Women in Home Entertainment: Charting the Future Course

While Hollywood may be in the throes of a gender gap on the creative side, on the business side there’s a much more equitable representation of women at the decision-maker level. This is particularly true in the home entertainment sector. And while we believe it is still prudent to give a nod to the dozens of significant women executives in our industry — as our predecessor, Home Media Magazine, did for 10 years — the inaugural Women in Home Entertainment feature in Media Play News shines the spotlight on a dozen “captains” of the industry, as selected by a panel of studio executives, entertainment business journalists and others.

These are the women who are not just driving our business, but also charting its course — and plotting its future direction. Home entertainment has expanded from its rental-cassette beginnings to encompass DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales and rentals, digital copy sales, and of course both transactional and subscription streaming. Accordingly, our 12 ‘captains’ reflect this expanded home entertainment universe, from Jennifer Salke of No. 2 streamer Amazon to Universal’s Kathleen Gallagher, whose focus is exclusively on physical media. And then there are leaders such as HBO’s Sofia Chang, who is involved in every aspect of the at-home sector: disc, digital, transactional VOD and SVOD.

Here’s what they have to say.

Q: What do you do?

Sofia Chang, EVP, worldwide digital distribution and home entertainment, HBO: I oversee HBO’s transactional physical and digital business worldwide. I also oversee distribution of our domestic subscription product — i.e. HBO Now, HBO Channels — across digital platforms such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Hulu, Roku, Sony and more.

Andrea Downing, co-president, PBS Distribution: I co-lead all facets of distribution worldwide across OTT Channels, SVOD, transactional and physical goods, including two premium services through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels — PBS Masterpiece and PBS Kids.

Vicky Free, SVP, global marketing, Direct-to-Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Co.: I manage the team that strategizes and executes global multiplatform marketing campaigns for Disney’s film and television content in the in-home space, including oversight of creative advertising and bonus content.

Kathleen Gallagher, EVP and managing director, North America, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: I lead UPHE’s North American physical home entertainment business, spanning a team of highly experienced, talented, and passionate experts across sales, operations, finance, customer marketing and distribution partnerships.

Karin Gilford, GM, Movies Anywhere: I oversee all day-to-day operations of Movies Anywhere, the U.S. cloud-based entertainment service that brings the film libraries of five studios together in a virtual one-stop movie-watching shop.

Hilary Hoffman, EVP, global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: I have global responsibility for multiplatform, go-to-market strategies and budgets and am especially focused on driving consumer engagement via new platforms and technologies.

Julie Howe, EVP, co-head of worldwide marketing, 20th Century Fox home Entertainment: I oversee Fox’s global marketing for home entertainment. I am responsible for our go-to-market strategy, P&L and campaign execution for all new-release films, TV shows and our library business. Our division handles physical and digital distribution worldwide.

Kim Overall, EVP, consumer insights and innovation, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television Distribution: I seek to intimately understand how content is consumed, not only to find out where and how but more importantly the need-states and occasions the content satisfies. This knowledge and insight allows us to find, engage and convert audiences to consume more of our movies and TV shows.

Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment: I have global responsibility for the sales, marketing, distribution, finance, creative and administrative functions of new-release and of the home entertainment catalog. I leverage my digital/technology background to drive innovation.

Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group: As the head of the industry’s leading trade association, I’m tasked with a variety of objectives to help member companies grow the category ranging from adoption in best practices in the digital supply chain to marketing support for products at retail. The DEG is fortunate to have many different views for the best path forward, but this also requires finding fair consensus.

Lexine Wong, senior EVP, worldwide marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment: I drive product development and marketing strategy informed by insights, leveraging innovation and emerging consumer behaviors to break through and drive retail transactions.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the home entertainment business?

Wong: The never-ending abundance of quality content available for consumers continues to be the challenge that is redefining the home entertainment business. For consumers, this means a lot of great content (scripted or unscripted) to enjoy on any type of device wherever and whenever they want, free and paid. From a studio/content owner perspective, we need to determine how to best monetize our content as the traditional windows and releasing patterns will need to continue to shift to match consumer demand.

Smith: The home entertainment business is no longer defined as “home entertainment.” It is not a one-skew business with clearly defined “swim lanes.” There are numerous ways for making content available to consumers, various delivery platforms and products. Consumers are confused, and the marketplace is filled with disruptive but equally good products. Finding the right path forward that makes business sense, excites the consumer and is a good experience is hard to nail.

Schell: There are so many more options now. We have the newest premium content that people want to watch, but there’s confusion in the marketplace with the huge volume of streaming services. We need to help people figure out where they can find the content they are going to be excited to watch, so they can treat themselves to a night at home with easily accessed, high-quality content!

Overall: Understanding who consumes our content and meeting them where and when they consume is the biggest challenge.

Gilford: Providing transparency to consumers about when, where and how to watch a movie.

Downing: Changing consumer habits and business models.

Gallagher: The business as we know it continues to evolve swiftly, along with our consumers. In addition to clearly underscoring the unique advantages of ownership, now more than ever we must work to truly understand our multi-faceted consumers, their habits and preferences, ensuring that their voices inform our every decision.

Chang: Physical media continues to decline; retail distribution of this media is shrinking. SVOD growth has been exponential; TVOD growth is not.

Free: With more and more in-home viewing options than ever, one of the biggest challenges is penetrating today’s crowded landscape. It’s crucial to always be one step ahead while utilizing fresh and comprehensive marketing strategies to convey the value of ownership across both digital and physical.

Howe: The biggest challenge has to be that consumers have so many options for watching great content at home, and as a result the bar is very high to get them to pay on a transactional basis for a movie or TV show — digital or physical. You have to have a movie and a campaign that really connects with an audience.

Hoffman: Everybody loves movies. It is critical that we keep consumers transacting and engaged in our category. We are hyper-focused on identifying new opportunities to communicate the utmost value and urgency for our products.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities?

Smith: The upside for opportunities is huge. Identifying what the consumer wants is the trick.

Gallagher: We have seen that when we find ways to drive excitement at retail, we see growth. Whether in store or online, the opportunity to improve the ways in which we engage with consumers remains lightly exploited at best. We are fortunate to have such great retail partners to innovate and collaborate with.

Wong: I’m excited about the opportunities that the recent integration between our TV and home entertainment divisions will bring as our businesses continue to converge. More collaboration across our lines of business should drive the at-home experience, satisfying consumers and providing growth for our studio.

Gilford: The biggest opportunities are yet to come. Content is better than ever but after the initial window, it is hard for consumers to reliably know where they can watch and the cost of watching in different windows. I am excited for filmed entertainment to become as easy for consumers as music — or get as close as possible. That will unlock tons of opportunities.

Chang: New physical formats (4K/HDR) provide another opportunity for physical media.

Hoffman: Transforming data and analytics into actionable strategies that improve marketing decisions and provide better targeting opportunities remains a top priority as we work to maximize our marketing dollars.

Howe: The biggest opportunities are to truly understand our consumers’ changing behaviors and attitudes and refine our business models accordingly. There is a future for the physical and digital transactional business, but only if we continue to evolve. I can see an opportunity for digital transactions to sit within a portfolio of subscription apps. As consumers cut cords and go for slim bundles, there could be opportunities to offer ‘a-la-carte’ options for must-see TV shows and movies. All future trend reports say that physical retail will be as much about the experience itself as the transaction. Movies are arguably one of the best products that can create engaging events and experiences for retail, and it is something we should continue to focus on for the theatrical and home entertainment windows.

Overall: The better and deeper our understanding of our audiences, the more opportunities we have to serve them content and offers to satisfy their needs.

Schell: Increases in bandwidth, 5G, new devices and new technology that improves content quality like 4K and HDR. Together all these innovations enable a higher-quality home and mobile viewing experience as well as new forms of immersive content, including VR and AR. There are myriad new platforms and technologies that consumers are now embracing to watch entertainment at home and on the go.

Q: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

Smith: Whatever it is, my mother will still not know how to explain it.

Gilford: Crying … I will be sending my youngest to college. Seriously, I hope I have embarked on a new challenge in my career. I would like to continue to find ways to leverage technology to enhance people’s lives.

Gallagher: Consumers love content. While the way that content is ultimately enjoyed may evolve across formats or platforms, in five years I hope to still be identifying for consumers ways to engage in our movies in their homes, on their holidays, wherever they choose.

Chang: Hopefully, continuing to drive growth, leading a great team, and having fun while we’re doing it — and getting back into golf again.

Howe: Five years ago, I moved from London to L.A. to re-join Fox. I like change — it keeps things interesting and keeps me on my toes. The next five years in our industry will be interesting, starting with the sale of Fox! The CMO role itself is evolving and is becoming more data driven, and I find that fascinating. I’m lucky to have spent about half my career in the film business and half working on the agency side in brand strategy and consulting, so I am well positioned to deal with these disruptive times.

Schell: Continuing to innovate and be at the forefront of the convergence of technology and content. AT&T’s acquisition of Warner Bros. makes this company a fascinating place to be, with lots of opportunity. But it’s a more complicated question than it would have been when I was starting out my career because the landscape is changing so rapidly. It’s not just about saying I want to keep expanding what I’m doing with more responsibility and bigger teams and titles, because the roles that exist now aren’t necessarily the roles that are going to exist five years from now.

Q: What excites you most about this business?

Chang: The ever-changing landscape.

Downing: The dynamic landscape, as it requires being nimble and staying in front of new business models.

Wong: Knowing that there will be more disruption because consumers are in control.

Smith: Working with smart people who are willing to make risky decisions that bring filmed entertainment to consumers in new and exciting ways.

Free: The content and the synergy. From Lucasfilm to Marvel to Pixar, Disney has the most compelling and entertaining brands in the industry, and I’m inspired each and every day by the creative and collaborative minds that I have the privilege to work with.

Gallagher: Having served Universal in home entertainment for 18 years and having witnessed firsthand the evolution of both the theatrical and home entertainment sides of our business, I am encouraged by how much room there still is to innovate. We are all fortunate to have dedicated retail partners that are committed to our category and to working with us to invigorate our business in a way consumers find exciting and meaningful.

Gilford: The people! I love working in a results-driven environment powered by creativity. I have met lifelong friends through my job — I feel so lucky.

Howe: I love it when a movie connects with an audience and the campaign becomes a real two-way conversation with passionate fans. We just released Love, Simon in June, a movie that has the potential to change attitudes and inspire teenagers to be themselves. Deadpool 2 releases this summer and there is nothing more fun than pushing the bar on that one and seeing fans react — reading the comments on social media is like running a live focus group!

Hoffman: Our business is currently at its most transformative stage in recent memory. As marketers, there is significant untapped potential in creatively influencing buying decisions and in ensuring that we keep in lock step with evolving consumer tastes and behaviors.

Schell: The landscape shifts on a daily basis, and as a leader at one of the world’s largest content and distribution companies I get to be a part of shaping the playing field. Operating at the intersection of content, technology and distribution in a constantly changing industry is an exciting place to be.

Q: How do you watch entertainment at home?

Downing: I’m a cord cutter, so I have a subscription to a skinny bundle with a different OTT device on each TV in the household, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire and a Roku streaming stick.

Chang: With more devices and in more ways than your average household of three.

Free: It depends on which room I am in. I am intentional to test various devices and platforms to ensure I am aware of how consumers access our content. In my living room, I utilize Amazon Fire TV Stick and in my bedroom I use Apple TV. In all rooms and on the go, I depend on Movies Anywhere to access all my favorite feature films. In my role, it is crucial that I think with the consumer mindset and stay abreast of all new technology available to ensure our marketing is not only timely but future-leaning.

Smith: I’m a big believer in being a consumer of our industry’s products and services. I subscribe

to a handful of services including HBO, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix and watch their shows on my Sony or Samsung or LG HDTV using Roku or AppleTV … when I’m not using my DirecTV satellite dish.

Howe: I watch movies on the main TV — mainly via Apple TV, TV shows on the TV, my iPad and even my iPhone in bed (something I never thought I would do!).

Gallagher: Like most of us, I watch in many different ways depending on the movie and my reason for watching. At the moment, I’m building up my digital collection of animated movies for my family. Re-watching all of the movies I grew up with has been so much fun.

Hoffman: I watch movies in a variety of ways, but my new favorite way to access my movies is through the Movies Anywhere app. I love that it links all my accounts together into one place with only one password to remember.

Gilford: I mainly use my AppleTV to stream favorite shows on the various streaming services, watch baseball on the MLB app, and watch purchased movies on Movies Anywhere.

Wong: In my house, we watch a LOT of sports — this is usually on the big family room TV. Otherwise, you can find me watching movies or TV shows on my iPad or bedroom TV. It’s a typical night when all four members of the family are watching things on four different screens throughout the one house.

Schell: In our screening room with a 4K projector if it’s a movie I want to immerse myself in, especially when my husband or stepdaughters are watching with me. If it’s just me while multitasking, it’s usually with my tablet. I own every new-release movie as soon as it comes out, authenticate all the cable channels through my AT&T U-verse subscription and subscribe to every streaming service.

Q: What do you do for fun, or to relax?

Downing: Physical activity — I just completed running a Ragnar Relay and biked the entire C&O Canal Towpath. Now planning my next adventure.

Smith: Most anything that involves my family as long as it’s not in the kitchen.

Gilford: I love to eat, travel and workout in all the stereotypical L.A. ways — power yoga, Soul Cycle, hiking, etc. I love sharing travel and restaurant tips and recommendations. My extensive travel notes are infamous!

Chang: I like watching TV shows late at night. Since assigned seating was introduced in NYC theaters, I also enjoy going to the movies to relax. We go on about four family trips per year. My husband and I would like to take our daughter to all the national parks in the U.S. We have about 58 left to visit.

Howe: I make the most of the great California outdoors! You will find me cycling up Mullholland or on Chair 23 in Mammoth on winter weekends. I’m also learning to play the piano.

Wong: I like to try new recipes and host dinners for friends and family, attend my kids’ sporting events and go on long hikes or swims with my golden retriever.

Schell: Relaxation?! I’m an executive in a highly dynamic, challenging industry with a 2-year-old, two stepdaughters and a husband vying for my time. Fortunately, I do have fun, both at my job with my wonderful colleagues and at home with family and friends. At WBHE we have a great culture of camaraderie and celebrate every birthday, baby shower, title over-performance or other excuse for a party. And my husband and I love entertaining at home with whichever friends don’t mind hanging out with a 2-year-old. I like to ride my Peloton or take a quick hike when I can in the morning and read fiction to wind down at night.

Free: It’s already been quite a year since I moved to Los Angeles. With such an exciting career, I make it a point to find balance by taking in all the beautiful sights in L.A., taking my dog for long walks along the beach or on one of the awesome hiking trails, and treating myself to the balmy nights at the Hollywood Bowl listening to great live music.

Q: Who inspires you?

Downing: In keeping with my sports theme: Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run (and complete) the Boston Marathon in 1967 before women were officially allowed to run in 1972, for not accepting the status quo and for pushing boundaries accomplishing something that men didn’t think women could do.

Smith: Remarkable athletes like Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm.

Howe: Our Fox home entertainment marketing team. I couldn’t ask for a more committed team. Despite the impending sale of the business, the team continues to bring creative ideas to the table every day.

Hoffman: I am inspired by the people I work with every day. I work in an amazing business with an incredible group of people who are passionate, inspiring and creative.

Gallagher: I have a really passionate team. Their desire to win and their passion and positivity are incredibly inspiring.

Schell: My 2-year-old Cate Rose, who approaches the world with energy, wonder and unfettered optimism. 

Wong: Aside from my parents, who provide unconditional support, and my kids, who inspire me daily, there are so many people who are inspiring, from those who have overcome extreme adversity to those giving back to make the world a better place — Nick Vujicic, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Cory Booker … the list goes on.

Chang: Different people throughout my life — none of whom are famous.

Q: What is the biggest challenge being a woman in the entertainment industry?

Smith: Any woman — or man — should walk in a meeting prepared, respectful and productive. There should be no difference in gender.

Gallagher: I have been fortunate to work for an organization that has been at the forefront of supporting diversity. I have been encouraged to grow and succeed in my career here because of that. As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our organizations understand the critical importance of embracing diverse perspectives and that we collectively uphold this standard.

Hoffman: I consider myself very fortunate to work for a company like Universal where an executive’s measure of talent, success and accomplishment is never viewed through a gender-specific lens.

Gilford: It’s still the same old same old — how to balance career and being a great mom. Somehow I think I have done it, but it still feels like a fight, it still feels like you are never doing anything 100% and it can be very lonely. I hope that changes — the only way is to have women in senior executive positions and people who are really working to keep them in those ranks.

Chang: I would love to see more Asian-American women in leadership roles in this industry and many others. I think they exist but the media doesn’t tend to cover it.

Wong: Unconscious bias training in the workplace can help prevent some of the challenges women face in our business, such as feeling they don’t have an equal voice or seat at the table. As senior female role models, we should continue to mentor and advance high-potential females in our organizations.

Schell: We’ve seen incredible progress this past year, and now it’s really a matter of keeping the momentum going. I think historically people have been less willing to take risks on women by promoting them to leadership positions that they’re not the most obvious choice for — we’re still not always naturally viewed as prospective leaders and given chances to step up out of our comfort zones in the same way men are. Women often have to prove themselves over and over to be given more responsibility, whether that’s creative or management. It’s obviously possible to advance, but you may have to be twice as credentialed. The more we have women in leadership positions the more that will improve.

Click here for the 2018 list of Women in Home Entertainment

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