Warner Bros. Goes Outside Hollywood for Its New Chief -- WSJ

Date : 06/25/2019 @ 8:02AM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : AT&T Inc. (T)
Quote : 33.16  -0.1 (-0.30%) @ 3:30PM

Warner Bros. Goes Outside Hollywood for Its New Chief -- WSJ

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By Joe Flint and Erich Schwartzel 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (June 25, 2019).

WarnerMedia named BBC Studios-Americas President Ann Sarnoff as head of Warner Bros., choosing an experienced but low-profile executive to steer the iconic Hollywood studio through profound industry changes including consolidation and the rise of streaming.

Ms. Sarnoff will be the first woman to lead Warner Bros. in its centurylong history. Her appointment as chairwoman and chief executive is unusual in an industry where familiar faces within the Hollywood studio business are often tapped for the biggest jobs.

Ms. Sarnoff replaces Kevin Tsujihara, who resigned in March amid an investigation into an extramarital relationship he had with an actress in 2013. Mr. Tsujihara had sent text messages promising to inquire about roles for the woman at Warner. He apologized to employees for his conduct and said his leadership had become a distraction to the company.

Ms. Sarnoff, 57 years old, will oversee business operations at one of the entertainment industry's most prolific and powerful content producers, and will report to WarnerMedia Chief Executive John Stankey.

She has held several senior positions in media and sports. Prior to joining the BBC, where she has worked for nearly a decade, her titles included executive vice president at Viacom Inc.'s Nickelodeon and chief operating officer of the Women's National Basketball Association. She also was a top executive at Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones & Co.

WarnerMedia is betting her mix of experience will help it navigate in TV and movie industries increasingly dominated by streaming media. The company, which became part of AT&T Inc. this year, plans to launch a streaming-video service late this year to compete against Netflix Inc. Developing original Warner shows and movies for that service, as well as stocking it with older hits from the Warner library, is a priority. Determining how much to invest in that venture and which properties should be featured on the service will be tricky terrain.

In a statement, Mr. Stankey said Ms. Sarnoff "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."

Ms. Sarnoff is inheriting a film and TV operation that is competing against the Hollywood colossus formed when Walt Disney Co. acquired 21st Century Fox entertainment assets in a $71.3 billion deal earlier this year. The deal included the Twentieth Century Fox studio.

Warner Bros.' TV operation develops shows for all major networks, including the CBS hits "Mom" and "Young Sheldon" and the recently completed "The Big Bang Theory," as well as reality shows like "The Bachelor."

On the film side, whereas Disney is focused on family-friendly films, Warner Bros. is more of a traditional movie studio, producing features that appeal to several demographics. It was No. 2 among major studios in box-office market share from 2016 to 2018. Releasing more films than any of its competitors has helped its ranking.

Though last year included the hits "A Star Is Born" and "Crazy Rich Asians," the studio hasn't had a break-out success since its executive drama spilled into public view earlier this year.

It has had only modest performers like "Pokemon Detective Pikachu" and "Shazam!" Recent misses have included "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," a reboot of "Shaft" and "The Sun Is Also a Star."

Warner Bros. does have some of Hollywood's most promising franchises, including Harry Potter and DC Comics, top commodities that can generate revenue far beyond the theater in toys and theme-park attractions. Its Harry Potter property has waned in recent years, with recent installments of the "Fantastic Beasts" spinoff underperforming at the box office.

The DC Comics cinematic universe of characters like Batman and Superman allows Warner Bros. to compete with Disney's Marvel Studios. So far, the DC franchise has yielded hits like "The Dark Knight" and "Wonder Woman," but overall its releases have failed to match Marvel at the box office or in critical acclaim.

Ms. Sarnoff's appointment comes after some employees at WarnerMedia raised concerns internally that the top executives Mr. Stankey selected following AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner Inc. were all men. (AT&T closed its purchase in 2018 and began integrating Time Warner this spring after prevailing in an antitrust lawsuit brought by the government.) WarnerMedia recently hired a chief of enterprise inclusion to ensure its workforce is diverse, and named Molly Battin chief corporate marketing and branding officer, among other appointments.

Rival studios have often looked to established Hollywood names when they had openings. When the top studio job was open at Viacom's Paramount Pictures in 2017, the studio ended up tapping Jim Gianopulos, who had run Fox's film studio for 16 years before he was replaced by Stacey Snider, who had previously run Universal Pictures.

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com and Erich Schwartzel at erich.schwartzel@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 25, 2019 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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