Report: Warner’s Tsujihara Still Keen on Premium VOD

Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara again pushed the idea of early home access for consumers that want theatrical movies sooner — oft termed premium VOD.

“Clearly we want the theatrical experience to continue and to maintain that incredible social experience,” he told the Los Angeles Times Feb. 27, noting that Crazy Rich Asians “got into the zeitgeist,” which is “very difficult to do on a streaming service.”

But he said that early home access is part of the evolution of content delivery.

“If consumers want to be able to experience it in the home sooner, then they should have that option as well,” he said. “That’s where we’d like to see the movie business go.”

As far as the new direct-to-consumer streaming service coming from parent company AT&T, Tsujihara told the Times that the studio’s content will go to that platform as well as linear, current customers.

“It’s about finding the right platform for the content,” he told the Times. “Some will go to HBO, some will go to Turner, some will go to Netflix, and other streaming platforms, and some will go to the direct-to-consumer platform.”

He also commented on the promise of 5G.

“It actually could have a significant impact on our ability to deliver content,” he told the Times.

He said 5G would “turbocharge” the ability to deliver VR and AR experiences.

Asia Society SoCal Honoring Warner Bros. Boss Kevin Tsujihara

Asia Society Southern California announced it is honoring Kevin Tsujihara, chairman/CEO of Warner Bros., at the 2018 U.S.-China Entertainment Summit on Oct. 30 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

Additional honorees include actress Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Elizabeth Daley, dean at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

A longtime home entertainment executive, Tsujihara was handpicked in 2013 by Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes to lead Warner Bros. in the digital age. As the first Japanese-American studio chief, Tsujihara has been an advocate for diversity in Hollywood to better reflect a rapidly changing global market and consumer.

Tsujihara helped spearhead recent Warner box office hit, Crazy Rich Asians, which marked a cultural watershed for Asian and Asian-American talent; and The Meg, the most financially successful U.S.-China co-production to date.

Asia Society is honoring Daley as an education pioneer. In 25 years as dean, Daley has built USC’s renowned film school through a commitment to diversity and global education. Among her many international initiatives include partnerships with Chinese universities.

Founded in 2010 as the U.S.-China Film Summit, the U.S.-China Entertainment Summit today attempts to facilitate co-productions, cross-border investment and the integration of Chinese and American talent in Hollywood. The 2018 Summit aims to look beyond film and TV to areas such as immersive entertainment and gaming, as well as digital technologies that are transforming media.




AT&T Boss Sends Mixed Messages Following Time Warner Acquisition Close

NEWS ANALYSIS — Following consummation of AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson sent out a staff memo welcoming Time Warner — which includes Warner Bros., Turner and HBO — to the fold.

“As different as our businesses are, I think you’ll find we have a lot in common,” Stephenson said, adding, “We’re big fans of your talent and creativity. And you have my word that you will continue to have the creative freedom and resources to keep doing what you do best.”

Commonality is always a slippery slope in corporate mergers. Shared interests often translate into operational redundancies that require fiscal cutbacks and eliminated positions.

AT&T projects $1.5 billion in annualized cost “synergies” by end of the third year of the acquisition.

Indeed, in a separate statement, AT&T said Time Warner would be folded into the telecom’s media business segment headed by John Stankey, with a new brand name to be announced.

As previously reported, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes will continue for a limited time as a senior advisor during the transition. All of Bewkes’ direct reports now answer to Stankey, which include Kevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Bros., John Martin, CEO of Turner, and Richard Plepler, CEO of HBO.

“We’re going to bring a fresh approach to how the media and entertainment industry works for consumers, content creators, distributors and advertisers,” said Stephenson.

How that “fresh” approach works out for Warner remains to be seen.

Tsujihara, in May, initiated a string of management changes that included the promotion of Jim Wuthrich to president of worldwide home entertainment and games. Wuthrich reports to Ron Sanders, president of worldwide theatrical distribution and home entertainment.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment reported a near 6% increase in fiscal 2017 revenue to $1.56 billion from physical and digital sales of movies — up from $1.48 billion in 2016. Sales of TV content on disc and digital declined 11% to $418 million from $470 million.

Warner Restructuring Nothing More Than Common Sense

There’s been all sorts of speculation in the media about the big restructuring at Warner Bros. that, among other changes, saw home entertainment chief Ron Sanders take charge of all motion picture distribution and Blair Rich likewise have oversight of marketing across all windows.

Media wags have connected Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara’s move to all sorts of things, from the now-stalled AT&T acquisition to the “Justice League” movie franchise.

But if you take a step back and really take a look at the new structure, it becomes clear that the real reason is, quite simply, that it makes sense.

With distribution windows blurring, it is only logical to have one person call the distribution shots, rather than two people, each with skin in a different game. The same goes for marketing. Having oversight over a movie’s journey through its entire life cycle, from theatrical opening to its various after-market platforms, seems an incredibly logical and smart strategy.

(Interestingly, Paramount Pictures made a partial move down this same path when it appointed former 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment president and chief marketing officer Mary Daily, long considered one of the smartest and savviest marketers in Hollywood, to president of international theatrical marketing and worldwide home media entertainment.)

The elevation of Sanders to distribution chief of the Warner Pictures Group is also a tremendous vote of confidence in the future of home entertainment – which really should be seen as more of a concept than a specific industry. Since the advent of pay-per-view and the video rental business more than four decades ago, consumers have been on a quest to control their entertainment viewing options – to bring entertainment to them. Initially, it was just into their home; in recent years, thanks to the cloud, this “home” has expanded to various mobile devices, including the now-ubiquitous smart phone.

Home entertainment, then, is a lot broader than the traditional transactional model. It’s Netflix, it’s Amazon, it’s anything that brings entertainment to the viewer, on demand, wherever the viewer wants to consume it. And while premium VOD may have suffered some setbacks recently, there’s no question in most everyone’s mind that its eventual realization is inevitable – at last putting home entertainment on par with theatrical.

A final note about Ron Sanders: As I have written before, Sanders, much like Tsujihara, represents a new class of executive emerging in the Hollywood leadership ranks: Smart, personable, reasonable, and practical. They don’t yell, scream and bully like the studio chiefs of old Hollywood because, quite simply, they don’t have to. They have something infinitely more valuable than control: They have the respect of the people who work with them.

Sanders joined what was then Warner Home Video in 1991 and learned the business from some of the most talented executives of the day, led by then-division president Warren Lieberfarb. The 1990s were a remarkable time in home entertainment: We saw the rise of sellthrough, the development of direct sales and, of course, the launch of DVD, birthed at Warner by Lieberfarb and his team.

As I wrote some years ago, in words that continue to ring true, “Anyone who knows Ron Sanders, who has worked alongside him, knows how incredibly hard it is to dislike him. When he says something, he means it. When he makes a promise, he follows through. He looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you; he is passionate about the industry, about Warner Bros., about business, about life.”

Sanders ran Warner’s rental business during the tumultuous mid-1990s period of consolidation and copy-depth incentives. He moved into consumer sales just as DVD was taking off and in July 1998 was sent to London as managing director of the United Kingdom and Ireland divisions. A year and a half later, he was promoted to head of the entire EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, overseeing Warner’s home video operations in 28 territories. He returned to the United States in 2002 and was appointed president of the division in October 2005. In May 2013 he was named president, Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution, with oversight of the global distribution of home entertainment products from Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Television, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE).

Throughout this well-deserved rise, Sanders has remained remarkably grounded. He and I used to swap stories about chauffeuring our kids to soccer games and treating our families to fanciful summer vacations. Mindful of his experience living with his family in London, Sanders endowed a study abroad program at his alma mater, Auburn University, where he also served on the Harbert College of Business Advisory Council.

He’s not just a good executive. He’s a good person. Congratulations, Ron.

Warner Bros. CEO Puts Another Nail in PVOD

NEWS ANALYSIS – Premium VOD, Hollywood’s tortured attempt to mine incremental revenue selling consumers early digital access to theatrical releases at a premium price, appears to be an early casualty of 2018.

With Warner Bros. entwined in AT&T’s government-delayed $85 billion acquisition of studio parent Time Warner, Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara Jan. 9 announced internal management changes aimed at handling “headwinds” across all of the studio’s businesses as consumers embrace new ways to consume entertainment, among other issues.

Change, however, does not appear to include rolling out PVOD — despite Tsujihara’s (and 20th Century Fox Film CEO Stacey Snider’s) vocal efforts to launch the distribution channel at some point in the near future.

Tsujihara — a former home entertainment executive — was promoted in 2013 to head Warner Bros. in part because of his digital mojo and willingness to shake up the status quo, including the longstanding 90-day theatrical window, among other norms.

The executive was an early proponent of UltraViolet, the industry-wide initiative to jumpstart digital movie ownership through a cloud-based rights locker.

Tsujihara vowed to meld UltraViolet with lone studio holdout Disney — whose Disney Movies Anywhere platform used proprietary cloud technology. It is unknown how much influence Tsujihara had crafting the recently rebranded Movies Anywhere, which now includes digital access to content from all the major studios except Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate.

Regardless, the executive contends that in an age of binge-viewing and over-the-top video distribution, consumers mandate ubiquitous retail access to content, including higher-margin digital sellthrough and PVOD.

Despite facing increasingly younger, fickle consumers accustomed to ubiquitous digital access, blowing up the theatrical window seems fraught with peril to exhibitors.

Tsujihara believes consumers need seamless access to content, lest they switch to all-you-can-eat OTT video and its appealing loss-leader pricing.

When asked about the status of PVOD discussions, Tsujihara — in an interview with The Wrap — reiterated his frustration.

“[Are] shrinking windows closer? I can’t say that we are,” he said.

Ron Sanders Upped to Distribution Chief for Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group

In recognition of the blurring of windows, Ron Sanders, Warner Bros.’ home entertainment chief, has been upped to president of worldwide distribution for the entire motion picture group as part of a broader studio restructuring.

“I’m very excited to be able to oversee the distribution of our films from initial release in theaters through home entertainment,” Sanders told Media Play News. “The structure really just formalizes how we’ve all been operating between the divisions as separate collaborative units.

“This new combined organization will help us focus on the movie consumer, and create the best experiences to interact with our content through its life cycle.”

Under the restructuring, Sanders becomes president of worldwide distribution of the Warner Picture Group while remaining president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Toby Emmerich will serve as chairman of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, with full oversight of worldwide theatrical production, marketing and distribution.

And Blair Rich will head global theatrical and home entertainment marketing as president of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures Group and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

A Warner Bros. press release said the aim of the restructuring is to enhance the studio’s “competitiveness in the global marketplace.”

As part of this reorganization, Sue Kroll, who previously served as president, Worldwide Marketing and Distribution, Warner Bros. Pictures, will become a studio-based producer at Warner Bros. with responsibility on a broad portfolio of films, including A Star is Born and Motherless Brooklyn, with additional titles to be announced shortly.

“All of our businesses, including film and home entertainment, continue to rapidly evolve based on consumer tastes and technology, and we need to constantly adapt our operations to stay ahead of these changes, while preserving our creative excellence,” said Kevin Tsujihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros.

“Bringing together film and home entertainment marketing and distribution will allow us to strategically manage film titles through their entire life cycle. We’ll be better able to respond to consumer demand, while still creating unique theatrical and home entertainment experiences, and provide increased benefits to our filmmaking, exhibition and retail partners. We’re fortunate that we have a deep bench of highly talented executives to help us navigate these changes.”

Sanders will assume oversight of the teams responsible for all matters relating to global film distribution and release functions. He will also retain his responsibilities as president, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“Now more than ever, we need to be responsive to consumers’ changing moviegoing habits, and we’re looking to Ron to help us maximize the value of our film titles across their entire release, from theatrical to in-home and mobile,” said Tsujihara. “I’m excited for him to bring his expertise, experience and global relationships to our worldwide film distribution operations.”

Under Sanders’ leadership, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment consistently holds the top market share. Sanders oversees the global distribution of home entertainment products from Warner Bros. Pictures Group, Warner Bros. Television Group and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. He is also responsible for the studio’s video game publishing business, and helped build WBHE into the industry’s largest digital distributor of films and TV shows through VOD and EST.

In her new role, Rich will lead the development and execution of all marketing campaigns for both the Studio’s global theatrical and home entertainment releases. She has oversight of Warner Bros. Pictures’ worldwide creative advertising, publicity, media, global digital, global promotions and worldwide research groups. She will also oversee the home entertainment marketing operation.

“I’ve known and worked with Blair for years; she’s a fantastic marketer, highly respected and as creative as she is strategic,” said Emmerich. “The Pictures Group has an incredible marketing team, and with Blair at the helm, they’ll continue to set the industry standard for excellence.”

Most recently, Rich led the marketing efforts on It and helped direct the campaigns for a number of Warner Bros. Pictures’ critical and global box office hits, including Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, The Lego Batman Movie and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

“With our Pictures Group wrapping up a fantastic year, I’m excited that Toby will be taking on this expanded role at the Studio,” continued Tsujihara.  “Over the last 12 months — and really throughout his career — he’s proved he has great instincts, the ability to balance the creative and commercial needs of the Studio, a deep well of experience and a leadership style that inspires those around him. I look forward to our continuing partnership.”

“I’m humbled and honored to have this opportunity to help continue Warner Bros. Pictures’ legacy of creativity, innovation and excellence,” said Emmerich. “We will remain focused on being the first choice for the world’s best filmmakers, whether they’re making their first film or their 34th. Between Warner Bros.  and New Line, we have an incredible wealth of talented executives who Kevin and I feel lucky to work with, and who we know will consistently deliver successful film slates year after year.”

The Rich and Sanders promotions are effective immediately.

During the transition, Kroll will report to Tsujihara as a special advisor on the restructuring, including overseeing the high-profile awards campaigns for Dunkirk and Wonder Woman, as well as advise on select upcoming releases, including Ready Player One, slated for release March 30. She will move into her producer role April 1.