Luncheon Fetes Fast Forward Award Honorees

FandangoNow VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas, Redbox CEO Galen Smith, Google Play head of media and entertainment Jonathan Zepp, and the team at Apple iTunes were honored with Fast Forward Awards at a luncheon April 4 in Los Angeles at the Universal Hilton.

The awards, presented by Media Play News, recognize people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

The luncheon was produced by Media Play News and hosted by the Entertainment Merchants Association, which used the occasion to announce a new Leadership Development Foundation to foster executive talent.

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“All of today’s honorees are truly worthy of recognition for their leadership in our industry,” said EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher.

Media Play News publisher Thomas K. Arnold noted that all of the honorees are involved in the digital transactional business. Not all consumers want to get their entertainment buffet-style with the content curated for them as offered by subscription streaming services; many consumers would like to choose the content they would like to see a la carte, he said.

Warner Bros. Entertainment SVP of sales Michael Rweyemamu presented the award to Smith of Redbox, which has nearly doubled the selection of films and TV shows available on its year-old digital movie store, Redbox On Demand, and last December announced a new deal in which its app is featured on all Vizio Smartcast TV. Rweyemamu noted the irony of the occasion, considering the rocky relationship between the studio and the kiosk company several years ago when the two fought over release windows for low-priced rentals.

“Ten years ago, had you told me I’d be presenting an award to Redbox, I’d have said, ‘Hell, no!’” Rweyemamu joked.

He praised Smith for his leadership.

“Galen, you’ve been a great partner,” he said. “We started off on a rocky road like some relationships, but we’re in a really good place right now. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that you were really tenacious. You were really disciplined, really open to conversations to allow us to be where we are today.”

Smith also noted the evolution of the relationship between the two companies.

“In a similar vein, receiving an award from Warner Bros. I didn’t think was ever going to happen,” Smith said.

The company’s Redbox on Demand digital service “is a real natural evolution for our business,” Smith said.

“We’ve got 50 million customers that rent from us every year; it’s an opportunity for us to help them move to digital,” he said. “This is the last bastion of customers who haven’t moved yet. We have an opportunity to bring them over.”

He also praised the transactional model.

“We did a stint in a more of an SVOD-type business, and it didn’t really work,” he said, in reference to a failed joint venture with Verizon. “Our consumers are transactional, and so we want to do everything we can to support the business.”

In presenting the award to FandangoNow’s Douglas, industry veteran and former DreamWorks home entertainment chief Kelly Sooter praised him for his ability to anticipate trends and forge strong partnerships and lasting relationships — and for always being in touch with the consumer.

“He knows everything about … how consumers behave,” she said.

FandangoNow has been revving up its promotional muscle and is aggressively tying in digital purchases and rentals with its movie-ticket-selling sister company.

Douglas noted he got involved in the digital business at DreamWorks when he was asked to help with a startup (M-GO, which eventually was acquired by movie service Fandango and became FandangoNow).

“As we finally refined what we were doing and launched in 2013 as a transactional service, I truly felt like I was now building the future of digital home entertainment,” Douglas said.

He noted FandangoNow’s early and strong support for 4K and initiatives such as binge bundles and the “Fresh Picks” program, which curates titles deemed “Fresh” by sister service Rotten Tomatoes.

Praising Google Play’s Zepp, who was unable to attend, Paramount Pictures president of worldwide home media distribution Bob Buchi said, “He truly has the talent and the vision to market very impressively to consumers and really change the way that they behave.”

Buchi noted that Google Play, which is in its seventh year, “really put a movie store in the hand of millions of consumers with the Android mobile platform [and] really elevated and streamlined the experience of purchasing or renting a digital product, and opened up a whole new world in literally over 100 countries.”

“They continued to enhance the product day in and day out,” he said. “It’s now on every major television manufacturer and streaming sticks, so it’s really never been easier to rent or to purchase a movie.

“They’re also super champions of 4K which is great for adoption and great for all of our futures.”

Google Play Movies & TV is currently on a big 4K push, automatically upgrading customers’ past movie purchases to the new format, so they can stream them in 4K, even if the movies were originally purchased in standard or high definition.

Google Play’s Bill Kotzman accepted the award on Zepp’s behalf and read a statement from the honoree: “Transactional home entertainment is and will remain a key part of the media and entertainment business.… Google continues to invest heavily in transactional, and we’re excited to continue to grow the category in partnership with all of you.”

The EMA’s Steven Apple accepted the award for the iTunes team. Apple’s iTunes service began the year with a game-changing deal with No. 1 TV manufacturer Samsung. New Samsung SmartCast TVs will allow consumers to access their iTunes movie and TV show libraries through a new app.

Photos of the event are here.

Netflix Chief Marketing Officer to Exit

Chief marketing officer Kelly Bennett is leaving Netflix, the company announced.

He “has decided to step down from the company after seven successful years in the role” and will stay for a transitional period until a new chief marketing officer is named, according to a Netflix release.

Bennett joined Netflix in 2012 and has led the company’s marketing efforts as it grew from 26 million to more than 139 million paid members around the world, according to the release.

“He’s been instrumental in helping to make Netflix a much loved brand — and pioneered the company’s campaigning approach to the launch of its original content,” the release stated.

“Kelly Bennett has been absolutely transformational for us as we expanded our member base in the U.S. and globally, and particularly as we transitioned into being a leader in original series and films,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, in a statement. “He has been a source of inspiration both inside Netflix and in presenting our brand to the world, and we are thankful for his enormous contributions.”

“The past seven years have been the most rewarding of my professional life, and we are at the top of our game, which is why this was the right moment for me to retire,” said Bennett in a statement. “I am immensely proud of the team we have built and all that has been accomplished during my time here — and I will continue to be Netflix’s greatest fan.”

Netflix Appoints Neumann CFO

Netflix has hired Spencer Neumann, previously CFO of Activision Blizzard, as its new CFO, replacing David Wells, the company announced.

Wells had served as Netflix CFO since 2010.

“Spencer is a stellar entertainment executive and we’re thrilled that he will help us provide amazing stories to people all over the world,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a statement. “I also want to again say thank you to David Wells, on behalf of the company and our shareholders, for his invaluable contributions at Netflix over the past 14 years.”

“Netflix is a singular brand, and I’m excited and honored for the opportunity to work with the Netflix team and all of our stakeholders to build on the company’s exceptional track record of success and innovation,” said Neumann in a statement.

Neumann served as Activision Blizzard’s CFO from May 2017. Prior to that, Neumann held a number of positions of increasing responsibility at The Walt Disney Co., most recently serving as the CFO and EVP of global guest experience of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, from 2012 until May 2017. From 2005 to 2012, Neumann worked at the private equity firms of Providence Equity Partners and Summit Partners. Prior to that, he held several other roles with Disney, which he initially joined in 1992, including EVP of the ABC Television Network from 2001 to 2004 and CFO of the Walt Disney Internet Group from 1999 to 2001.

Neumann is also a member of the national board of directors of Make-A-Wish America and holds a B.A. in economics and an M.B. A., both from Harvard University.

Netflix Unveils Executive Pay for 2019 — and Hastings’ Salary Isn’t the Highest

In the coming year, Chief content officer Ted Sarandos will get the top salary — $18 million — and CEO and chairman of the board Reed Hastings will garner the most stock options — 30.8 million, Netflix announced in an SEC filing on its executive compensation.

Hasting’s salary is a mere $700,000 (the same as in 2018), as the executive is taking most of his compensation in stock options. Sarandos will pick up 13.5 million stock options. In the end, Hastings and Sarandos should make about the same in salary and options.

Still, Sarandos’ salary jumped considerably. His salary for 2018 was $12 million with 14.25 million options.

Chief product officer Greg Peters will have a salary of $10 million (up from $6 million in 2018), with 6.8 million options.

Among the other executives, CFO David Wells and general counsel and secretary David Hyman will each earn $3.5 million in salary (roughly a $1 million raise for both from 2018). Wells garners 2.8 million options, with Hyman getting 3.85 million.

PBS Distribution Appoints Jen Robertson Marketing VP

PBS Distribution has appointed Jen Robertson to the newly created role of VP of marketing.

In this new position, Robertson will lead marketing and communications strategy supporting multiple brands and businesses including retail, ecommerce, transactional and subscription video-on-demand with a focus on customer acquisition and retention strategies for the company’s direct-to-consumer subscription businesses, including PBS Masterpiece and PBS Kids on Prime Video Channels, according to a company press release.

“Jen has a proven track record of successfully delivering results for media companies that exceed expectations in this ever-changing digital landscape,” said PBS Distribution co-president Andrea Downing in a statement. “Her leadership role at PBS Distribution fits perfectly into our key primary initiatives — to deliver high quality services and products to consumers and providing value for PBS viewers and stations in innovative and unprecedented ways.”

Robertson joins PBS Distribution from Global Series Network International’s Walter Presents. There she served as GM, responsible for the U.S. operations and partnership development of the streaming service, which is a joint venture between the U.K.’s Channel 4 and GSN.

Prior to working for GSN, Robertson spent 15 years at AMC Networks, culminating in the role of SVP, digital media and business development, for AMC’s WE tv. She was responsible for developing a strategic vision to extend WE tv’s brand via advanced media platforms. Robertson oversaw social media, content development and the direction for the network’s group of digital properties and initiatives, including online, VOD, EST, TV Everywhere and OTT.  Robertson led digital initiatives including WE-D, the first-ever second screen app for TV to utilize 360-degree camera technology, and the WE Insider Panel, the network’s first crowd-sourced consumer insights tool, according to the release.

MoviePass Promotes Itum to EVP

MoviePass, the movie theater subscription service and majority-owned subsidiary of Helios and Matheson Analytics, has appointed Khalid Itum to EVP.

Previously VP of business development, Itum will continue to report to CEO Mitch Lowe. Itum will manage day-to-day operations at MoviePass, working closely with both Lowe and HMNY CEO Ted Farnsworth to spearhead company development, and drive its exhibition and distribution strategies forward, according to a MoviePass press release. Itum will also be responsible for creating its strategic plan and ensuring its implementation.

“Khalid is a unique talent with an amazing vision, who has been an integral part of MoviePass since 2014,” said Lowe in a statement. “Before coming on in a full-time capacity in 2017 to lead our studio affairs and distributor partnerships, he played a significant role as an advisor. As we continue to spur innovation across the industry, he not only strengthens our sales and operations efforts across the organization, but he deepens our relationships within the industry ecosystem.”

As VP, Itum had been responsible for driving revenue through multiple studio and independent distributor partnerships and various brand and content deals. He played a crucial role in growing MoviePass’ Los Angeles office and led the strategic formation of MoviePass Ventures and its first acquisition of American Animals — alongside The Orchard — at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, according to the release. He also spearheaded the acquisition of Moviefone from Oath earlier this year.

“Khalid has a proven track record and I believe he will serve our financial goals and increase our overall operating performance,” said Ted Farnsworth, CEO of Helios and Matheson, in a statement. “Khalid brings a remarkable enthusiasm and passion to the job each day and truly shares in the overall vision of MoviePass.”

“I’m eager to continue building MoviePass and am proud of how far we’ve come,” said Itum in a statement. “The road hasn’t been easy — and the hyper growth has been challenging. However, we’ve taken a hard look over the past few weeks and months at what needs to happen in order to not just preserve what we’ve built, but to use it as a foundation upon which to build. Because of this, I know we’ll emerge a better partner to the theaters (big and small), major studios and independent distributors with whom we have the privilege of working to collectively best serve the interests of the American consumer. You may notice we’ve been out of the news for some time, and that’s been by design. At MoviePass, we’ve recently prioritized building toward a vision that aligns our success with greater consumption of entertainment. You’ll soon be able to judge for yourselves, and I believe that the best marketing we can do, today and always, is to enhance our product and treat our subscriber as a member of something special: because that’s what MoviePass is to a great number of Americans already. It’s on us to regain their trust. I believe the future is bright for our company, and I couldn’t do it without my team which has been giving its 200% dedication and effort to transform the offering and platform into its full potential. I look forward to announcing some powerful additions to our management team to join with us in charging forward.”

Sony Alums Join Data Analytics Company’s New International Division

Data analytics company Algomus/Algo.ai has created an international division based in London.

The company has named Aodan Coburn, formerly EVP International at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, as president, Algo.ai International. Miguel Geli, previously division CIO for Sony Pictures and European MD of Sony Retail Services Europe, has been appointed COO, Algo.ai International.

Algo.ai comprises a team of software engineers, mathematicians, business analysts, machine learning experts and data scientists with extensive industry knowledge of manufacturing, distribution and retail supply chains to support the use of data to drive savings.

“This significant development reflects our desire to service our current customers on a broader territory basis and supports our ambition to expand both our geographical and industry reach,” CEO Amjad Hussain said in a statement.

“International expansion has been a strategic goal for some time, and with these two key appointments we are now well-positioned to repeat the tremendous growth opportunities we have seen domestically,” said John Daly, president of Algo.ai, in a statement.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to play a part in the Algomus story as this innovative company continues on its journey of global growth,” Coburn said in a statement.

“Algo.ai is a company with significant global potential which I am thrilled now to be part of,” Geli added in a statement.

Algomus is headquartered in Detroit, with additional offices in Los Angeles and now London.

Algo.ai created Algo, the world’s first supply chain analyst bot. Algo connects artificial intelligence, augmented reality and automation to retailers, distributors and manufacturers. The tool helps with activities including demand and inventory planning, sales forecasting, new product lifecycle management, and assortment optimization.

Warner Reorganizes PR and Marketing Teams

Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group has undergone a reorganization of its public relations and marketing teams, cutting 15 jobs in New York and Los Angeles and promoting some executives, according to reports.

Variety broke the story about the cuts.

Warner is consolidating the marketing and public relations teams under Blair Rich, president of worldwide theatrical and home entertainment marketing, Variety reported, noting that the cuts were not related to the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

The studio is combining domestic and international publicity units under Michelle Slavich, head of global publicity and strategy.

“Back in January, we announced a restructure of our film and home entertainment businesses to enable us to remain competitive while facing an evolving business environment that grows more global every day,” Rich wrote in a memo to staff, Variety reported.

Dana Nussbaum will oversee theatrical media, Deadline reported, and will more closely align it with the home entertainment media unit. As part of the move, Jack Walker has been promoted to SVP, media and digital marketing, home entertainment, reporting to Nussbaum and Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, according to Deadline. Walker will work with Andrew Hotz, who oversees theatrical digital marketing and media, and Jeff Brown, who oversees home entertainment television, Deadline reported. Walker had previously reported to Schell and Brown.

Lynne Frank, president, international marketing and worldwide planning and operations for Warner Bros. Pictures, will be leaving the studio at the end of the year to pursue new professional opportunities, the studio announced Oct. 23.

Also leaving are EVP of international publicity Lance Volland and Ernie Johnston in promotions and field publicity, according to Deadline.

Cinedigm Appoints Erick Opeka President of Digital Networks

Cinedigm has named Erick Opeka president of digital networks.

In this role, Opeka will helm the strategy, development, launch, and operations of the company’s growing roster of premium digital-first channels and products, which includes the factual network Docurama; fandom lifestyle network CONtv; gaming and eSports network WHAM; the family friendly Dove Channel and Dove Kids; combat sports network COMBAT GO; Asian pop culture network HALLYPOP; and the Chinese entertainment channel BAMBU, among others.

Opeka had served as the company’s EVP of digital networks since 2014, where he oversaw the distribution of Cinedigm’s OTT networks online, as well as on mobile devices, gaming consoles and connected TVs. Opeka was integral in the development and launch of the company’s flagship digital first networks, further expanding the company’s growth through landmark partnerships with leading platforms such as Sling TV, XUMO and Twitch, among others, according to a Cinedigm release.

“Erick Opeka has been an invaluable strategist and contributor to Cinedigm and the entertainment industry by creating and launching the absolute best in digital programming offerings, networks and services to the streaming landscape for over a decade,” said Chris McGurk, Cinedigm Chairman and CEO, in a statement. “Under Erick’s leadership, Cinedigm has built an unprecedented and impactful portfolio of nine digital-first networks from the ground up, and the partnerships he has helped secure have been a driving force in spreading Cinedigm’s content to top platforms across the globe. I cannot think of anyone better suited for this role, navigating the future creation and distribution of quality digital networks and streaming products.”

“I’m excited to move forward at Cinedigm in an expanded role as the president of digital networks,” Opeka said in a statement. “It has truly been incredible to see how much that not only the company’s digital-first offerings have grown, but how much the company’s reach has grown — providing viewers worldwide with premium content that they simply cannot find anywhere else. I am honored to play a part in that, and I look forward to rapidly scaling our reach and revenue with new channels and products.”

Prior to assuming EVP duties, Opeka held the position of SVP of global digital, helming the distribution of Cinedigm’s 50,000-plus hours of content, managing multi-platform distribution deals, sales and distribution, client management, content strategy, development, and operations across all distribution channels, including subscription and ad-supported VOD, EST and cable VOD. Prior to joining Cinedigm, Opeka served as SVP and head of New Video Digital, which he grew into the largest global aggregator of independent digital content for more than 850 content partners including A&E Networks, The Jim Henson Company, Berman Braun and others.

Opeka received his BA from UT Austin, and his MBA from Florida State University. Opeka is also a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving as a medical sergeant in the light infantry. He has been named a Digital Driver seven times by Media Play News (formerly Home Media Magazine), and is a frequent speaker at industry events including Sundance, NAB, CES, and IFP. Opeka also serves as the chair of the Entertainment Merchants Association’s OTT Growth Council, dedicated to advancing the interests of the $35 billion home entertainment industry; provides mentoring to the entrepreneur support organization Techstars; acts as an advisor to the millennial and Gen-Z women-centered video distribution service Blue Fever; and is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America.

Lionsgate Promotes Kapouranis to President of International TV and Digital Distribution

Lionsgate has promoted Agapy Kapouranis to president of international television and digital distribution.

She will report to Lionsgate president of worldwide television and digital distribution Jim Packer.

She succeeds Lionsgate veteran Peter Iacono, who has decided to leave the studio to become CEO of TravelCadabra.

During her seven years with the company, Kapouranis has structured a broad range of complex global and regional licensing deals encompassing the company’s films and television series, including alternative programming formats and Starz original programming, to a broad range of digital and linear platforms around the world.

She has broad experience in the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), electronic sellthrough (EST) and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) space, according to a Liongate release.

“Having an executive with experience in all forms of global distribution such as Agapy gives Lionsgate an advantage as we continue to navigate a dynamic and fast-changing environment with our growing and evolving portfolio of content,” Packer said in a statement. “She is the ideal executive to carry Peter’s leadership of our international team into the future. Peter is a great international sales and marketing executive who has helped lead the charge as we’ve built a robust network of digital and linear relationships around the world. We wish him the very best in his entrepreneurial endeavors.”

Kapouranis joined Lionsgate in 2011. She first served as SVP of television and digital distribution and was based in Paris for four years. In that capacity, she closed global digital EST deals with Apple, Xbox, Playstation and Google. She was later promoted to EVP of worldwide subscription video on demand, the position she held until her latest promotion.

Iacono has been part of the worldwide television and distribution group leadership team for nearly 10 years, leading all international distribution, acquisitions, sales and marketing for Lionsgate’s television and catalog feature slate. He recently spearheaded the company’s new Latin American first-run pay television deal with Amazon Prime.

“It’s been a pleasure working with an innovative studio like Lionsgate for going on a decade where I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by one of the best international sales and distribution teams in the business,” said Iacono in a statement. “It is time for a new adventure where I will be CEO of TravelCadabra an internet travel, entertainment and e-commerce platform launching in early 2019 for which we have been fortunate enough to secure up to $10 million in initial funding.  It gives me great pleasure to pass the stewardship of Lionsgate brilliant international distribution team to such a talented and dynamic executive as Agapy as I venture on this entrepreneurial path.”