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.

AT&T Re-Evaluating Focus on DirecTV Now

Less than three months after disclosing DirecTV Now lost 83,000 subscribers in the most-recent fiscal quarter, corporate parent AT&T appears to be re-adjusting its focus on the much-ballyhooed online TV service.

Launched in 2016, DirecTV Now ended the first quarter with about 1.5 million subscribers — many of them attracted by the service’s initial $34.99 monthly fee — a win for consumers but unsustainable to the bottom line.

Earlier this year, AT&T rolled out two new subscription plans ranging from $50 to $70 monthly. It also operates Watch Now, a mobile-only streaming service.

David Christopher

Speaking June 19 at the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Telecom & Media Conference in London, David Christopher, president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment, said DirecTV Now would be downsized to a “thin” service targeting the telecom’s 170 million mobile connections.

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“We have emphasized it slightly less than we did when it first launched because we are focused more on other elements of the portfolio,” Christopher said.

Those elements include a pending $15 WarnerMedia branded service with HBO and Warner Bros. central assets to the streaming platform.

“Our job is to make the media company more valuable,” Christopher said, adding that he thinks the WarnerMedia SVOD service can “get to tens of millions” of subscribers in the U.S. “in short order.”

“It’s a big opportunity for distribution. It’s a big opportunity for advertising,” Christopher said. “That SVOD product fits into our distribution product line of video very well.”

He said AT&T doesn’t currently have a standalone “SVOD product,” at a time when the executive contends a one-size-fits all approach to over-the-top video distribution isn’t working.

Indeed, with increasingly fragmented consumer segments in the media landscape, AT&T believes an SVOD service targeting aficionados of movies and premium TV shows can generate significant market share.

“Premiere content at a great value is always going to find a place [in the market],” Christopher said.

When asked about declining video subscribers, Christopher downplayed the economic impact, saying video accounts for just 7% of AT&T’s total revenue.

“You have to understand that relative weight,” he said, adding that the company is “working through” 1.6 million subscribers with two-year, loss-leader plans it believes will disappear by the end of the year.

“That’s a big relief for us,” Christopher said. “We are cleaning up our customer base.”

Hulu CEO Eyes Ad Growth, Clarity Under Disney Ownership

With Disney agreeing to acquire Comcast’s 33% stake in Hulu, the subscription streaming video service with 28 million subscribers is now under the direction of one company instead of four (Disney, Fox, Comcast, WarnerMedia).

In an interview with CNBC, Hulu CEO Randy Freer said consolidation among the platform’s corporate owners offers increased clarity on the service’s objectives, strategic planning and voice going forward.

Randy Freer

“We’re super excited about the opportunity,” Freer said.

The executive added that Disney’s plan to incorporate Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ into a possible SVOD bundle sold to consumers and distributors offers additional opportunities.

“I think it’s another way for Hulu to extend and grow its already fast-growing subscriber base,” Freer said.

With Hulu the only major SVOD service streaming advertising on its basic subscription plan, Freer said marketers are looking for consumer access in over-the-top video ecosystem dominated by ad-free players Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

“I think the opportunity at Hulu … with huge audiences … long engagement times, a young audience, 20-to- 25 years younger than network television … is a huge for brands to come in and talk to the consumers that they’re looking to reach the most,” he said.

At the same time, Freer cautioned that marketing Hulu as a service with half the ads of broadcast TV is not “okay anymore.”

“We have to find new ways to integrate brands into the ad,” he said.

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Indeed, Hulu has launched a number of new ad formats, including “pause ads,” which displays a static ad when a viewer pauses programming; and “Friends with Benefits” featuring “Easter eggs” hidden on the site that offer special deals from brand partners when clicked.

“There [are] all kinds of ways to make the customer experience on Hulu better than any of our competitors,” Freer said. “And we can’t forget that the most important thing to consumers is choice. What’s more important is giving them the option of an ad service and the option of an ad-free service so they can determine what’s the best experience to view things.”

‘Star Wars’ Director J.J. Abrams Reportedly Close to Mega Deal with WarnerMedia

One of the reasons Netflix claims it doesn’t pursue live sports programming is fiscal common sense. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos argues he doesn’t want to become embroiled in vanity battles over escalating rights fees lavished by networks on MLB, the NBA and NFL for access.

Observers say that’s an odd reason, considering the SVOD pioneer has pushed content spending into the professional sports stratosphere. Netflix recently signed TV producers Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”) and Shonda Rimes(“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) to record-breaking content deals valued at $300 million and $100 million, respectively.

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Warner Bros. TV shelled out a reported $400 million for producer Greg Berlanti (”Dawson’s Creek,” “You,” “Riverdale”).

And Apple inked deals with Oprah, Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg and Reese Witherspoon, among others.

Now, Warner’s corporate umbrella, WarnerMedia, is reportedly close to signing director J.J. Abrams (Star Wars, “Westworld”) to an exclusive deal worth $500 million. An amount pushed by losing suitors Apple, Comcast and Netflix, among others.

WarnerMedia is swinging for the fences in part because it is backed by telco parent AT&T’s mushrooming debt spending ($171 billion) seeking a creative backstop for a pending branded SVOD service as well as leverage against the November OTT launch of Disney+.

WarnerMedia also recently signed smaller deals with Ava DuVernay (“When They See Us”), Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”) and is reportedly close to re-signing Chuck Lorre (“Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men”) to another long-term production deal.

“With more streaming services competing for available content, we expect more [production] consolidation [i.e. spending] to occur over the next few years,” Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter wrote in a note.

WarnerMedia Innovation Lab Becomes Reality with Pending 5G New York Office Construction

WarnerMedia June 17 announced the location and architecture firm for its pending WarnerMedia Innovation Lab New York headquarters — powered by parent AT&T’s upstart 5G wireless network.

The Lab, which aims to address changing consumer media habits creatively and from a marketing/advertising perspective, also announced further details on its partnerships with WarnerMedia Ad Sales and with Xandr, AT&T’s advertising and analytics company.

The 20,000 square foot facility located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, will feature an immersive zone for showcasing consumer-ready experiences visible to the public, flexible indoor and outdoor event spaces, dedicated R&D environments and an open and collaborative modern work space.

“The Lab is more than a technology incubator, but also a dream factory for us to create the wonderment that fans have come to love and expect from WarnerMedia,” Jesse Redniss, GM, WarnerMedia Innovation Lab, said in a statement. “Here we’ll flex the best of WarnerMedia’s creative storytelling capabilities combined with cutting edge technology from AT&T and our partners to deliver experiences that will be talked about for a lifetime.”

WarnerMedia properties include Warner Bros. Studios, HBO, Turner and Otter Media.

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The Lab, which is slated to open in early 2020, will bring 5G experiences to life through exploration and development initiatives, enabling a real-time virtualized collaboration ecosystem across WarnerMedia and the AT&T offerings.

In addition to the New York-based Lab, AT&T 5G initiatives include Warner Bros. in Los Angeles in time for AT&T SHAPEThe Lounge by AT&T in Seattle and WarnerMedia’s Atlanta studios.

“By working across AT&T, we’re able to combine the latest in 5G technology with immersive content experiences and cutting-edge advertising capabilities,” said David Christopher, president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment. “The WarnerMedia Innovation Lab will be a space where developers, creators and visitors will be inspired to push the boundaries of entertainment, all powered by the company that first introduced the U.S. to the power of mobile 5G.”

WarnerMedia Hires First Diversity/Inclusion Officer

WarnerMedia June 12 announced the hiring of Christy Haubegger as the media company’s first chief enterprise inclusion officer.

Haubegger, who spent 14 years at Creative Artists Agency, reports directly to CEO John Stankey and works with senior management to drive business growth through strategic investment in diverse audiences and to ensure the organization’s workforce is representative of the markets it serves.

Christy Haubegger

“As we transform our businesses and our culture, we see a unique opportunity to generate outsize growth by delivering world-class content that engages underserved audiences,” Stankey said in a statement. “To realize that opportunity we must make strategic investments, build a more representative workforce, and create a truly inclusive culture.”

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Created with AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, WarnerMedia says it want to recognize diversity and inclusion as business imperatives.

The company claims to use its best efforts to ensure diverse actors and crew members are considered for film, television and other projects, and to work with directors and producers who also seek to promote greater diversity and inclusion in the media and entertainment industry.

At CAA, Haubegger spearheaded representation of women and people of color, and helped transformed the diversity of the workforce.

The talent agency has long focused on innovation through diversity and implemented strategies to create sustainable change within the agency and beyond.

Under Haubegger’s leadership, CAA launched “CAA Amplify,” an invitation-only annual event convening high-level multicultural artists and leaders, as well as the industry’s first searchable database of television writers of color.

During her tenure, the agency grew its diverse roster more than 1400% and according to USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the agency now represents the largest share of female directors and African- American directors in the motion picture business.

“Christy Haubegger is one of a kind. She is a talented and visionary leader who made a transformational impact on the agency throughout her tenure,” said CAA president Richard Lovett. “She influenced our business and culture, and established CAA as a leader in the promotion of inclusion, creating initiatives that support and advance underrepresented voices. We remain steadfast in our commitment to moving our industry forward and are thrilled to continue working collaboratively with Christy in her new role.”

WarnerMedia Readying $16-$17 SVOD Service Focused on HBO, Cinemax, Warner Bros. Movies

WarnerMedia reportedly plans to launch a subscription streaming video service later this year revolving around HBO, Cinemax and Warner Bros. movies — and priced from $16 to $17 monthly.

The unnamed service, which will bow in beta later this year, would join similar SVOD efforts from Disney ($6.99 Disney+) and Apple aimed at competing against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

NBC Universal is readying an ad-supported VOD service for Xfinity subscribers in 2020, which would be available separately to consumers for a monthly fee.

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Notably, WarnerMedia’s service would cost slightly more than what HBO Now ($14.99) and Cinemax ($12.99) do now separately — the latter charged to pay-TV subscribers.

WarnerMedia, which formed following AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, is also eyeing ad-supported VOD service.

The rush to over-the-top distribution comes as AT&T continues to hemorrhage pay-TV subscribers among its DirecTV and AT&T U-verse platforms. Standalone online TV service, DirecTV Now, for the first time lost subscribers in the most-recent fiscal period as well.

Indeed, AT&T is scrambling to find an OTT product that resonates with consumers. Late last month, it inked a joint venture deal with The Chernin Group aimed at investing $500 million into both ad-supported and subscription-based online video businesses.

“Combining our expertise in network infrastructure, mobile, broadband and video with The Chernin Group’s management and expertise in content, distribution, and monetization models in online video creates the opportunity for us to develop a compelling offering in the OTT space,” John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia, said in a statement.

WarnerMedia Absorbs AT&T’s Otter Media

WarnerMedia May 31 announced that Otter Media is being realigned under the WarnerMedia Entertainment group run by Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct-to-consumer business.

Otter Media was formed in 2014 by AT&T and The Chernin Group. Its properties include Fullscreen, a social media platform serving creators and brands; anime brand Crunchyroll; SVOD platform VRV; Rooster Teeth, a media and entertainment company serving the gaming community with a footprint of more than 40 million subscribers to its YouTube network, over 5 million monthly visitors to RoosterTeeth.com, and 2.5 million registered community members; a majority stake in Gunpowder & Sky, a digital- first studio; and minority stakes in Hello Sunshine, a cross- platform brand and content company for women founded with Reese Witherspoon, and Mars Reel, a media and lifestyle brand focused on telling authentic stories of top high school athletes through premium video content.

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The combination brings together WarnerMedia’s digital businesses of the company at a time when the organization’s new direct-to-consumer platform is being built with access to content from HBO, the WarnerMedia cable networks, Warner Bros., plus a robust slate of new original content.

Otter Media CEO Tony Goncalves

Tony Goncalves, CEO of Otter Media, will now also lead the development of the new WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer service, along with Otter’s existing brands and services.

He reports to Greenblatt. Andy Forssell, most recently COO of Otter Media and former CEO of Hulu, will move to the role of EVP and GM of the new streaming service reporting to Goncalves. Kevin Reilly, president, TBS/TNT/TruTV and CCO of direct-to-consumer, will remain in that position reporting to Greenblatt.

Brad Bentley, who was serving as the streaming service’s GM, informed the company that he would be leaving.

“As we continue to build out our new streaming business and realign WarnerMedia functions, this step will facilitate further scale and focus in our efforts to offer customers an engaging and compelling product experience,” John Stankey, CEO, WarnerMedia, said in a statement.

Goncalves joined Otter Media, as CEO last year. Through AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, he served as CEO of digital brands and head of strategy and business development for AT&T where he helped the company navigate the rapid pace of change in a digital centric world.

Forssell currently serves as EVP and COO of Otter Media, as well as president of Fullscreen. He joined Otter from Fullscreen where he served as COO for several years, overseeing the company’s day-to-day operations, as well as leading technology and product development. Forssell has served in a number of CEO, COO and general management roles, at companies like Hulu and ShowYou, helping to define and evolve the world of streaming video from its infancy.

 

 

WarnerMedia Entertainment to Boycott Georgia Should Anti-Abortion Ban Become Law

WarnerMedia Entertainment May 30 joined Disney and Netflix in pledging to withdraw movie and TV show productions from Georgia should the state’s new anti-abortion law go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Brian Kemp May 8 signed legislation outlawing women from terminating their pregnancy six weeks after becoming pregnant. Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

“We operate and produce work in many states and within many countries at any given time and while that doesn’t mean we agree with every position taken by a state or a country and their leaders, we do respect due process,” WarnerMedia said in a media statement. “We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds, we will reconsider Georgia as the home of any new productions. As is always the case, we will work closely with our production partners and talent to determine where and how to shoot any given project.”

In addition to CNN and Turner in Atlanta, WarnerMedia has significant content production in Georgia, which has been home to a hotbed of film and TV production for years due to generous tax incentives.

WarnerMedia Partners for New Pro Wrestling League

Move over WWE, there’s a new professional wrestling league coming to broadcast TV, streaming video and pay-per-view — backed by WarnerMedia.

The media company May 15 announced it is partnering with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), an upstart professional wrestling promotion featuring male and female wrestlers, to begin airing weekly “authentic” wrestling matches later this year.

With a goal of making pro wrestling less scripted soapy drama and more real sports legitimacy, WarnerMedia aims to build the league into a global franchise.

Wrestlers will be given more freedom to explore their characters and highlight their athletic abilities. The league will include statistics to wrestling to help fans deepen their engagement by tracking each competitor’s wins and losses as the wrestlers pursue championships, analyzing their moves, assessing damage to their opponents, and providing insights into their winning streaks.

Founded by CEO Tony Khan, AEW is headlined by wrestlers The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson), Cody and Brandi Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and Hangman Page, and a roster that includes former WWE star Chris Jericho.

Omega, Cody and The Young Bucks also serve as EVPs of the company in addition to in-ring talent, and Brandi Rhodes also serves as chief brand officer.

WarnerMedia will provide multi-platform access for fans to watch AEW events, airing live weekly matches on TNT in primetime, as well as streaming them through WarnerMedia’s Bleacher Report Live (B/R Live) streaming service and on pay-per-view.

“All Elite Wrestling is a talent-forward, fan-first league whose inclusive approach to creating high-quality athletic wrestling competitions is already making waves with fans and attracting top-tier wrestlers,” Michael Quigley, EVP of commercial operations, content strategy and monetization at TBS and TNT, said in a statement.

B/R Live will serve as the exclusive digital streaming partner in the U.S. for AEW’s inaugural event, “Double of Nothing,” on May 25, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The event, which reportedly sold out in under 30 minutes, features a fight card including headliners Omega and Jericho; Cody taking on his brother Dustin Rhodes; The Young Bucks battling the Lucha Bros for the AAA World Tag Team Championship; Hangman Adam Page clashing with PAC; and Britt Baker, Nyla Rose and Kylie Rae competing in a three-way match.

Additionally, the hour-long live pre-show special, “The Buy-In” will stream on WarnerMedia and AEW’s social media channels.

The show includes the first ever “Casino (Battle) Royale,” which will see 21 competitors, including Jimmy Havoc, Billy Gunn, MJF and Jungle Boy entering the ring in waves of five wrestlers every three minutes followed by one final entrant, lucky number 21, all fighting it out in the ring until there is one winner, whose reward will be a future title shot against the first ever AEW World Champion.

“Wrestling fans have wanted — and needed — something different and authentic,” said Khan.