Q&A: Former Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Chief Jim Wuthrich’s Exit Interview

Warner Bros. Discovery content sales president Jim Wuthrich’s decision to resign late last year was as sudden as it was unexpected. The 58-year-old executive had played a critical role at Warner Bros. — and in the home entertainment industry — since joining the studio in 1998, just as support for DVD was revving up. Hired as a director of marketing and quickly promoted to VP, he was thrust in the middle of the aggressive campaign to launch DVD as the successor to the VHS videocassette, which involved not just a completely new product but also a dramatic shift in consumer habits, from renting movies to buying and collecting them. 

Once DVD was established, Wuthrich pioneered the development of digital products and distribution. After running international and then the Americas, he was promoted to worldwide head of home entertainment and games in 2018 and weathered two mergers as well as the rise to dominance of streaming. Most recently, he added WBD content licensing to his portfolio and led the team responsible for the theatrical windowing strategy that maximized the exposure and value of WB Pictures’ films after they left the theater.

Media Play News caught up with Wuthrich for an “exit interview” just after he led his family on a hiking adventure in Tanzania up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain above sea level in the world. 

MPN: What was Warner Home Video, as the home entertainment division was called back then, like when you arrived in 1998?

Wuthrich: WHV was on the cusp of a major expansion due to the growth in DVD, which had been introduced the year before. It was oddly formal, at least compared to my expectation of a studio located in SoCal. But WHV was preparing for a major expansion into mass market retail, so the organizational model was more consumer packaged goods than Hollywood. I had just left a startup and all the chaos and excitement of that world was present at Warner, just at a larger scale. It was a bit old school and I remember getting my office and, not seeing a computer, being told it would take a couple of weeks, but I should be happy to have a phone. So no email, not what I was used to.

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It was still early days for DVD and there were many skeptics. The market was largely rental, so the idea of people owning movies, much less having to buy a new player, was a stretch. In these early days there was a public format war between digital tape, a temporary digital disc format (Divx) and what ultimately became DVD. This played out on the front pages of The Wall Street Journal, with WHV often at the center of the battle.

Building a business on a global scale was challenging and fun. There were lavish DVD launch parties, global travel and the opportunity to work with people across the industry.

MPN: Looking back over the past 24 years, what is your single fondest memory?

Wuthrich: There were many but, as cliché as it is, it’s all about the people. I was fortunate to meet so many people around the world, many of whom remain friends to this day. Smart, creative, caring, interesting. We are fortunate to work in an industry that is the nexus of creativity, technology and consumer, as it attracts bright and interesting individuals. If our paths crossed during these many years, thank you for making the journey so special.

People were a major reason for staying, but so was the ability to learn. Every couple of years, I’d get a new assignment or educational opportunity that stretched me further and allowed me to grow — it was like a new job every couple of years. It began with developing the market for DVD, then building digital, overseeing games and finally content licensing. One of the educational highlights was attending the 11-week Harvard Advanced Management Program.

MPN: What was your biggest challenge?

What goes up, comes back down. DVD transformed the business, and it required a lot of people to get those discs in homes. As the industry transitioned to digital, it didn’t need as many people, and we had to say goodbye to many talented colleagues. It’s part of the business cycle, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. At the same time, we were building the digital business and that was very rewarding as it was a whole new set of challenges.

MPN: Who were some of your most memorable people at Warner Bros., and why?

Wuthrich: I’m reluctant to name individuals, as so many people had a memorable impact, but this journey would not have begun without Mark Horak bringing me in or Mike Saksa guiding me in the early days. Ron Sanders was my steadfast champion for most of my career, providing invaluable coaching along the way. I learned so much from Thomas Gewecke, especially how to be an inclusive leader. Kevin Tsujihara showed how to boldly lead and gave me the opportunity to expand on a global basis. And, of course, Warren Lieberfarb, who had an outsized role in driving the industry. More recently there was Jason Kilar, who I met my first week at Warner Bros. when he was building the Amazon DVD store and later led WarnerMedia, accelerating the expansion of HBO Max despite the naysayers. Those were some of the leaders, but there are countless others on the teams that got the work done and those that made Warner Bros. special like George Feltenstein, the Oracle of the Warner library, and Sheldon Moore, Concierge (visit the new WBD Second Century facility and he’ll be the first to greet you with a bow tie and a smile).

MPN: What’s next for Jim Wuthrich?

Wuthrich: I’d like to apply all I’ve learned and build something that brings value to the world. In the meantime, I’ll stay active in the entertainment community, finishing out my term as DEG Chair Emeritus, meeting with colleagues and exploring emerging technologies. I really enjoy working with people who are building their careers and will continue to be a mentor. On the personal front, I have a long to-do list that includes spending time with people I care about, adding more adventure to my days and making Los Angeles more bike friendly through my work with BikeLA. Reflecting on the last 24 years, I have nothing but gratitude for having had the opportunity.

Craig and the Camel May Be Gone, But Transactional Marketing Still Going Strong

For me, the pinnacle of marketing at the height of the DVD era was Craig Kornblau on a camel.

It was the heyday of event marketing. DVD had become such a monstrous success that disc revenues were outpacing theatrical. DVD potential was even a factor in deciding whether to greenlight movies.

No wonder, then, that at a time when a hot new DVD release could sell 20 million copies or more, just in the first week, the release of a big theatrical film on disc was hailed as a big event — and marketed accordingly.

I remember Disney’s gala launch party for the Ratatouille DVD, with more than a thousand guests crowding a ballroom at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel for a gastronomical feast.

I remember flying to London for a party to celebrate New Line Home Video’s release of the Lost in Space movie.

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I remember Warner Home Video’s Superman party, where I joked to then-president Ron Sanders that the shindig probably cost the studio more than they were spending on advertising with Home Media Magazine all year.

I remember being flown to London by PolyGram to celebrate the DVD release of Phantom of the Opera, as well as three Super Bowls (thanks, Bill Sondheim!) to drum up excitement for the subsequent NFL Super Bowl DVD.

And then there was Craig Kornblau and the camel. The “event” was the 2002 DVD release of The Scorpion King, and amid a throng of beefy warriors, belly dancers and flame explosions I remember looking up and seeing Kornblau, at the time president of Universal Studios Home Video, and his top marketing executive, Ken Graffeo, riding down Sunset Boulevard on a pair of massive dromedaries. A Los Angeles Times article from October 2002 picks up the story from there: “Moments later, the entire caravan, writhing women, camels and all, crossed Sunset Boulevard to the Virgin Megastore across the street, where confused shoppers were rapidly overrun by belly dancers, snake handlers and jugglers.”

The reporter quoted Kornblau as saying the studio hoped to generate earn more than $36 million in the first week of sales, more than the first week of box office for the film’s theatrical release.

These days, physical and digital sales of movies, even combined, area fraction of DVD sales 20 years ago, due to the rise and domination of subscription streaming.

And yet studio marketers continue to “eventize” new transactional releases, although invariably some, if not most, of a campaign’s components take place virtually, often through tie-ins with social media influencers.

In this year’s Power Marketing report, our fourth annual look at the top marketing campaigns of the past year, we profile nearly a dozen standouts from the major studios — and as you’ll see, creativity and ingenuity are certainly not in short supply. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, for example, launched F9 into the home market by getting stars Vin Diesel and Ludacris to share custom content on their Instagram accounts, followed by F9 Fest, a huge press and social media influencer event with interviews, a rooftop zipline stunt experience and even an F9 museum, featuring vehicles from the film.

And Paramount celebrated the 50thanniversary of The Godfather, and the landmark film’s 4K Ultra HD debut, with all sorts of creative executions, strategic partnerships and publicity events. A press screening on the studio lot was preceded by a panel discussion with director Francis Ford Coppola and stars James Caan and Talia Shire — along with a street-naming celebration and the presentation of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Coppola.

Craig and his camel may be long gone, but “eventizing” home releases is certainly still a “thing.

Hollywood Mourns Death of Beloved Publicist Ronnee Sass

Veteran Hollywood publicist Ronnee Sass, who left her mark on home entertainment through lavish release campaigns for classic Warner Bros. movies such as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz — and an engaging, ebullient personality that made her a favorite among talent and journalists alike — died March 20 at the age of 72 after a battle with leukemia.

She is survived by her husband of 23 years, Evan Diner, a brother and two nieces.

See also: Remembering Ronnee Sass in pictures

Acclaimed director Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon) said of Ms. Sass, “In all my years at Warner’s, many of the brightest days were dealing with Ronnee Sass, because she cared for the people as much as the project. And she cared for both a tremendous amount.”

Ms. Sass began her home entertainment career at what was then Warner Home Video in 1995, after working in film distribution and co-founding an independent PR and advertising agency in Baltimore — Wolff, Freed and Greenberg.

Ronnee Sass

For most of her Warner Bros. career, Ms. Sass’ focus was on publicizing the studio’s rich library. Over the next 20 years Ms. Sass was instrumental in big anniversary campaigns for such storied classics as Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, Blade Runner and The Wizard of Oz. She even brought the surviving Munchkins to Beverly Hills for a gala DVD release party for the latter film’s 65th anniversary in 2004 — and to New York five years later for the movie’s 70th anniversary release, a campaign that included a nationwide balloon tour. In January 2006 Sass was promoted from executive director of publicity and promotion to the newly created position of VP of publicity and promotion for theatrical catalog, under Jeff Baker.

“She was the best, most passionate, most beloved publicist in the history of home entertainment, up there with my friend Fritz Friedman from Sony,” Baker recalls. “You lived to see and experience her persona — what a woman! While many of our projects and events were worth covering, Ronnee took them to new heights and the press was never disappointed as she always delivered.”

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Other former colleagues of Ms. Sass agree.

“Ronnee was a consummate professional, working across the industry to bring the Warner Bros. library to fans everywhere,” said Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “But more importantly, she was a ray of sunshine, always smiling, lighting up any room she entered. She will be missed.”

“Ronnee had multiple talents that included the professional characteristics of an excellent journalist, and a unique forte in relating to people of all walks of life, from the most important celebrity to the average person,” said former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD. “She will be missed, but always remembered.”

Ron Sanders, a longtime Warner Bros. executive who most recently served the studio as president of worldwide theatrical distribution while remaining president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, said, “Ronnee was that rarest of breeds who was so effortlessly good at solving the communications crisis of the moment, while being a genuinely wonderful human being. She always had a smile or a laugh and made all of us enjoy life more.”

Ronnee Lynn Sass was born in Baltimore, Md., on May 26, 1948. She graduated from Pikesville High School in Baltimore and went on to attend the University of Maryland, College Park. In the early 1980s she worked in film distribution for studio field agencies in Baltimore.

“I first met her in 1982,” said publicist Carl Samrock, who worked for Warner Bros. from 1982 to 1997. “I remember her incredible personality, her ability to relate to people — she just had this way about her, and when I had my own agency between 1997 and 2017, she was our first client. It was just amazing the way she dealt with people like Clint Eastwood, Dick Donner and Billy Friedkin.

“I still remember an event with Warren Beatty — we took a picture of Ronnee with Warren and hung it up on our wall with the caption, Ronnee and Clyde.”

After she left her Baltimore agency and joined Warner Bros., Ms. Sass initially handled aspects of the studio’s theatrical Oscar campaigns. Each year, publicity team members throughout the department would be assigned to staff the broadcast/event, and the Warner costume department would lend out dresses for the women and suits, if needed, for the men.

Ms. Sass left Warner Bros. in 2014.

As word of her death spread, tributes flowed in to her Facebook page, many from the home entertainment community.

Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, wrote, “Ronnee’s smile could light up any room. Such a wonderful and lovely person. She will be missed by all but never forgotten.”

Smith was at Warner Bros. in 1997 when DVD was launched and the DEG was founded as the DVD Entertainment Group.

Producer-director Chris Roe, who has produced documentaries on “Creepshow” and The Night of the Living Dead and currently represents legendary actor Malcolm McDowell, wrote a lengthy tribute to Sass.

“Words cannot express the extreme sadness I feel at this time after learning that my good friend Ronnee Sass passed away today,” Roe wrote. “Ronnee was an extremely extraordinary human being. She was the best publicist I ever worked with. We became very close friends during A Clockwork Orange’s 40th anniversary activities for Warner Bros. 10 years ago.

“Ronnee was a force of nature. … In a business where so many go out of their way to brag about how good they are, Ronnee simply showed her brilliance through her thoughtfulness, creativity and work. She had a fierce work ethic. She would work around the clock to get things perfect. … She was a shining example of excellence in her profession.”

Karen Penhale, a longtime associate of Samrock, wrote that Ms. Sass “was a stellar publicist for Warner Bros. who led us through countless amazing and successful publicity campaigns for all of the studio’s great classics. We worked hard, traveled together, laughed, cried, got yelled at by some talent and applauded by others and became dear friends in the process. Having worked with many of the best film directors in Hollywood, we were looking forward to lots of lunches in the future to remember all our great adventures together. I will miss her as will so many, many others as her friends and family now do. RIP dear friend, RIP.”

Ms. Sass was an avid gardener, creating elaborate flower arrangements and centerpieces whenever she could.

In addition to Mr. Diner, Ms. Sass is survived by her brother, Steven, of Baltimore, and nieces Lauren Sass Jacobson of Baltimore and Felicia Greenfield of New York City.

A private family service will be held, followed by a celebration of Ms. Sass’s life, to be scheduled at a later, safer date. Donations in her memory may be made to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

A Year of Goodbyes: The Legacies of Ron, George, Melissa, Rosemary, Jay and Evan

Every year, a number of respected home entertainment executives leave their jobs — and sometimes the business — for an assortment of reasons. Some are laid off — in the press, you’ll typically read that they are leaving “to pursue other opportunities.” Others find work in another field, while some simply retire.

In this unprecedented year, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the natural evolution of home entertainment from the physical disc to digital, and from transactional to streaming.

And in this year like no other, the home entertainment industry lost some of our brightest and our best, as studios are being restructured and even reimagined for what everyone seems to think will be not just the next chapter, but a whole new book.

I’m singling out six industry veterans who left the business this year, all of whom I worked with and had many personal interactions with over the years. We met at industry events (remember those?), we spoke on the phone (remember when we used to do that?), and we connected on social media. We were colleagues, and we became friends.

Ron Sanders

Over at Warner Bros., WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar — elevated into the post in May — has been the architect of the most drastic studio makeover. Among the casualties was Ron Sanders, the brilliant and visionary home entertainment leader who in January 2018 had been promoted to president of worldwide theatrical distribution while remaining president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, a post he had assumed five years earlier.

Ron had been an integral part of the studio’s retail management for nearly 30 years, a protégé of the remarkable Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD. His early-August departure, I wrote at the time, struck me particularly hard because I never expected him to go, simply because he represented the best of home entertainment all rolled up in one person.  He learned the business during the decline of the VHS rental era, and mastered it during the glory days of DVD.  Under his leadership Warner was consistently No. 1 in not just market share, but also innovation and creativity.

During a second round of layoffs in November, Warner lost several more valued veterans, including George Feltenstein, Melissa Hufjay, Rosemary Markson and Jay Reinbold.

George Feltenstein

George Feltenstein, SVP of theatrical catalog marketing, is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge who 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., as David Krause so eloquently wrote on the DigitallyObsessed.com website, he 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 will always be remembered for giving classics such as Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain and Gone With the Wind the royal treatment for their DVD and then Blu-ray Disc debuts. I still have copies of his lavish 70th anniversary Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind gift sets in my movie room, gorgeous packages that include meticulously restored versions of the films as well as an assortment of collectible extras, from photo books and program reproductions to frame-able prints and even a watch.

(George was informed of his job elimination in November, but remains on the job, “working on all cylinders,” he says, until Feb. 19.)

Melissa Hufjay

Melissa Hufjay was Warner’s longtime VP of Publicity for TV, animation and originals. Working alongside Jeff Brown, himself one of the studio’s greatest executive assets, she was remarkably efficient and effective at her job, even though she worked with such a wide variety of material that she might find herself pitching a story about a new animated Batman movie one day and a direct-to-video horror film (think Rest Stop or Otis) the next.

As I wrote when I first learned of her departure two months ago, “Back in the heyday of packaged media, when DVDs were selling like crazy and people still made phone calls, many a weekday morning began promptly at 9 a.m. with a call from veteran Warner Bros. Home Entertainment publicity executive Melissa Hufjay. To be sure, I received many phone calls from studio publicists as well as account executives with agencies such as what is now Bender Helper Impact, but the earliest pitches invariably came from Melissa…. Melissa was one of those publicists who made our job easier: She saw things through our eyes, and her pitches were spot-on and almost always successful. And who could resist a call from someone as personable, as likeable, as ‘Hufjay,’ as we all called her.”

Rosemary Markson

Rosemary Markson, SVP of TV marketing, spent more than 22 years at the studio and played as big a role as anyone in the birth and explosive growth of the TV DVD category.

Her marketing savvy helped turn us into a nation of binge-watchers a decade and a half before the first original series on Netflix, which was still renting DVDs by mail when Rosemary and her team had us clamoring for the next season set of “Friends,” “Smallville” or “Alias,” which more often than not would appear on DVD just as the subsequent season began airing on TV.

(A bit of history: TV shows on VHS never took off because those clunky cassettes took up so much shelf space. DVDs were much smaller, so releasing season — and even complete series — sets on disc became a viable business. At one point, it was estimated that the TV DVD business accounted for $4 billion in annual consumer spending!)

The last time I saw Rosemary was at the December 2019 Video Hall of Fame dinner in Beverly Hills, happily enjoying a meal with a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment team whose camaraderie impressed me so much at the time — a team that, sadly, is no more.

Jay Reinbold

And then there’s Jay Reinbold, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s longtime research guru.

He spent more than 20 years at Warner, the last 16 as SVP of category management, a critical role in which he was charged with developing and executing strategic category plans for key retailers ranging from Walmart and Target to Amazon and Best Buy, developing and maintaining a data warehouse system to support retail analytics, and identifying consumer and market trends.

According to his bio on the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media website (he’s a board member), “Under Jay’s guidance, Warner Bros. Entertainment has achieved the Category Captain role for 28 of the largest sellthrough retailers in the world, including Walmart, Amazon and Carrefour in all worldwide territories as well as Best Buy, Borders and Barnes & Noble throughout North America; Karstadt, MediaMarkt, Albert Heijn in Europe; and Convenience Culture Company (Japan’s largest DVD retailer). Warner Bros has Category Management offices in 11 countries across four continents.” The bio also noted that Jay has been awarded Progressive Grocer’s Best in Class in Category Management “for innovation, execution and growth in the complex category of general merchandise.”

Easily one of the sharpest minds in this business, Jay over the years has helped us out tremendously in compiling our own charts of DVD and then Blu-ray Disc best sellers. He was accessible and efficient and every time I got off the phone with him I remember thinking, “This guy is so much smarter than I am.”

Evan Fong

As we near the end of the year, there’s one more executive whose imminent departure warrants a callout. Evan Fong is retiring from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on Dec. 31 after more than 35 years as one of the division’s top publicity executives. Evan’s arrival at what was then MCA Home Video predates my own entry into the business. I remember him as a loyal lieutenant to a quartet of smart, shrewd and savvy publicity leaders, first Jane Ayer, then the late Maria LaMagra, then Vivian Mayer, and, finally, Lea Porteneuve. Evan was always helpful, gracious and kind, and he played a key role in some of my fondest home entertainment memories, including countless VSDA conventions in Las Vegas and that famous press luncheon at the Universal Hilton in support of the VHS release of Fried Green Tomatoes where Maria served us journalists very potent mint juleps.

Ron, George, Melissa, Rosemary, Jay and now Evan, thanks for being part of our business for so many years — and a part of my life, as well. Each of you helped build the home entertainment business, contributing to its growth, development, maturity and continued evolution in your own special ways. We owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that you have done over the years. And on a personal note, I’ll never forget any of you.

Not Ron Sanders!

In my more than 30 years of covering the home entertainment business, for a wide range of outlets ranging from Video Store Magazine to the Hollywood Reporter, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, I have witnessed more than a dozen top leadership changes at the major studios.

At Universal Pictures, I witnessed the departures of home entertainment chiefs Louis Feola, Bruce Pfander and Craig Kornblau; at Sony Pictures, Pat Campbell, Ben Feingold, David Bishop and Man Jit Singh. At Fox, I covered our business while Bob DeLellis, Jeff Yapp, Pat Wyatt and Mike Dunn occupied the president’s chair; at Disney, during the years home entertainment was run by Bill Mechanic, Ann Daly, Mike Johnson, Bob Chapek, Lori McPherson and Janice Marinelli. At Paramount, a series of top executive departures began with Eric Doctorow and continued with Meagan Burrows, Tom Lesinski, Kelly Avery and Dennis Mcguire.

When I began covering home entertainment in 1989, what was then Warner Home Video was headed by Warren Lieberfarb. The father of DVD was ousted at the end of 2002 and briefly replaced by Jim Cardwell; since October 2005 Ron Sanders has been in charge.

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Was, that is. Sanders is one of about 600 staffers, many of them  veteran executives, who have been shown the door at WarnerMedia in the wake of the AT&T takeover, which has led to a new senior management team and, some observers have said, a new mindset bent on dismantling the old studio and creating a new Netflix.

Only time will tell whether the reimagining of Warner Bros. is a bold and visionary move or a disaster in the making. WarnerMedia leadership clearly has taken to heart the adage, “Change or die,” and I am sure they are well aware that there is a risk of doing both.

But back to Ron Sanders. While an astonishing array of smart, competent and even visionary home entertainment leaders have been shoved aside, Ron’s departure hits me especially hard.

Quite simply, I never expected him to go.

Ron Sanders, you see, is something of a rare bird in Hollywood. In all the years I’ve known him — and we go back to the early 1990s, when he joined Warner fresh from Procter & Gamble — Ron always struck me as a man of his word, a man of conviction, passion and integrity. He learned the business at a time when VHS rental was a mature business and beginning to decline, and the brightest minds at Warner were busy fulfilling then-president Warren Lieberfarb’s vision of a disc-based format that consumers would buy rather than rent.

DVD, of course, turned out to be one of the most successful product launches in history, reviving the home entertainment business and laying the groundwork for not just digital distribution but also Netflix, which was initially a DVD-by-mail rental service.

Lieberfarb was no dummy and saw something in Ron Sanders. A year after DVD’s launch, he sent him to England in 1998 to run Warner’s home entertainment operations overseas. I remember a long conversation Ron and I had beforehand, weighing the pros and cons of disrupting his life here in the United States and moving his family abroad. Ultimately he decided to go, and when he came back in December 2002 to join the top leadership team after the departure of Lieberfarb, it quickly became evident that Ron was destined for greater things, both at Warner and in the entertainment industry in general.

Less than three years after his return to the United States as head of Warner Home Video’s North American operations, Ron became division president. Under his lead, Warner was consistently No. 1 when it came to innovation and creativity — not to mention market share. He not only steered the ship, but he also charted its future course — and in doing so Warner became something of a beacon for the rest of the industry to follow, much as it had been during the Lieberfarb era through the launch and growth of DVD.

But as successful as he was in business, Ron Sanders was even more successful in something immeasurably more important: success as a human being. As I wrote back in 2013, when he was elevated to a broader role as head of the redubbed Warner Bros. Entertainment, Sanders represented “a new breed of executive we’re beginning to see more and more of in the Hollywood studio leadership ranks: Sensible, reasonable, even affable — a far cry from the desk-pounding tyrants of Hollywood lore. 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.”

I concluded my column at the time noting that a veteran journalist, after interviewing Sanders some years back, quipped, “I wish there were more home video presidents like Ron Sanders.”

I just wish there were more people in my life like Ron Sanders.

AT&T CFO: WarnerMedia Staff Cuts Not Due to HBO Max Launch

WarnerMedia downsizing 600 positions on Aug. 10, which included the departure of longtime Warner Bros. Home Entertainment executive Ron Sanders, was not done in response to the launch of subscription streaming video-on-demand platform HBO Max, according to AT&T CFO John Stephens.

Speaking Aug. 11 at the virtual Oppenheimer Technology, Internet & Communications confab, Stephens said the job cuts — spearheaded by new WarnerMedia boss Jason Kilar — were done to refocus the company and eliminate redundancy.

AT&T CFO John Stephens

“All of these [business] groups are then focused and speak with one voice and, quite frankly, allow for some streamlining of support services, and back-office and G&A services,” Stephens said. “I view it as more of a refocusing of the company.”

Stephens said the cuts were not about a need to “adjust anything,” but rather to make WarnerMedia perform better going forward.

Sanders, who followed high-profile departures of Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly on Aug. 7, was president of Warner Bros. worldwide theatrical distribution, and president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. With theatrical distribution at a standstill due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, coupled with WarnerMedia’s non-disclosure of home entertainment on its financial statements, current uncertainties in the studio business perhaps undermined Sanders’ job status.

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Indeed, the primary focus at WarnerMedia remains HBO Max, which launched May 27 with about 4 million subs into a crowded SVOD market spearheaded by Netflix, with Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+, among others, at the distance.

“The biggest thing, the most exciting thing for us [going forward] is HBO Max,” Stephens said.

Finally, Stephens said AT&T has downsized its $180 billion corporate debt level 15% to $153 billion through June 30. The telecom ballooned its debt following the $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which included Warner Bros., HBO and Turner.

Ron Sanders Exits WarnerMedia, After Storied Career, in Management Reorganization

Veteran Warner Bros. Home Entertainment executive Ron Sanders is among a group of key executives who are leaving the company in the wake of a management restructuring implemented by new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.

Sanders, president of Warner Bros. worldwide theatrical distribution, and president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, has been an integral part of the studio’s retail management for nearly 30 years.

Sanders joins Jeffrey Schlesinger and Kim Williams as the latest high-profile executives among a reported 600 employees let go following the Aug. 7 departure of Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly.

The latest cuts were first reported by The Wrap.

Sanders was named president of worldwide distribution for the entire motion picture group in January 2018, retaining his responsibilities as home entertainment chief. In that role, which he assumed in 2013, he oversaw the global distribution of home entertainment products from Warner Bros. Pictures Group, Warner Bros. Television Group and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. He was 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.

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“Ron is an exemplary executive and Warner Bros. was lucky to have him as one of their senior leaders for so long,” said Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, where Sanders had held several key leadership roles, including chair. “Ron played a key role in guiding and growing DEG and we will also be grateful for his involvement, his support and his scruples. He’s such a good guy.”

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.

“I hired Ron from Procter & Gamble, where he was a regional sales manager, and nurtured his growth,” said Warren Lieberfarb, hailed as the “father” of DVD. “I promoted him over the years, and he was eminently qualified. I am sure the future will offer him many more opportunities.”

According to a column by Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold, “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. … 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 Warner Home Video in October 2005. In May 2013 he was named president of 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,” Arnold wrote in his column. “He and I used to swap stories about chauffeuring our kids to soccer games. … 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.”

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group CES 2020 Event

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group held its annual CES party for home entertainment executives at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas on Jan. 7. The event drew a wide range of guests, including home video presidents from the major studios and leading consumer electronics executives such as John Taylor of LG Electronics.

Warner Names Andrew Cripps President of International Theatrical Distribution

Warner Bros. Pictures has named veteran film distribution executive Andrew Cripps to the position of president of international theatrical distribution.

The appointment was announced by Ron Sanders, president of worldwide distribution for Warner Bros. Pictures and president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, to whom Cripps will report.

In his new role, Cripps will be responsible for overseeing all matters relating to the international theatrical distribution of the studio’s slate of motion pictures, which includes releases from Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema.

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He’ll also work closely with Sanders on the development of theatrical growth opportunities and additional revenue streams for the division, as well as oversee the team that manages sales and distribution efforts across Warner Bros.’ network of affiliates and licensees in more than 125 territories worldwide.

Cripps has more than three decades’ experience leading overseas theatrical distribution for a number of major Hollywood studios, including United International Pictures, Paramount, Imax and, most recently, 20th Century Fox.

“Andrew is the consummate distribution executive, with a wide breadth of experience on both the studio and exhibitor side,” Sanders said in a statement. “With the continuing growth and importance of the international box office, having someone with Andrew’s insight and expertise leading our overseas efforts will benefit the entire Warner Bros. Pictures Group.”

Cripps most recently was president of International Theatrical Distribution for Fox, where he oversaw all strategic and managerial international theatrical distribution activities for the studio.

Before Fox, he served as president of Europe, Middle East and Africa for Imax, as well as EVP of the Imax Corp., based in London and responsible for expanding the Imax theater network across the region as well as sourcing content to play across that network.

Prior to that, he served five years as president, Paramount Pictures International, having joined the company after almost two decades at United International Pictures, a joint venture distribution company operated by Paramount, Universal and MGM/UA, most recently serving as its president and COO.

Cripps began his entertainment career as the Representative for Japan and Korea for Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, a British film company.