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Feingold Out as Sony Video Chief

14 Sep, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Benjamin Feingold, the longest-serving studio home video president in Hollywood, is no longer worldwide president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Digital Distribution and Acquisitions.

Taking over as worldwide home entertainment president — a position Feingold held for 12 years — is David Bishop, the veteran MGM Home Entertainment chief who joined Sony in May 2005 after a consortium led by the studio bought MGM. At the time, Bishop was tapped as president of worldwide brand integration by Sony, a position created to manage Sony's assumption of the MGM catalog.

The announcement came this afternoon from Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. In a statement, Lynton praised both Feingold and Bishop, calling the exiting executive “a leader in creating the whole DVD market, which … changed the landscape of our industry.”

Bishop, Lynton added, “brings to the task a wealth of experience, strong leadership skills and a strategic sense of where this business is headed and how we can capitalize on the changes underway.”

Feingold's departure had long been rumored, although in a division shakeup last April he was given additional responsibilities as head of digital distribution while continuing to oversee production and acquisitions for the studio's Screen Gems division. He also received a new title. As part of that restructuring, Bishop was named president, North America, for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

It remains unclear who will assume responsibilities for the other areas Feingold oversaw, although insiders speculate digital distribution will become a separate division, as it is at Paramount.

Insiders say when Bishop was first hired, it was with the understanding that he might one day succeed Feingold in running home entertainment. In October 2000, Feingold had been promoted to president, business and operations, of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, while retaining his presidency of the home entertainment division.

Three years later, however, Feingold lost that title, reportedly due to conflicts with senior management. Ever since then, the rumor mill had been buzzing that Feingold would soon be gone completely, although he subsequently appeared to be rising back up the corporate ladder.

Feingold has won high marks from retailers and fellow studio executives alike since his 1994 assumption of the presidency at what was then Columbia TriStar Home Video. He developed an aggressive acquisition program and pioneered the direct-to-video sequels that are now standard operating practice at most of the majors. When DVD came along, Feingold was among the format's biggest backers. He worked alongside ex-Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb, known as the “father” of DVD, in getting the other studios to come on board.

Feingold was a champion of shorter windows between a film's theatrical release and its DVD bow, maintaining it made sense to draft off a film's theatrical awareness. Under his tenure, Sony also scored some of its biggest DVD sales triumphs, including the two “Spider-Man” films, which have sold a combined total of nearly 30 million units.

When Sony debuted its PlayStation Portable, Feingold dutifully held to the company line that the PSP was a multimedia player and aggressively pumped out movies on the device's proprietary Universal Media Disc (UMD) format. He also lobbied other studios to chime in, although sluggish sales prompted most studios to either cut back on releasing UMD movies or drop out entirely.

More recently, Feingold has been one of Hollywood's most aggressive and eloquent backers of the Blu-ray Disc next-generation format, earning him the nickname “Blu-ray Ben.” He's also championed digital downloading and other alternative entertainment delivery options.

Before coming to Sony, Bishop spent more than 15 years at the MGM Home Entertainment Group, most recently as president and COO. There, he was known for cultivating strong and lasting relationships with retailers and distributors, and for quickly and efficiently exploiting MGM's catalog when DVD came along. Industry watchers credit Bishop with helping expand DVD's reach in the early days of the format through aggressive pricing and release schedules that helped the then-nascent format quickly achieve critical mass, making it attractive to the big discount chains.

“David, as much as anyone, is responsible for DVD's success,” one observer said.

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