Avery Quits Paramount5 May, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold
Kelley Avery’s abrupt departure as worldwide president of Paramount Home Entertainment (for the complete story, click here) no doubt came as a shock to all of us. The only female head of a major studio worldwide home entertainment division, Avery has been part of our industry for 25 years, ever since she first came to work at what was then Buena Vista Home Video. There, she worked alongside Bill Mechanic and Ann Daly to pretty much define the concept of sellthrough. She also was part of the team that pioneered Disney’s enormously successful moratorium strategy, in which animated classics are only put in stores for a limited amount of time and then stuffed back into the vault, in the hopes of generating even more demand. The strategy’s success can best be illustrated by The Lion King, which came out in the pre-DVD days (1995, I believe it was) and sold more than 20 million copies—VHS cassettes, mind you!
Kelley left Disney for DreamWorks SKG when the new studio was set up in 1998 by ex-Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, record mogul David Geffen and acclaimed producer and director Steven Spielberg. She launched the new studio’s home video division—I still remember the first video release, Mouse House, a not-so-subtle stab at Katzenberg’s former employer—and impressed all of us in the trades with her poise as well as her smarts. She assembled a great team, none of whom had titles (that was the DreamWorks way) but all of whom worked tirelessly to turn DreamWorks into the little studio that could—and that did. The hits kept coming—Saving Private Ryan, the Shrek franchise, Gladiator—and when DVD came around Avery and her team helped broaden the market by focusing on families with such key releases as the first two Shrek movies, which were instrumental in bringing DVD to the masses.
Kelley went to Paramount in 2006, when the studio’s parent, Viacom, bought DreamWorks SKG for I believe it was $1.6 billion. Tom Lesinski, the Warren Lieberfarb prodigy who had been brought in from Warner Home Video to run Paramount Home Entertainment just a short while before, took over digital and Kelley brought her team in to take charge of Paramount’s packaged-media operation. Key players included Kelly Sooter and Mary Kincaid, both of whom had worked alongside Kelley at DreamWorks (and in Mary’s case, the two had worked together back at Disney).
The rest of the team is still in place and, I’m told, it will be business as usual. No replacement is being named for Kelley, whose departure apparently caught her studio bosses by surprise. Her senior executives will report to Rob Moore, the studio’s vice chairman.
As for Kelley Avery, stay tuned. She’s got something up her sleeve, and I’m sure she will resurface soon.