WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar Shakes Up Management; Kevin Reilly, Bob Greenblatt Out

Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar was hired 90 days ago to shake up WarnerMedia and make the branded upstart SVOD service HBO Max competitive with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Peacock — and Disney-owned Hulu.

Kilar took a major step Aug. 7, letting WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, chief content officer for HBO Max and president of TNT, TBS and truTV, go in a major management reorganization. Andy Forssell, who worked with Kilar at Hulu, has been hired to oversee Max.

Jason Kilar

Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, who replaced Kevin Tsujihara, and Casey Bloys, president of programming at HBO, will spearhead a combined oversight of studios and networks. No other management changes were disclosed.

Greenblatt and Reilly are industry veterans, with the former leaving NBCUniversal to help launch Max. Reilly has held executive positions at NBC, Fox, FX and Turner.

Kilar, who outlined the changes in a letter to staff, outlined five areas he seeks to improve: HBO Max’s scope and importance within the company; simplifying studio internal structure; creating a consolidated International unit focused on scale and efficiency; bringing our key commercial activities into one group; making other structural changes for efficiency and company effectiveness.

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The management changes aren’t surprising since Max launched with what some observers have characterized as an underwhelming consumer response. AT&T CEO John Stankey said Max generated 3 million subs through the second quarter, ended June 30, adding another one million thus far in the current quarter. With more than 30 million HBO pay-TV subs, including HBO Now, the conversion rate is disappointing.

“Because of the gift that is the Internet, we have what I believe is one of the greatest opportunities in the history of media, which is to deliver our beloved stories and experiences directly to hundreds of millions of consumers across the globe,” Kilar wrote. “The pandemic’s economic pressures and acceleration of direct-to-consumer streaming adoption places an even higher premium on these points.”

WarnerMedia Absorbs AT&T’s Otter Media

WarnerMedia May 31 announced that Otter Media is being realigned under the WarnerMedia Entertainment group run by Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer business.

Otter Media was formed in 2014 by AT&T and The Chernin Group. Its properties include Fullscreen, a social media platform serving creators and brands; anime brand Crunchyroll; SVOD platform VRV; Rooster Teeth, a media and entertainment company serving the gaming community with a footprint of more than 40 million subscribers to its YouTube network, over 5 million monthly visitors to RoosterTeeth.com, and 2.5 million registered community members; a majority stake in Gunpowder & Sky, a digital- first studio; and minority stakes in Hello Sunshine, a cross- platform brand and content company for women founded with Reese Witherspoon, and Mars Reel, a media and lifestyle brand focused on telling authentic stories of top high school athletes through premium video content.

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The combination brings together WarnerMedia’s digital businesses of the company at a time when the organization’s new direct-to-consumer platform is being built with access to content from HBO, the WarnerMedia cable networks, Warner Bros., plus a robust slate of new original content.

Otter Media CEO Tony Goncalves

Tony Goncalves, CEO of Otter Media, will now also lead the development of the new WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer service, along with Otter’s existing brands and services.

He reports to Greenblatt. Andy Forssell, most recently COO of Otter Media and former CEO of Hulu, will move to the role of EVP and GM of the new streaming service reporting to Goncalves. Kevin Reilly, president, TBS/TNT/TruTV and CCO of direct-to-consumer, will remain in that position reporting to Greenblatt.

Brad Bentley, who was serving as the streaming service’s GM, informed the company that he would be leaving.

“As we continue to build out our new streaming business and realign WarnerMedia functions, this step will facilitate further scale and focus in our efforts to offer customers an engaging and compelling product experience,” John Stankey, CEO, WarnerMedia, said in a statement.

Goncalves joined Otter Media, as CEO last year. Through AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, he served as CEO of digital brands and head of strategy and business development for AT&T where he helped the company navigate the rapid pace of change in a digital centric world.

Forssell currently serves as EVP and COO of Otter Media, as well as president of Fullscreen. He joined Otter from Fullscreen where he served as COO for several years, overseeing the company’s day-to-day operations, as well as leading technology and product development. Forssell has served in a number of CEO, COO and general management roles, at companies like Hulu and ShowYou, helping to define and evolve the world of streaming video from its infancy.

 

 

Kevin Tsujihara: A Misplaced Asset at WarnerMedia

As the dust settles from WarnerMedia’s management shuffle, with former NBC Universal executive Bob Greenblatt assuming chairmanship of the media company’s entertainment unit, including budding over-the-top video – Kevin Tsujihara, chairman/CEO of Warner Bros., expanded his duties to include – consumer products?

It’s an odd career move for Tsujihara, whose long history in digital content distribution dates back to the dotcom era where he spearheaded Warner’s short-lived Entertaindom platform.

In an interview 10 years ago, Tsujihara questioned traditional distribution in a rapidly evolving digital age. He pushed for early electronic sellthrough movie release dates ahead of DVD, arguing EST margins were better than packaged media’s cash cow status. And he advocated for early access to theatrical movies in the home at a premium price, otherwise known as PVOD.

It’s a progressive mindset that over time convinced Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes to put Tsujihara in charge of Warner Bros., arguing his digital vision and recognition of alternative distribution channels outweighed the status quo at the venerable film studio.

A legacy Tsujihara nurtures to this day spearheading stacking rights of Warner TV content to distribution partners across the ecosystem.

“At Warner Bros., what we want to do is take the show and put it on the most appropriate platform,” Tsujihara told Deadline.comin a March 4 interview.

Tsujihara was a big supporter of the studios banding together to create a digital storage locker for movies, first championing UltraViolet and later joining the other majors, sans Paramount, in Movies Anywhere  – a platform that links to seven online retailers, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Comcast’s Xfinity Store, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV and FandangoNow.

In an interview last month with the Los Angeles Times, Tsujihara reiterated continued support for PVOD, despite the fact most exhibitors and Wall Street analysts consider it a failed venture.

“It’s about finding the right platform for the content,” he said. “If consumers want to be able to experience [a movie] in the home sooner, then they should have that. That’s where we’d like to see the movie business go.”

Regardless, as WarnerMedia readies a branded OTT platform, Tsujihara is tasked with creating consumer product opportunities for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang, Otter Media and Turner Classic Movies, among others.

“The lion’s share of their profitability comes from affiliate sales and advertising,” he told Deadline. “So a vertically integrated entity would say, ‘How can we drive more consumer products revenue from these properties?’”

Apparently Tsujihara is looking forward to the vertical challenge – one not unprecedented in home entertainment. Former Disney home entertainment executive Bob Chapek transitioned to consumer products following years of peddling home video.

Now he’s chairman of parks and resorts since 2015 and considered by some Disney’s next CEO when Bob Iger retires.

Maybe Tsujihara is on to something.

 

Bob Greenblatt Named Chairman of WarnerMedia’s Entertainment Unit; Kevin Tsujihara’s Role Expanded

As expected, AT&T March 4 named former NBC Universal executive Bob Greenblatt chairman of WarnerMedia’s entertainment and over-the-top video businesses. Greenblatt reports to WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey.

Greenblatt, who left NBC Universal six months ago, joins the former Time Warner company following last week’s exits of HBO boss Richard Plepler and Turner’s David Levy.

Greenblatt oversees HBO, TNT, TBS, truTV, and the company’s over-the-top video business. Kevin Reilly remains in charge of Turner programming, in addition to spearheading WarnerMedia’s pending streaming video service.

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Meanwhile, longtime home entertainment executive Kevin Tsujihara remains chairman/CEO of Warner Bros., while adding responsibilities involving children and young adult viewers.

Specifically, Tsujihara will now also oversee Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang, Otter Media, Turner Classic Movies and WarnerMedia’s licensed consumer products.

CNN president Jeff Zucker adds the title chairman of WarnerMedia news and sports, while Gerhard Zeiler transitions from president of Turner International to chief revenue officer at WarnerMedia.

“We have done an amazing job establishing our brands as leaders in the hearts and minds of consumers,” Stankey said in a statement. “Adding Bob Greenblatt to the WarnerMedia family and expanding the leadership scope and responsibilities of Jeff, Kevin and Gerhard — who collectively have more than 80 years of global media experience and success — gives us the right management team to strategically position our leading portfolio of brands, world-class talent and rich library of intellectual property for future growth.”

HBO Boss Richard Plepler Departs

Longtime HBO executive Richard Plepler is leaving the pay-TV channel, following a series of management changes underway at WarnerMedia that reportedly include bringing in former NBC Universal executive Bob Greenblatt as a senior executive reporting to CEO John Stankey.

Plepler, who joined HBO in 1992, helped greenlight myriad hits for the platform, including “Game of Thrones,” “True Detective,” “Veep” and “True Blood.” He also oversaw the launch of HBO Now, the standalone subscription streaming service.

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“Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so,” Plepler wrote in a memo to staff as reported by Variety. “In the past weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the incredible journey of this company in the nearly 28 years that I have been blessed to be here. It’s a journey of great pride and accomplishment because so many of you, and many others before us, have made HBO a cultural and business phenomenon.”

Plepler’s departure comes 48 hours after a federal appeals court upheld AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. It also comes a day after AT&T CFO John Stephens told an investor group that the telecom’s senior management did not wish to upend the culture at the entertainment unit that includes HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner with further personnel changes.

“They [had] a CFO [Howard Averill] and we have a CFO. Those kinds of head-counting synergies have been achieved,” Stephens said.

Of course, the handwriting was on the wall ever since AT&T first closed the acquisition last summer. Stankey, in a town hall meeting with employees and Plepler, strongly intimated that the status quo at HBO would not continue.

The executive said he sought to make HBO programming habitual in a market driven by portable devices that capture consumer attention “every 15 minutes.”

“It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey said at the time. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit.”