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.