Army Signal Corps, Asner helped found the Playwrights Theatre Company in Chicago, which later became the Compass Players — a predecessor to Second City. He later performed on Broadway before heading to California, where he appeared mostly in television and made his film debut in 1962 in the Elvis Presley musical Kid Galahad.

Kid Galahad was released on DVD by MGM in 2005 and is now out of print.

The complete “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” TV series was most recently released by 20th Century Fox on DVD in October 2018, shortly before the studio was swallowed up by Disney. Individual season sets had been rolled out previously.

“Lou Grant” season sets are available through Shout! Factory.

Women in Home Entertainment 2021: Meet the Captains and See What They Have to Say

Like the world in general, Hollywood was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Productions were halted, theaters were shut, and stay-at-home orders, along with a proliferation of streaming services, led to a surge in home viewing.

But one of the few things the pandemic did not disrupt was the progress of women in Hollywood. In June, women accounted for seven of 12 governors elected for the first time to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. UCLA’s 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report, released in April, found that in the top 185 films of 2020, women made up 47.8% of lead actors and 41.3% of overall casts — up from 44.1% and 40.2%, respectively, in the prior year.

Behind the scenes, there have been gains as well — although there’s still much work to be done. The Diversity Report found that women made up 26% of film writers and 20.5% of directors, up from 17.4% and 15.1% the year before. And on the studio level, data was conspicuously absent from the 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report — which the year before found that at the top 11 studios, only 18% of C-level positions, and 20% of all senior executive positions, were held by women.

At Media Play News, we believe further change will be driven by raising the profile of the female executives we do have and celebrating their achievements. As Serena Williams once said, “The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another.”

SEE ALSO: WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2021 — THE TEAMS

Our fourth annual Women in Home Entertainment report once again features a special focus on the top “captains” who are driving the business, an elite group that this year has grown to 15 (from 12 the year before) in recognition of the blurring of lines between traditional home entertainment, television, streaming and other channels of distribution, as well as the growing number of women in high-profile executive positions. Six are new to the list; three returning executives have expanded roles and broadened responsibilities. They all have very important jobs — and they all have some equally important things to say.

THE CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHO THEY ARE

Bela Bajaria

Head of Global TV, Netflix

Bela Bajaria

Bajaria was named head of global TV for Netflix in 2020, overseeing English-language and local-language scripted and unscripted series around the world. Bajaria leads the team for all of television and is responsible for hit series including “Bridgerton,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Lupin” and “Cobra Kai.” Prior to joining Netflix in 2016, Bajaria was president of Universal Television, where she made history as the first woman of color to oversee a studio. Earlier, she held two key posts simultaneously: SVP of cable programming for CBS TV Studios, and SVP of movies and miniseries for CBS Network. Bajaria has been honored by The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment list and Variety’s L.A. Women’s Impact Report, and she was named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in 2020. Bajaria has been honored by the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of L.A. and The March of Dimes Foundation and was given the Industry Leadership Award from the L.A. Indian Film Festival.

Michele Bell

EVP, Worldwide Creative Services, Paramount Home Entertainment

Michele Bell

Bell oversees all of the division’s product packaging and digital design, in-store and online creative assets, and print, broadcast and online advertising. Bell is recognized for navigating the ever-changing home entertainment landscape with creative solutions that reach a wide range of consumers across traditional retailers and emerging digital platforms. Under her direction, the home entertainment creative team pivoted rapidly to develop assets, trailers, and tailored advertising to launch Paramount’s first PVOD releases in 2020 with tremendous success. Her focus is on developing compelling, persuasive and disruptive creative assets that demand attention and drive consumer sales. Before joining Paramount in 2005, Bell was VP of creative services at what was then Universal Studios Home Entertainment for nearly four years and, before that, VP of creative services at New Line Cinema, also for four years.

Kelly Campbell

President, Hulu

Kelly Campbell

Campbell manages Hulu’s suite of on-demand and live-streaming businesses within the Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution (DMED) business unit. Late last year, she was given additional oversight of Disney’s Digital Media and Movies Anywhere businesses. Campbell previously served as chief marketing officer of Hulu, where she led Hulu’s overall marketing across the SVOD and Live TV businesses. As CMO, Campbell worked closely with the company’s technology, distribution, content and product leaders to ensure that Hulu’s consumer proposition and brand was reflected in every aspect of the Hulu experience. Prior to Hulu, Campbell was managing director of growth marketing for Google Cloud. Campbell has earned several industry accolades, including one of Business Insider’s Most Innovative CMOs, Cynopsis Media’s Top Women in Digital Media, AdAge’s Women to Watch, FierceCable’s The Fierce 50: Executives Reshaping the Business of Pay-TV, and Forbes’ Most Influential Global CMOs list.

Andrea Downing

President, PBS Distribution

Andrea Downing

With more than 20 years of experience in the media and entertainment business, Downing has a successful history of leading organizations in dynamic landscapes. Her vision for PBS Distribution led to the transformation of the organization’s initial focus on physical goods to multichannel, multi-format distribution, with a diversified portfolio of businesses, including three direct-to-consumer, subscription video-on-demand services at its core. This evolution has created significant growth and profitability. Her vision for PBS Distribution has evolved the focus of the organization to a global distribution company. A strategic leader with an extensive operational background, Downing embraces change to transform organizations with new business strategies and products. Prior to joining PBS Distribution, she was director of operations for Discovery Communications, managing the domestic and international consumer products division. She currently serves on the boards of PBS Distribution, PBS America and DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, as well as the DEG’s Canon Club Advisory Board.

Kathleen Gallagher

EVP, Global Physical Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Kathleen Gallagher

Gallagher assumed her present position in 2020 and is charged with leading Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s physical home entertainment operations worldwide, overseeing the company’s North American joint distribution venture Studio Distribution Services (SDS) with WarnerMedia, as well as a diverse slate of licensing and distribution partnerships around the world with partners including WarnerMedia, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Paramount Pictures. Among the distributed lines under Gallagher’s purview are films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination, NBC Universal, Entertainment One, Funimation, Shout! Factory and STX. Gallagher previously served for two years as EVP and GM of North America. Before that she was SVP of sales, customer marketing and category management for UPHE’s U.S. physical sellthrough and rental businesses. She started at Universal in 2000 as assistant category manager and served in various sales, category management and customer marketing positions. Gallagher began her career in 1999 at Sony Pictures Entertainment (at the time, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment).

Rebecca Heap

SVP, Consumer Products and Propositions, Comcast Corp.

Rebecca Heap

Heap leads Consumer Products & Propositions for Xfinity, which is the nation’s largest pay-TV distributor of video and entertainment services. With a strategic focus on innovation and seamless access to the best entertainment experiences across platforms, Comcast has introduced next-generation video products and services under the Xfinity brand that transcend traditional TV, including Xfinity X1, the company’s flagship entertainment platform for its TV customers, and Xfinity Flex, a 4K streaming device that enables Xfinity Internet customers to easily find all of their streaming services and manage their connected home network. Heap has 20 years of international experience in telecommunications and digital media spanning a broad range of responsibilities across strategy, product, pricing and packaging, commissioning, acquisitions, programming, and distribution. Prior to joining Comcast, she was head of distribution, programming and digital for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, responsible for the strategic growth and development of its digital and broadcast platforms to maximize reach and impact.

Alison Hoffman

President, Domestic Networks, Starz

Alison Hoffman

Hoffman oversees domestic network operations for Starz, including all aspects of marketing and promotion, product development, distribution, analytics, and program operations. She previously served as chief marketing officer, responsible for spearheading brand and content marketing for the network, driving acquisition for the Starz app and delivering data-driven insights that support all facets of the business. Hoffman was one of the key executives responsible for launching the Starz app and managing the network’s direct-to-consumer business. She has worked closely with partners including Amazon, Hulu and Apple to successfully launch Starz on new platforms while continuing to build the Starz brand as the premium streaming content platform appealing to female audiences around the world. She’s led campaigns for the entire Starz Originals slate, including “Power,” “Outlander,” “Vida” and “American Gods.” In the past year, Hoffman assumed oversight of program operations and built world-class acquisition marketing and insights and analytics departments for Starz from the ground up.

Hilary Hoffman

EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Hilary Hoffman

Hoffman oversees strategic marketing for Universal and its distributed lines worldwide across feature film new-release, library and TV properties. Her responsibilities encompass defining go-to-market strategies and the company’s overall approach for consumer engagement, including developing and leveraging new platforms and technologies as well as direct-to-consumer initiatives to drive profitable growth. She is responsible for creative, digital content, retail marketing, media, digital marketing, publicity and consumer insights. Hoffman has developed cross-divisional efforts within Comcast/NBC Universal, resulting in increased exposure for key releases. Her focus on the digital space is ongoing with marketing initiatives across paid, owned and earned platforms that improve targeting and direct-to-consumer outreach. Additionally, she serves as UPHE’s key representative on priority industry initiatives, with a particular focus on evolving new and emerging technologies into revenue generating businesses.

Dametra Johnson-Marletti

Corporate VP, Category Management, Digital Storefronts, Microsoft Corp.

Dametra Johnson-Marletti

Johnson-Marletti is responsible for category management across Microsoft digital storefronts, including Store on Microsoft.com and Microsoft Store on Windows and Xbox. She oversees a multi-billion-dollar business, with a global team focused on delivering category growth and connecting tens of millions of customers to content and services across gaming, entertainment, consumer apps, advertising and physical hardware. During her 20-year tenure at Microsoft, Johnson-Marletti has helped shape strategy for several critical products and launches. She most recently served as GM of digital stores category management, playing a key role in the evolution and transformation of Microsoft’s e-commerce policies and business models. Prior to joining Microsoft Store, she worked for nine years on the Xbox business. Outside of Microsoft, Johnson-Marletti sits on the board of Medical Teams International, a global nonprofit organization built around bringing life-saving medical care to people in crisis suffering from preventable diseases.

Agapy Kapouranis

President, International Television and Digital Distribution, Lionsgate

Agapy Kapouranis

Kapouranis spearheads international distribution, acquisitions, sales and marketing for Lionsgate’s television and catalog feature slate. She is responsible for distributing and licensing Lionsgate’s 17,000-title film and TV library, a slate of feature films, a strong line-up of first-run TV series, and a robust portfolio of Starz programming to hundreds of SVOD, AVOD and linear platforms around the world. A versatile and prolific dealmaker, Kapouranis has helped establish Lionsgate as a partner of choice to international buyers in the SVOD, electronic sellthrough, transactional video-on-demand and ad-supported video-on-demand space. Kapouranis joined Lionsgate in 2011 as SVP of television and digital distribution and was based in Paris for four years. In that capacity, she closed global digital sellthrough deals with Apple, Xbox, PlayStation and Google. She was later promoted to EVP of worldwide subscription video on demand. Prior to working at Lionsgate, Kapouranis served as VP of international on-demand and new media at MGM Studios.

Jennifer Mirgorod

Head of Partner Management and Partner Marketing, WarnerMedia

Jennifer Mirgorod

Mirgorod is responsible for the distribution and marketing of WarnerMedia’s portfolio of linear television networks, premium channels and direct-to-consumer brands, which include HBO, HBO Max, Cinemax, CNN, TNT, TBS, TCM, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and HLN, as well as its transactional video business. Based in Atlanta, Mirgorod also leads a team responsible for multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) partners in North America and global platforms. A seasoned cable veteran, Mirgorod previously served as EVP of content distribution and strategic partnerships for WarnerMedia Distribution, where she was responsible for account management, affiliate marketing and business development as well as serving as a conduit between the Turner brands and the distribution division. Before that she was EVP of brand distribution for Turner Content Distribution (TCD). Earlier positions include SVP of sales and marketing, and VP of strategic marketing. Mirgorod joined TCD in 2003.

Kim Overall

EVP, Consumer Insight and Innovation, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Overall leads Sony Pictures Entertainment’s central data team and is responsible for identifying and developing the studio’s capabilities to become a more consumer-centric, data-driven organization. Her group defines the data strategy and utilizes advanced analytics and data science to co-create tools to enable all stakeholders at SPE to make better-informed decisions throughout the value chain. She assumed her present position in 2015. Previously, Overall served for three years as SVP of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s United Kingdom, Northern Europe and EMEA partnerships. In this role, she was responsible for defining the commercial strategies for the region and supporting the EMEA territories. She joined Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2008 as the managing director for Australia and New Zealand. Earlier, Overall was VP of international sales marketing for Paramount Home Entertainment from 2006 to 2008, and VP of international marketing for DreamWorks Animation from 2004 to 2006.

Jessica Schell

EVP and GM, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Jessica Schell

Schell has global responsibility for WarnerMedia’s transactional home entertainment, including new theatrical titles, catalog films, TV and originals. In addition, she manages the development and launch of the studio’s new immersive entertainment offerings. This summer she oversaw the launch of the first Harry Potter Virtual Reality experience in Warner’s New York City flagship store. Prior to joining Warner Bros., Schell spent nine years at NBC Universal, where she most recently served as EVP of worldwide new media and digital entertainment for Universal Pictures, a role she assumed in late 2011. Before that she was Universal’s EVP of business development and strategic planning. Schell also served as SVP of digital media strategy and business development at NBC Universal. Schell spent the early years of her career at the Walt Disney Co. and Allen & Co. and is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

Amy Jo Smith

President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Amy Jo Smith

Smith heads the leading trade group for the home entertainment industry, representing the interests of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies, consumer electronics manufacturers, platform providers and technology companies. A former White House communications advisor, Smith since 1997 has led the industry-funded group’s efforts to enhance and promote home entertainment during its evolution from videocassettes to DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and today’s digital age. Under Smith’s leadership, the DEG is credited with helping to make DVD the fastest-growing consumer electronics product in industry history. In 2019, the DEG launched the D2C Alliance Council as a working community within the DEG to represent the global direct-to-consumer media industry and support its members to help create a robust marketplace to lead the new era of content consumption. A University of Pennsylvania graduate, Smith serves on the Advisory Board of the Annenberg School at Penn, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and the Tom Sherak MS Hope Foundation Board.

Lexine Wong

Head of Global Multichannel Marketing, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Lexine Wong

Wong oversees marketing for the home entertainment and television distribution businesses for Sony Pictures. As part of the marketing leadership team, Wong oversees the delivery of marketing experiences across the studio’s full range of properties — from film to television, catalog and beyond — all with a data- and insights-driven approach that prioritizes consumer engagement and transaction. Specific areas of oversight include consumer and brand strategy, creative advertising, media, digital marketing, publicity, strategic partnerships, content production, and innovation within emerging platforms critical for growth in the industry, including Movies Anywhere, augmented reality and 4K Ultra HD. With more than 25 years in the home entertainment industry, Wong has overseen the studio’s biggest revenue-generating home entertainment releases as well as hugely successful TV-on-DVD releases. Wong serves as a member of Sony Pictures Action, SPE’s global racial equity and inclusion initiative. She co-chairs the Partners sub-committee focused on maintaining a vendor and partner constituency that shares the studio’s diversity and inclusion values.

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THE CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY

 

Bela Bejaria, Netflix

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? We’re a global company so many of our meetings were already virtual pre-COVID. My job hasn’t changed that much — the location of where I sit has, along with not being able to travel to see the team.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? We’re continuing to see audiences welcome streaming entertainment, but it still only accounts for 27% of viewing, with Netflix 7% of that. So there’s still plenty of room to grow.

What makes a good leader? Someone who creates an environment for people to do their best work — an environment in which people can grow and take risks and learn. A leader knows and meets the needs of the individuals and the team.

What do you look for in an employee? Curiosity, positive attitude, collaborative — selflessness and good judgment.

Your life, in one movie title: A Map of the World.

 

Michele Bell, Paramount Home Entertainment

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? So much has changed in the past year-and-a-half that it’s hard to capture it all — COVID, quarantine, working remotely, home premieres, home schooling, you name it. My job is definitely more intense due to the increased need for content and the challenges of executing creative campaigns in a fully remote, limited bandwidth home office environment. Oh, and Zoom bombs from my children and dogs did not occur when I was in my office on the lot! Still, it has been an incomparable experience, and I have to say I’m incredibly proud of my team’s resilience, creativity and stamina through it all.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? What’s great is that it’s clear there’s space for both, in that consumers are engaging with physical media, digital and streaming platforms, and we’re seeing that in sales and subscriptions. It will be interesting to see how it continues to develop, and hopefully consumer appetites will remain strong for all home entertainment product. As with the transition from videocassette to DVD and the addition of Blu-ray Disc, 4K and digital, change in this business is constant as ever, and it’s exciting to be part of the evolving home entertainment landscape.

What makes a good leader? I think a good leader is comprised of many characteristics. They inspire, challenge and support their teams, and can also jump into the trenches when necessary. They lead by example and manage down as well as they manage up. Good leaders value diverse voices and opinions and encourage authentic expression. They give constructive and honest feedback and foster an environment that is inclusive, productive, engaging, fun and allows for autonomy, but with accountability.

What do you look for in an employee? To be successful in what we do, it helps to have a genuine love of movies and have passion for the work — but be strategic in execution. I look for individuals who have a clear vision for what they need to accomplish and are bold and declarative with their creative choices. I love a sense of humor and those who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. I’m fortunate to have all of that and more in my amazing home entertainment creative team!

Your life, in one movie title: Do the Right Thing.

 

Kelly Campbell, Hulu

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? Like everyone else, it’s changed in many ways. Working from home definitely has its rewards, like the ability to be home every night for dinner with my family, but it’s also peppered with challenges because it can be difficult to draw clear lines between work and home life. I’m still learning to balance both. As a business leader, I wear many hats and I strive to balance being a steward of the company and our goals, being a strong coach and advocate for our teams and maintaining a culture that attracts, develops and retains the best talent. This past year, I’m especially proud of our team’s ability to navigate through unprecedented challenges while also achieving exceptional outcomes.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? I believe that streaming is the most exciting place to be in this industry right now, largely because that is where consumers are going. That being said, streaming and transactional businesses will continue to complement each other by providing consumers with opportunities to experience content in different ways. These businesses may also start to converge, as the lines between the two start to blur. Across the industry, it’s clear that viewers will show up for both streaming and transactional in-home entertainment. We’re learning better ways of doing things we’ve always done, and these learnings will continue to drive us as we go forward.

What makes a good leader? A good leader shares a clear vision, removes obstacles, and sets their team up to achieve. It’s critical for leaders to be fully present and engaged. Furthermore, it’s important to be visible, at times leading the conversation, at other times as a listener and learner. Finally, I think a good leader surrounds her/himself with a team of trusted leaders who are empowered to make decisions and move their part of the business forward.

What do you look for in an employee? We are accountable to one another, and in order to achieve what we set out to do, we need people who possess a can-do attitude, take initiative and have a strong drive to get things done. No one person or team can do everything, so if people can maintain a high degree of integrity and make strategic decisions with confidence, that’s all I can ask for.

Your life, in one movie title: Your Day Will Come.

 

Andrea Downing, PBS Distribution

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? PBS Distribution has always had to be nimble, anticipating where the market is headed and focusing on continuous improvement. This really helped us when the pandemic hit. Once we were 100% remote, we quickly assessed how we were working as a team and the framework we needed to be connected and informed so we could make good business decisions. We pivoted quickly when things were not going according to plan and doubled down when they exceeded our expectations. Now we’re moving into a hybrid work plan to build on our “remote” strengths while creating room for connection and collaboration.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? What we think of as “home entertainment” will continue to expand and evolve significantly. We’ll also see tremendous change in how content is funded, distributed and consumed. The rise in transactional spending during the pandemic surprised many of us, but it’s clear the long-term growth drivers are subscription and ad-supported streaming. This rise has already shifted the balance inside many media organizations and has affected permanent change to longstanding industry models like funding sources and release windows. At the end of the day, “home entertainment” has become core to the industry’s future success.

What makes a good leader? I think the last year has shown us that good leaders are flexible, listen really well, and are open to letting go of what they “know” in favor of trying new things to see what will lead to success. They set a clear and engaging vision, overcommunicate, and help their teams build resilience. Most important, good leaders know they cannot achieve success on their own and that a good team is invaluable to the sustainability of an organization.

What do you look for in an employee? To me, the best employees are successful because they are curious and see ways to contribute that are often outside their role. They take initiative, learn from their failures, have integrity and strong ethics, and use critical judgment. Most of all, they are team players who are focused on moving the business forward.

Your life, in one movie title: Riding the Waves, because it seems like that’s what life is really about! In our lives, we experience everything from gentle swells that are easy to ride to astonishing waves that are exhilarating to ones that come out of nowhere that knock us around. But we keep getting back on the surfboard and going out to find the next great set of waves.

 

Kathleen Gallagher, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? My organization has undergone a massive change over the past year since announcing our plans to launch a joint venture with our partners at WarnerMedia. I am incredibly proud of both organizations for what we were able to accomplish in setting up the new organization against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, including working from home, distance learning and all of the additional challenges that 2020 brought us.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? The creation of the joint venture, SDS, was driven by the need to find efficiencies to successfully position us to continue to support the physical piece of our home entertainment business. We continue to be impressed by the strong performance of our library content over the past year. It’s served as a great reminder that consumers want and need to interact with our content in many different ways.

What makes a good leader? The right blend of strategic thinking, tenacity and empathy — especially in today’s environment.

What do you look for in an employee? The best team is one where everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves, be creative, and have the ability to flex to meet the changing needs of the organization.

Your life, in one movie title: It’s Complicated.

 

Rebecca Heap, Comcast

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? An easier question would be, “What hasn’t changed?” Over the past year, we have seen so much change — social change, changing consumption patterns, new industry dynamics, changes to the way we work. It’s exciting and I’m grateful to work in a role and organization that is as dynamic as the industry we work in.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? Ultimately, I think there’s a place for both as today’s consumers value more choice and flexibility in their home entertainment. As the industry continues to evolve, our goal will be continuing to meet customers where they are — offering easy access to the content customers want, surfacing winning recommendations when they need them, on the terms that work best for the customer.

What makes a good leader? A “good” leader is not good enough! Leadership is a lifelong art that I will always want to be better at and I’m grateful to have been able to work with, and learn from, some of the very best. Top of my list of great leader attributes are a clear vision, the ability to empower others, inclusivity, an eye for talent and a genuine interest in your teammates.

What do you look for in an employee? Passion, curiosity, initiative, empathy for customers and colleagues, and the ability to execute.

Your life, in one movie title: How to Train Your Dragon.

 

Alison Hoffman, Starz

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? Many more Zooms. No more high heels.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? Like in so many other segments, the future is aggressively female. Women will continue to drive subscriptions and viewership in the household and demand programming that reflects their lives and experiences in a real and honest way.

What makes a good leader? Understanding what the team around you needs to succeed, both as a unit and individually, and then being relentless about putting those things in place.

What do you look for in an employee? Curiosity, passion, empathy, smarts and ambition.

Your life, in one movie title: It’s Complicated.

 

Hilary Hoffman, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? In a time when so many businesses faced unprecedented challenges, I am incredibly proud of our marketing team, who so skillfully adapted to working remotely. More than a year later, creativity and productivity remain high across the team, as we continue to test, learn and innovate amid what is still a very fluid global landscape. While we have experienced meaningful upside in working together remotely, I look forward to returning to the office for that in-person collaboration that I have always found to be engaging and motivating.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? We are seeing transactional and streaming continuing to grow and co-exist. As this past year has so clearly underscored, content is still king. Consumers wanting choice and convenience have become progressively more savvy about how and where to find content cross-platforms, driving increased momentum across all digital. Our plan is to continue leveraging this momentum to further differentiate our offerings and drive home the unique benefits of ownership, delivering entertaining bonus content and reminding consumers that ownership means your movie is always on.

What makes a good leader? In a year that has prompted so much learning and reflection for me personally and professionally, I think it is clear that being a good leader requires focus on a combination of having the right people, the right strategy and the right environment. Working from home creates a challenge to maintain the right environment, but I am proud of the NBCU culture and believe that it has endured through the last year. NBCU is also very dedicated to strengthening our focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. The opportunity to learn and educate myself as leader and as part of the organization as a whole has allowed me to evolve my leadership style in a meaningful way.

What do you look for in an employee? Working in an industry known for its unique challenges and ever-evolving nature, creativity and adaptability represent two key qualities I find critical in ensuring an employee is well set for success in their role.

Your life, in one movie title: Bring It On.

 

Dametra Johnson-Marletti, Microsoft Corp.

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? Working remotely the past 14 months has forced us all to work in new ways, both individually and in how we collaborate with co-workers. Thankfully, great tools like Microsoft Teams have allowed us to maintain keen productivity levels and deliver results. That said, as work and life have more seamlessly bled together, clearer boundaries had to be established for greater balance and wellness. As a leader, ensuring that we are more frequently “checking-in” with our teams, to maintain our connections, better support each other, and continue to strengthen our esprit de corps across the group, has also been super important.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? Despite a slow movement toward more-normal times, it’s clear the entertainment industry will be forever changed. Consumers have become far more knowledgeable about their choices for content consumption. The good news is I believe there will be a place for all options; consequently, it will remain important to keep customer choice at the center of industry strategy. I think customers continue to have a keen interest in continuing to build their libraries, which gives ongoing vibrance and viability to transactions. Additionally, smart windowing, content variety, breadth and depth of catalog all make streaming options attractive to customers as well.

What makes a good leader? There are many facets of a great leader, and one’s ability to be a great leader is a journey of constant learning and evolution, not a stagnant destination. I would say a great leader demonstrates the ability to deliver strong results and growth the organization expects, while also bringing the people you lead and work with along the journey in a positive and inspiring way, and all within a healthy and inclusive culture.

What do you look for in an employee? I look for two key pillars in candidates, and within each of those pillars are a set of traits that contribute to their success and that of the organization — capability and character. Capability entails doing a fantastic job in the position for which they are being hired. That can be demonstrated through past successes in similar or related experiences. Character means can they successfully add to our culture, bringing diverse perspectives, inclusive collaboration and a growth mindset.

Your life, in one movie title: What Dreams May Come.

 

Agapy Kapouranis, Lionsgate

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? I had to adapt quickly to our work-from-home schedule, securing time for individual support and expressing my appreciation to a relentless team. I communicate openly and extensively. My team is uber-involved in critical thinking and decision making. I also make an effort to designate time and space for safe team bonding during these epic changes we’re living through.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? More disruption — and we are ready for it. Consumer expectations and usage habits are changing rapidly, and we’re seeing an influx of competitors come into international markets like never before. Consumers expect to access television and film content anytime, anywhere and in the format that suits their immediate needs.

What makes a good leader? Great leaders are passionate about what they do because they believe in what they do. They communicate a vision and build a strong foundation for connection. Empathy plays a huge role as you mentor and cultivate confident people who can work well as a team. Leaders nurture growth and provide constructive feedback to motivate others to be their best, inspiring people to do things they never thought they could and relishing achievement!

What do you look for in an employee? I’m always willing to hire for potential, not just experience, people who are willing to listen, learn and grow as individuals and with the team. One constant in life is change, so being resilient and adaptable will always serve you well. Finally, I welcome diverse thinking and POVs from employees who are self-motivated and eager to collaborate while having fun.

Your life, in one movie title: Around the World in 80 Days.

 

Jennifer Mirgorod, WarnerMedia

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? A better question would be, “How hasn’t it?” Over the course of the past 20-plus years, so much about the media industry has changed and I’ve had a front row seat to much of it, from the evolution of the linear business to the rise of streaming and most recently the transformation of content windowing. Add to that the more obvious impact of the pandemic to our new hybrid workforce and a changing company culture and structure, and the past few years have been dynamic, to say the least.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? As consumer viewing habits evolve, so, too, does our content windowing strategy across transactional, linear networks and streaming to maximize exposure for our movies, series and specials. Though timelines may shift, there are unique audiences for each window, and at the end of the day, our goal is to meet our consumers where and when they want to consume content. We are very focused on promoting our key assets throughout their lifecycles, and we work closely with partners to develop marketing campaigns that highlight when an asset is available on HBO Max and then available in its transactional window.

What makes a good leader? In my estimation, a good leader is one who communicates effectively and sets expectations for the team, expresses gratitude for the work and serves as the team’s advocate. Good leaders also surround themselves with talented people who possess differentiated skills, and are collaborative, strategic and kind. Particularly in our business, so much of what we do is equal parts strategy and partnership driven, so it’s important the team is equal parts pragmatic and thoughtful.

What do you look for in an employee? A good employee is intellectually curious and looks for creative ways to approach everyday challenges. They are in an industry where change is the only constant and the approach taken last year might need to be radically adapted, so someone who is not only comfortable in that type of environment, but who thrives in it, is a huge asset for any team. I also appreciate people with diverse backgrounds and experiences that inform their perspectives.

Your life, in one movie title: Bend It Like Beckham.

 

Kim Overall, Sony Pictures Entertainment

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? It has changed in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, but that have brought unique opportunities. I have learned new ways to engage and communicate, and new skills that I never knew I needed, but which have proved immensely valuable in all aspects of my life. I have been very fortunate to be able to explore new ways to get closer to our audiences and understand what is resonating and why. If there was ever a time where I have seen the appetite for content change and evolve it was in the last 18 months.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? We are still listening, watching and figuring this out, both personally and within the industry. We have seen our entertainment ecosystems change, and the type of content we are seeking evolve. And the way we consume it looks different. The most important thing we can do right now is pay attention to what is changing and why — if there is one thing we know, a year from now it will look different again. We need to stay close to how these changes impact our ability to meet audiences where they are and give them the content they are looking for.

What makes a good leader? The ability to listen, constantly learn, connect the dots, and lead with empathy and compassion. It is so inspiring when we see and feel the impact of great leadership on a team and their creativity, and it’s amazing to be a part of that team. There is an art in the ability to ask the right questions to unlock great potential.

What do you look for in an employee? Curiosity and courage, learning agility, passion and drive. I am a big believer in having an aligned set of values that we all commit to as a team. It makes the wins sweeter and the tough stuff easier.

Your life, in one movie title: The NeverEnding Story.

 

Jessica Schell, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? We’ve learned that we can be highly effective outside of a traditional office environment, and leadership at every level is more open to being flexible about work locations. But in-person interaction with colleagues is so valuable for all the intangible aspects of community — building trust, sparking innovation and driving collaboration. So we are still figuring out what that is going to look like. My job and my team’s role have evolved beyond a focus solely on transactional home entertainment to applying our skills, assets and knowledge also to new businesses. We are supporting the launch of HBO Max globally by bringing our rich marketing, artwork and bonus content assets to the HBO Max platform, and driving Max subscriptions through our data, social assets and collaborations. We are also leveraging our skills to bring new products to market, such as the recent launch of Harry Potter VR in our New York flagship store.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? We are in a time of unprecedented experimentation and learning. My division is working with teams across the company to maximize the value of Warner Bros. content across its full lifecycle on all windows and platforms. How the landscape will shake out remains to be seen, but early insights show that giving consumers choice seems to be expanding the market.

What makes a good leader? The ability to embrace change and motivate people while demonstrating empathy.

What do you look for in an employee? Resilience, flexibility, the ability to look for white spaces in which to add value.

 

Amy Jo Smith, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? Things at the DEG are moving more quickly. Since our pivot to virtual meetings and events, we have found we’re able to assemble the membership with greater ease and provide more frequent programming. This has improved our ability to cultivate a community where all segments of the industry are included, which has turned out to be a powerful draw for new members. Bringing in these new viewpoints is proving to be very valuable as we chart our future course in support of advanced content delivery to consumers.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? It’s a very exciting time for our industry. There is an abundance of content coupled with numerous platforms for viewing. The consumer is in the driver’s seat and will show us where to go.

What makes a good leader? A good leader is someone who leads, allowing the team to follow, but also someone who follows. A good leader needs to
support the team so they can do their best work. And, a great (not good) leader must be a good listener, open to suggestions and willing to change course if necessary.

What do you look for in an employee? A strong team includes members with different skillsets. The ideal employee is someone who brings additional talents helping to round out and complement the team.

Your life, in one movie title: Groundhog Day (during the pandemic, it just feels like that!) or Teacher’s Pet (yes, it’s true, I’m guilty of this).

 

Lexine Wong, Sony Pictures Entertainment

How has your job, and your work environment, changed? What hasn’t changed since we left our offices in March 2020! School, work, home life, entertainment … and the list goes on. The waves of this pandemic will ripple for some time to come, yet there have been some great learnings along the way. At Sony, we used the time to future-proof our organization by combining our global home office marketing and distribution teams across theatrical, home entertainment and television distribution. This new structure will allow us to maximize each film’s potential with a lifecycle approach. Working remotely for an extended period has enabled us to be more inclusive, democratize meeting participation, and connect with colleagues and clients around the world in a much more intimate way. Our reliance on teamwork was never more necessary than over the past year.

What lies ahead for both segments of home entertainment, transactional and streaming? For the past several years, the home entertainment business had been relatively stable. The onslaught of the pandemic and simultaneous launches of several major streaming services have driven unprecedented windowing experimentation. Voila! The home entertainment business has become much more complex. Each studio/service/platform has a unique ecosystem and strategy to deliver corporate and consumer value. Knowing what, where and how to watch movies is more confusing than ever. Sony aims to deliver each filmmaker’s vision to as many consumers as possible: from theatrical all the way through the lifecycle — no matter what platform.

What makes a good leader? Earlier in my career, I thought a good leader was simply someone who was smart, directive and espoused a clear vision. While I still value those qualities, they aren’t necessarily the pillars I had envisioned originally. Integrity, diversity, transparent communication and empowerment are even more foundational. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for some strong leaders who have exemplified these traits and inspired me to be more purposeful in my role as a coach and motivator.

What do you look for in an employee? It’s funny, as I was considering what makes a good leader, I couldn’t help but reflect on how those same key characteristics describe a great employee as well. Generally, young employees who are passionate and collaborative seem to find longevity in our dynamic and demanding industry. Diverse thinkers who can connect the dots and stay a step ahead are our future leaders. I’m so excited to get back to the office at some point and connect in person with everyone!

Your life, in one movie title: Sense & Sensibility or Stand by Me.

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