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Digital Drivers 2013: High-Level Strategists

As digital consumption grows, so does the number of digital drivers, not just in Hollywood, but also in technology and innovation quarters. But with so many players in the digital arena, the need for someone to connect the dots has never been greater. So once again, we’ve identified some high-level strategists who are taking a “big picture” approach toward the digital revolution — so that we’re not just revving our engines, but actually going somewhere.

Reed Hastings, Netflix

A budding global TV executive, Hastings in 2013 is overseeing the launch of half a dozen original episodic TV programs — all of which subscribers can watch in their entirety at launch. The result: a growth in the sub-demo known as binge viewers.

But Hastings left his biggest mark resurrecting himself and Netflix following a series of PR gaffes two years ago, mounting one of the all-time great comebacks in corporate history. Its first original scripted series, “House of Cards,” created big buzz despite Netflix never revealing ratings data.

Then came Netflix’s first-quarter results, which saw revenue jump 18% year-over-year to more than $1 billion and an added 2 million U.S. subscribers — negating naysayers who believed Netflix’s growth was over. The stock is again above $200 a share, making Netflix one of the top-moving stocks of the year.

Netflix has also inked landmark pay-TV distribution deals with The Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks Animation.

Hastings recently reiterated his desire to keep Netflix independent of a major corporate suitor. Should keep things interesting.

David Bishop, Mitch Singer and Jim Underwood, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

As the digital triumvirate at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Bishop, Underwood and Singer have propelled the division into the digital future as a leader in innovating entertainment technologies and creating new business models.

Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is a key player at Sony Pictures, the only company that straddles content and hardware, where he serves as a liaison between a number of company divisions and industry organizations. When it comes to SPHE’s digital direction, he makes the final decisions and navigates the distribution path for all aspects of physical and digital product. Bishop has also been a driver of new industry initiatives by establishing the types of new business models that are essential for SPHE’s growth. Bishop sets the  expectations for these business initiatives and partners with key customers to help navigate their interplay. Some examples are his role in supporting UltraViolet and his efforts to champion early EST, a business model SPHE was first to launch.

Underwood is responsible for implementing all aspects of SPHE’s digital home entertainment business, including shaping digital strategy, as well as overseeing digital distribution and digital operations worldwide. He has helped the studio better define the digital ownership value proposition by uncovering ways for SPHE and the industry to accelerate the growth in digital ownership and helping retailers worldwide manage the migration to digital. He and his team manage relationships with all of SPHE’s digital customers, including digital pure-plays and the digital arms of traditional retailers such as Walmart’s Vudu service.

Singer completes the triumvirate as a key digital player for SPHE, via his role as the chief digital strategist for Sony Pictures and his position as president of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the consortium of companies responsible for developing the standards for UltraViolet. He also acts as an evangelist for new technologies by advocating their benefits and constantly finds the middle ground to make these challenges more accessible and viable to consumers, retailers and studios alike.

Mike Dunn, Mary Daily and Jamie McCabe, 20th Century Fox

Fox has embraced the move into the digital arena, led by Mike Dunn, worldwide president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; Mary Daily, president of worldwide marketing and chief marketing officer for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; and Jamie McCabe, EVP of worldwide VOD and DigitalHD for 20th Century Fox.

The studio has supported UltraViolet and has also put its muscle behind DigitalHD, the digital early release sellthrough business across all digital stores that Fox launched last September with Prometheus. DigitalHD titles are available weeks ahead of disc and can be downloaded and streamed to devices, while also working with UltraViolet.

McCabe spearheads all of the studio’s digital business. He’s been there from the beginning of pay-per-view to video-on-demand to electronic sellthrough. Daily is leading the charge with game-changer marketing campaigns that are driving the business forward. And Dunn oversees the division’s digital transition of consumers from physical, offering content in every way possible.

Thomas Gewecke and Ron Sanders, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Known for its forward-looking approach, Warner Bros. in May realigned its digital business and adjusted the roles of Sanders and Gewecke under new CEO Kevin Tsujihara, a veteran home entertainment executive elevated in January to lead the studio.

Tsujihara is one of Hollywood’s few true visionaries, and his championing of new technologies is expected to continue, if not accelerate, now that he’s the top executive at the studio.

Under the realignment, Warner consolidated responsibility for its global digital strategy under Gewecke, who was appointed chief digital officer. Gewecke, previously president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, also became responsible for driving the studio’s worldwide digital growth.

Ron Sanders, formerly president of Warner Home Video, became president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution. In this new role, Sanders expanded his purview to include the global digital transactional business (EST and VOD), as well as the global distribution activities of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. He was further charged with coordinating the company’s various digital distribution strategies across all current and emerging digital exhibition platforms, including the direct-to-consumer, business development and Flixster groups, which actively support UltraViolet. Transactional and subscription VOD functions continued to be managed by the television and home entertainment groups.

Gewecke and Sanders together are propelling not just Warner Bros.’ digital strategy, but also industry strategy. Both have championed and lead the studios’ push for UltraViolet, helping to propel ownership into the digital arena.




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