Sofia Chang and Rich Warren Tapped to Lead WarnerMedia Distribution

Sofia Chang and Rich Warren have been named to lead WarnerMedia Sales and International’s distribution business.

Both will take the role of president of WarnerMedia Distribution, and will oversee distribution for all Turner channels, HBO, Cinemax and HBO Max and will report to Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer of WarnerMedia, and president of WarnerMedia International Networks.

Chang held the previous post of EVP of global digital distribution for HBO, and Warren was president, Turner content distribution.

Chang has held several positions in the company since joining HBO in 2000. She has led the transactional digital and physical distribution of HBO and Cinemax programs worldwide and since 2015, she has been responsible for distributing HBO and Cinemax subscription services on all digital platforms.

Warren has been at the company for 19 years and has led Turner’s distribution team, where he was responsible for the company’s multiplatform distribution of linear networks, digital brands and on-demand content, affiliate marketing, business development, strategic planning and business affairs.

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“Bringing together the distribution business is a further example of how WarnerMedia will be collaborating and working as one company,” according to a studio press release. “As the company looks to meet the challenges of the industry head on, this new structure does that.”

“We will have two hugely experienced leaders who know our business inside out,” said Zeiler in a statement. “Over the last few months I have worked closely with both; Sofia’s experience and success in driving HBO’s digital subscriptions has been of great value as I have looked to understand the U.S. HBO business in greater depth and detail, and Rich has brought his strategic skills to the table as we have sought this way forward. Working together both will provide the strategy and direction needed to enable future growth.”

Paramount Appoints David Elliott SVP of Physical International Sales and Distribution

David Elliott has been appointed SVP of physical international sales and distribution for Paramount Home Entertainment.

Elliott will replace Charlie McAuley, who is retiring after 13 years with the company.  In this role, Elliott will oversee the physical sales and distribution of the studio’s film and television properties internationally, providing leadership and direction to the international sales teams and developing strategies to maximize revenue.

He will report to Craig White, EVP of worldwide sales and distribution.

“David’s rich and diverse experience in the world’s leading and fast developing markets uniquely positions him to navigate and take advantage of the exciting opportunities our industry offers,” White said in a statement. “I am excited to have David at Paramount and look forward to his contributions.”

Elliott joins Paramount from 20th Century Fox where he served as SVP/managing director emerging markets — APAC, LATAM, EMEA, leading home entertainment content distribution for digital and physical products across all emerging markets and licensee businesses. He previously served as SVP, market development, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Northern Europe, SVP/head of international operations, and VP/head of international finance and accounting for Fox.

McAuley joined Paramount in 2006 as managing director, home entertainment U.K. and Ireland. In 2015 McAuley was promoted to SVP, responsible for international physical sales and managing distribution partnerships and licensing. McAuley has served as vice chairman and later chairman of the British Video Association (BVA) (now BASE). He previously worked at CIC International, Woolworths U.K. and Blockbuster International.

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“Charlie has been a highly successful business leader, as well as a formidable competitor and esteemed colleague and friend to many in the industry in Europe and beyond,” said White in a statement. “He has provided expert stewardship for Paramount’s fabled film library and delivered critical successes throughout his tenure. Charlie’s legacy and impact on the industry and his colleagues is exemplary. He will be sorely missed and we wish him well in his retirement.”

More Fox, Disney Layoffs — Five Months After Closure of Sale

Two days after Media Play News reported head of marketing Julia Howe as the latest high-profile 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment departure, multiple sources Aug. 29 said the company — now owned by the Walt Disney Co. — has been racked by more layoffs, including division veterans Jennifer Chai and Kavita Smith.

Jennifer Chai

Chai held the title of SVP of worldwide brand marketing for the home entertainment arm. She led worldwide brand marketing and strategy for the entire Fox new release theatrical slate and third-party titles for both the physical and digital business. She also was involved with the cross-studio Movies Anywhere service as well as other digital strategic initiatives. Chai has been at Fox since 2000, joining after three years as brand manager at what was then Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the Walt Disney Co.’s home entertainment arm.

Smith was VP, global marketing communications and publicity. According to her LinkedIn profile, she joined Fox as director of publicity in November 2005 and was elevated to executive director in September 2012. She was promoted to VP in August 2014. She will stay on through October, sources said.

Reports say the layoffs — nearly 60 — have occurred in both the home entertainment and TV distribution divisions, encompassing both Disney and Fox employees. 20th Century Fox TV Distribution EVP of worldwide marketing Greg Drebin also is exiting.

Fox president of worldwide home entertainment Keith Feldman is staying on with Disney, sources told Media Play News, although his contract has not been finalized.

Howe is said to be leaving the company in November.

The new departures come on the heels of previous high-profile exits in the wake of the Disney acquisition.

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Mike Dunn, for years the top home entertainment executive at 20th Century Fox, was among a handful of high-ranking studio executives to leave the studio on March 21, a day after the acquisition closed.

A short time later, Janice Marinelli, head of home entertainment at Disney, set up an office at Fox, reportedly to acquaint herself with the studio’s home entertainment team and see how they operate. But July 16 the 34-year Disney veteran announced her exit.

Also in July, veteran division publicist James Finn, who recently had become co-head of marketing, quietly announced his departure in an email to friends and colleagues. “For nearly 20 years I’ve called Fox my home,” he wrote. “Thank you to my colleagues, my mentors, my family, my friends and my team for making it so much fun.”

After Fox’s sale to Disney closed in March, reports surfaced that as many as 4,000 people could ultimately lose their jobs.

EMA SVP Sean Bersell to Leave Association

Entertainment Merchants Association SVP Sean Bersell is leaving the association after nearly 20 years.

Bersell recently moved to Pittsburgh with his wife Heather Norris to be closer to family and “has decided it is time for him to embark on some new endeavors,” according to an email to board members and other stakeholders from EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher.

“Sean has been with the EMA for almost 20 years, starting in August 1999,” Fisher wrote. “He was originally brought on to manage the government relations program as the industry was under fire after the Columbine massacre for allegedly marketing and selling violent videos and video games to minors. Sean led our successful response to that through several federal investigations, countless proposed laws throughout the country, and nine lawsuits — culminating in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. EMA, which recognized First Amendment protections for video games. He also was instrumental in our efforts to protect the right to rent and resell videos and video games and to ward off punitive regulation of the industry’s products.

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“In addition, he has led our public relations and member communications activities, managed our digital supply chain efforts for several years, and organized our conference programming for the past year. But more than that, he has been involved in practically every significant strategic decision of the organization over the past 20 years as we have navigated the industry’s many transitions.

“I have personally appreciated and valued Sean’s advice and guidance over the decades that we worked together, and will miss working with him.

“We are grateful for his service to EMA and wish him and Heather all the best.”

Bersell started his career in 1985 as legislative counsel for U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici. From 1991 to 1993, Bersell served as the assistant director of the National Park Service in charge of the Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs.

In 1993, Bersell joined the government relations staff of the 58,000-member American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and eventually worked his way up to senior director, public affairs for the professional society.

Bersell is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of New Mexico School of Law.

WarnerMedia Appoints Ann Sarnoff Chair and CEO of Warner Bros.

WarnerMedia has appointed Ann Sarnoff chair and CEO of Warner Bros.

Sarnoff, who is currently president, BBC Studios Americas (formerly BBC Worldwide Americas), brings more than 30 years of diversified business and media experience to the role of overseeing worldwide operations at Warner Bros., including the production, marketing and distribution of film, television and interactive entertainment.

Sarnoff will be based in Los Angeles and will officially join the company later this summer, according to a WarnerMedia press release.

She replaces Kevin Tsujihara, who left the position in March after allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I am delighted Ann is joining the WarnerMedia team and excited to work side by side with such a talented and accomplished individual. She brings a consistent and proven track record of innovation, creativity and business results to lead an incredibly successful studio to its next chapter of growth,” said WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey in a statement. “Ann has shown the ability to innovate and grow revenues and has embraced the evolution taking place in our industry. I am confident she will be a great cultural fit for WarnerMedia and that our employees will embrace her leadership, enthusiasm and passion for our business.”

“It is a privilege to join a studio with such a storied history. Warner Bros. has been an industry leader for decades and is known for creating many of the most iconic film, television and gaming properties,” said Sarnoff in a statement. “I accept this position excited by the opportunity to work with the most accomplished executives and teams in media, and confident about carrying this incredible heritage forward with them.”

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As president of BBC Studios Americas, Sarnoff has been responsible for driving growth and profit across the company’s diversified business division in the United States, Canada and Latin America. She oversaw L.A. Productions, linear and digital program sales and co-productions, home entertainment, and licensing. She also led efforts to amplify BBC Studios’ global brands “Doctor Who,” “Top Gear,” and the natural history brand “BBC Earth.” As board chair of BritBox Sarnoff has guided the development and growth of the direct-to-consumer service which offers U.S. and Canadian customers the largest collection of British television programming.

“Ann’s contribution to BBC Studios has been immense,” said Tim Davie, CEO BBC Studios in a statement. “She has grown our core business as well as driving significant innovation, including the successful creation of BritBox, the growth of BBC America alongside our partner AMCN, the launch of new channels like BBC Earth in Canada, and major new content and production deals. We will miss her generosity and her spirit of collaboration, and we wish her great success at Warner Bros.”

During a leadership transition, Warner Bros. was managed by an interim team of leaders made up of Toby Emmerich, chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group; Peter Roth, president and chief content officer, Warner Bros. Television Group; and Kim Williams, EVP & CFO, Warner Bros.

Former Fox Exec Hanno Basse Joins Live Planet

Live Planet, creator of systems for virtual reality and blockchain tracking of entertainment content, has appointed Hanno Basse, former chief technology officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp., president of its Decentralized Media Solutions division.

“Basse brings Live Planet his extensive expertise in driving the adoption of emerging technologies to catalyze new media experiences and services, expanding the company’s innovations in immersive and linear video production, distribution and monetization,” according to a Live Planet press release.

Basse will expand the company’s global footprint, building on its end-to-end virtual reality video streaming and publishing solution and its blockchain-based video infrastructure platform, the VideoCoin Network.

He will be based in Los Angeles, reporting to Live Planet founder and CEO Halsey Minor.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to mark the next stage of growth for Live Planet with the addition of Hanno to our world-class team of media and technology experts. Hanno brings a truly unique level of senior experience to Live Planet that will be extremely valuable to us as we help our customers meet the increasing demands of streaming video and next-generation on-demand services,” said Minor in a statement. “The addition of a technology pioneer of Hanno’s caliber is emblematic of Live Planet’s strategic direction and I look forward to an incredibly exciting journey ahead.”

“The media processing and distribution technologies Halsey and his team have built are among the most groundbreaking I’ve seen. They provide the basis for a new generation of solutions that media, telco and corporations will eagerly embrace as our world moves toward increased decentralization, higher-speed communication and edge-based compute,” said Basse in a statement. “I cannot wait to show the world what we will deliver next.”

Basse was appointed chief technology officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in 2012, At Fox, Basse was responsible for technology strategy for the film studio, covering production/post-production, theatrical distribution and home entertainment. He created partnerships with Samsung, Ericsson and Barco, among others, which led to the founding of the Fox Innovation Lab. While at Fox, he also served as the first chairman of the UHD Alliance where he helped launch the 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc format and, in partnership with Samsung, established High Dynamic Range technology as a consumer product. He also served as the Fox board member of Movielabs.

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Prior to joining 20th Century Fox, Basse was with DirecTV, where he served as SVP of broadcast systems engineering. In that role, he was responsible for the design and implementation of DirecTV’s broadcast infrastructure and served as the technical lead for the introduction of many technologies to DirecTV’s platform, including HD, 3D and on-demand services.

Basse studied radio communications technology at the Engineering College of the Soviet Air Defense Forces in Kiev, Ukraine, and received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Officer’s College of the Air Force in Kamenz, Germany.

The Live Planet VR System is an end-to-end solution for easily creating and delivering live and recorded picture-perfect stereoscopic VR video programming and applications, according to the company.

The VideoCoin Network provides video infrastructure for the blockchain-enabled internet, delivering decentralized video encoding, storage and content distribution.

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.