Update: Lieberfarb Ouster To Shake Up WHV23 Dec, 2002 By: Kurt Indvik
Look for a major restructuring at Warner Home Video in the wake of the firing of its president, Warren N. Lieberfarb, announced late Friday, Dec. 20.
Lieberfarb, regarded as the “father of DVD” for his pioneering work in pushing the development and adoption of the format, was reportedly abruptly dismissed from the position he has held for 20 of his 27 years with Warner Bros.
The company said a successor to Lieberfarb would not be named until after the beginning of the year and will come from inside the company.
“There will be a lot of people whose jobs will be changing,” said Barbara Brogliatti, SVP of corporate communications for Warner Bros.
Industry sources expect the three EVPs below Lieberfarb — Jim Cardwell, Marcia King and Ed Burns — to play more significant roles, with Cardwell, GM of North America, the likely candidate to assume leadership of the unit.
No public explanations were given by Warner for the dismissal of Lieberfarb, and studio executives declined comment, but sources indicate Lieberfarb was fired as a result of clashes over management of the home video unit and Lieberfarb's desire for greater integration among the theatrical, home video and pay-per-view TV businesses at Warner.
Lieberfarb also has reportedly been vocal about his disappointment in management decisions and policies at Warner Bros. and parent AOL Time Warner, as well as his own compensation package, which reportedly included large blocks of stock options of AOL Time Warner stock given as a reward for his leadership in the market adoption of DVD and which has declined significantly now in value.
Interestingly enough, industry sources said Lieberfarb's firing may result in restructuring and elimination of duplicate marketing efforts under way among the various entertainment units at Warner Bros. toward a more integrated effort.
Meanwhile, Lieberfarb's termination caught the industry by surprise and elicited response from both studio executives and video retailers.
“I have enormous affection and respect for Warren,” said Benjamin Feingold, president at Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment and the other studio executive largely credited for the adoption of DVD, especially on the international front. “It was a privilege to be both very competitive and very cooperative with Warren in rolling out DVD worldwide. Hollywood and the video industry owes a debt of gratitude to Warren for his passion, energy and foresight, and I look forward to our lasting friendship,” Feingold said.
Quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Bill Mechanic, former chief at 20th Century Fox and one-time head of Disney's home video unit, said, “He's clearly made an impact on the business. He's the guy who fought uphill to get the DVD market established, and it wouldn't be there without him.”
Lieberfarb was not an endearing figure to many home video rental dealers, given his development of Warner's low-priced sellthrough pricing policies and his oft-stated belief that the rental business was nearing the end of its relevancy and that video-on-demand would replace it.
“News flash to Warren,” said one retailer post on the Video Software Dealers Association's online discussion board. “Video stores are not dead … but guess what … you're gone.” Blockbuster chief John Antioco, who had clashed publicly with Lieberfarb in the past, declined to comment.
Beginning in 1992, Lieberfarb spearheaded the acceptance of a single-standard DVD, in cooperation with Toshiba Corp., initially meeting with much resistance from other hardware suppliers and studios. However, his persistence led to the market launch in 1997 of the DVD format that would go on to become the fastest-growing consumer home electronics product of all time, now nearing 40 percent penetration of U.S. homes after five years. He was awarded a special Emmy in 1999 for his leadership in DVD.
Lieberfarb joined WHV in 1982 as SVP of sales and marketing after having served at a variety of posts at Warner Bros. starting in 1975, including VP of international marketing and executive assistant to the chairman of the board.
“Warren is a true visionary and a world-class executive. We both began our careers at Warner Bros. back in the 1970s. Over these many years I have watched Warren build the finest home video company in our industry,” said Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer in a statement announcing Lieberfarb's departure. “But that accomplishment, great as it is, only begins to describe the unique nature of his role over these years. He constantly pursued how best to maximize our profits and how best to position Warner Bros. for the digital 21st century world. Warner Bros., as well as our industry in general, will be reaping the benefits of his efforts for decades to come.”
“Warren is unique among every motion picture executive I have ever met,” AOL Time Warner CEO Richard D. Parsons stated. “He combines being a visionary and strategist with being a hands-on, first-class operating executive. Warren has helped make Warner Bros. the entertainment powerhouse that it is today.”
Additional reporting for this story was done by Thomas K. Arnold and Holly J. Wagner.