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Digital Drivers 2012: High-Level Strategists

By Thomas K. Arnold

While there are multitudes of executives working on digital delivery of content, a few stand out as key to forging new paths and strategies. In the past year, the launch of the cloud-based digital rights locker UltraViolet and Walmart’s support for that ecosystem were key developments in the digital realm. Thus, four executives driving UltraViolet merited notice as high-level strategists.

John Aden, Walmart

Aden, EVP of general merchandise for Walmart, is thrust into the vaunted “Digital High-Level Strategist” camp this year for his stewardship of the leading retail chain’s disc-to-digital initiative, which advances the studio-backed UltraViolet digital locker concept by allowing consumers to get rights to digital copies of discs they already own.

“The disc-to-digital service will allow our customers to reconnect with the movies they already own on a variety of new devices, while preserving the investments they’ve made in disc purchases over the years,” Aden said at a press event at the Hollywood Roosevelt just before the groundbreaking service’s April 16 launch. Powered by Walmart’s video streaming technology subsidiary Vudu, the service requires customers to create a Vudu account, where their digital files are stored. Customers can access their movies by logging onto Vudu.com.

The move was hailed as a tremendous vote of confidence in UltraViolet, both because of Walmart’s size and its clout, which will likely push other large retailers to rethink their streaming strategies. And studio executives point to Aden as the key driver at Walmart behind disc-to-digital, a move the Walmart executive likely hopes will rekindle interest in physical media and, perhaps, once again make discs the huge store-traffic generator DVDs were in their heyday.

David Bishop, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

As worldwide president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Bishop plays a unique role in the digital arena: His is the only one of the six major Hollywood studios that shares corporate space with a consumer electronics company. Bishop also acts as a key liaison, or “hub,” between a number of Sony divisions and key industry organizations. Bishop is a key driver in moving forward Sony’s primary initiatives as well as strategically aligning its various groups’ efforts in digital goals and technological needs. Among the many groups Bishop works with for the coordination of Sony’s digital initiatives are Sony Electronics, Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Pictures Digital and Commercial, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Sony Network Entertainment of America, Sony DADC New Media Solutions, Sony Mobile Communications and the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the primary driver behind UltraViolet, the studios’ much-ballyhooed digital locker initiative.

Bishop — who was appointed president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2006 after a long run at MGM — has assembled a strong, smart and nimble support team who has their hands on the pulse of the latest trends in digital entertainment.  They are creating innovative and aggressive digital programs and sales strategies that have placed SPHE at the forefront of the digital space. These programs include the UV launch, early EST and transforming the Blu-ray Disc format into a bridge to the digital ecosystem.

Bishop has taken public stances on digital programs and the need not to fear the future but to include the tech innovations as an integral part of a healthy business future. And, internally, his sales and marketing directives have raised the commercial digital performance of the company to new levels of success.

Thomas Gewecke and Ron Sanders, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group

Gewecke and Sanders — presidents, respectively, of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and Warner Home Video — are the tag-team digital drivers of mighty Warner Bros. The divisions the two head are part of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, the formation of which in 2005 laid the groundwork for Warner’s digital strategy — which some observers say has been significantly more ambitious, and far-reaching, than that of any other studio. With Warner’s physical and digital businesses under one roof, the studio has been able to unify promotional efforts across its digital and packaged-goods business, in keeping with its guiding principle that digital and physical are not competitive, but, rather, additive.

Starting in 2007, WBDD, under the direction of Gewecke and Sanders, began to offer On Demand movies day-and-date with their packaged-media release, a move that created significant uptake in VOD transactions without negatively impacting DVD sales.

Gewecke leads development and execution of activities in the wireless, online, transactional VOD and EST sectors. He’s also charged with identifying strategic partnerships and next-generation distribution channels to open new revenue streams.  Under Gewecke’s leadership — he was appointed to his post in 2007 — Warner Bros. Digital Distribution has launched a number of groundbreaking initiatives that have catapulted the division to being the industry leader in the distribution of digital content. In 2010, WBDD launched digital films as “App Editions.” In 2011, WBDD became the first to offer films for rent directly on Facebook, using Facebook credits. And in 2012, WBDD was once again in the limelight as one of the primary drivers behind UltraViolet.

Sanders, a Warner Bros. employee since 1991, was appointed president of Warner Home Video in 2005. He works with Gewecke to coordinate the digital initiative with home video. He also has been instrumental in the rollout of UltraViolet and in the launch of Walmart’s disc-to-digital program. Under Sanders, Warner released the first discs with UV-enabled digital copies, demonstrating how packaged media and digital can complement each other.

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