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January 29, 2013

Kevin Tsujihara: A Wise Choice for Warner CEO

Kevin Tsujihara’s selection as the next CEO of Warner Bros. didn’t surprise me in the least. As the studio’s longtime head of home entertainment, he’s proven that he knows how to make money. Home entertainment is still the biggest source of revenues to the studios, and Warner Bros. has been tops in market share since even before I began writing about home entertainment more than two decades ago.

But Tsujihara’s selection was not just a matter of dollars and cents — not by a long shot. In a Hollywood ecosystem where imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery, but a way of life, Tsujihara has always been a maverick. He’s not only stood out from the home entertainment pack, he’s inevitably stood out ahead of it. He’s earned a reputation as a deliberate disruptor who’s never been afraid to try new things and if they don’t always work out the way he had hoped, well, that’s OK, let’s move on to something else.

And yet he’s not so much a gambler, a risk taker, as he is a shrewd and savvy entrepreneur — albeit one who has learned to operate in a corporate environment. He’s a leader of the pack who also happens to work and play well with others.

Tsujihara doesn’t so much roll the dice on emerging and even future technologies as he plays the field, carefully picking and choosing what he considers to have the best chance at success. He’s not looking to transform the business so much as he is out to reinvent it, rebuild it — in a sustainable way. And if one accepts sustainability as Hollywood’s true holy grail, then Tsujihara’s real trump card is twofold: He’s got the vision to see what lies ahead, and the courage, guts and acumen to follow through and get us there, in some way or another.

Tsujihara pioneered the concept of day-and-date video-on-demand. He was one of the first to recognize the power and potency of social media by first selling movies on Facebook and then spearheading the acquisition of social movie fan site Flixster. His latest triumph is still a work in progress: leading the industry charge to UltraViolet, a critically important next step in the ongoing evolution of home entertainment that allows customers to acces digital versions of their purchased content from the cloud.

UltraViolet at once future proofs physical media and creates a whole new business model for electronic sellthrough, which has been a slow go for the Hollywood studios.

Many observers have already said that in choosing Tsujihara as their next CEO, Warner Bros. board members made the best choice. In truth, they made the only choice if their studio — and others like it — are to survive, and even thrive, in the digital era.

Posted in: Warner , People , Opinion , TK's Take , Blogs
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August 20, 2012

Phyllis Diller: A Remembrance

For a stand-up comedienne renowned for her exhaustive laugh, it might seem ironic that Phyllis Diller — who died Aug. 20 at the age of 95 in her Los Angeles home — coveted silence and space.

In a 2006 interview with Home Media Magazine for her last stand-up comedy performance in Las Vegas — captured on the DVD Goodnight, We Love You: The Life and Legend of Phyllis Diller released by Image Entertainment — Diller revealed that life to her had become an exercise in escaping a cacophony of unwanted noise.

She said a recent dinner out at the trendy Mr. Chow restaurant in Beverly Hills left her feeling like she had eaten at the airport.

“You couldn’t hear anyone,” she said. “Now that I’m really old, I realize one of the things it takes a lot of money to buy is silence. In my home I have silence … and it costs a lot of money.”

Diller then let out her signature laugh — a pronounced cackle perfected over the decades that started loud and just sort of hung in the air as she exhaled slowly. 

Bob Hope discovered Diller after seeing her act at a supper club in Washington, D.C. The comedienne began her showbiz career at the age of 37 after a previous life as a housewife and mom.

Diller, who would appear in several Hope movies, moved to Brentwood (a suburb of Los Angeles) and began appearing regularly in Las Vegas and on television.

While well known for an affinity for plastic surgery, big hats and wigs, and a distain for housework and a fictitious husband named Fang, Diller also had a love of cooking, vintage automobiles and art (she was an acclaimed painter).

In addition to voiceovers in recent theatrical animation releases, including Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Diller DVDs included Phyllis Diller: Not Just Another Pretty Face (MPI) and On Location With Phyllis Diller (Standing Room Only), among others.

On Goodnight, We Love You, notable scenes included a reunion of Diller’s personal assistants over the course of 47 years, or “dust biters,” as Diller called them. She said the average assistant lasted two years.

“They were horny, got married and split,” she said with a laugh.

Goodnight, We Love You is available on DVD and electronic sellthrough at Amazon.

Posted in: Image , People , Opinion , Blogs , Erik's Spin
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May 04, 2012

CBS Signs Production Deal With CEO Moonves

Apparently CBS CEO Les Moonves’ 2011 pay totaling more than $69 million (in salary and stock) isn’t enough to compensate the executive should he delve into the production of television shows, feature films and related digital properties after stepping down as chief officer.

Moonves, who is under contract to run CBS through 2015, signed a “supplemental agreement” that provides him with $3 million annually in staffing and infrastructure expenses, in addition to $1.5 million in compensation to be executive producer of original programming — if he decides to do so, according to a May 4 regulatory filing.

The compensation would be offset by whatever license fees Moonves receives should CBS pick up a program. CBS is required to pick up at least three shows over the course of the four-year contract. In addition, CBS would have first-look rights, and if picked up would pay Moonves a fixed fee plus “contingent compensation” should the film be profitable.

The contract calls for additional compensation to Moonves for original music, soundtrack and related merchandise concepts created.

The filing also noted that the agreement between CBS and Moonves is contingent on a number of undisclosed preconditions being met, adding that “there can be no assurance” that such a production deal will ever be “consummated.”

Posted in: People , Opinion , CBS , Blogs , Erik's Spin
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September 12, 2011

A New Generation, A New Look

Putting together our “40 Under 40: The Under 40 Hot List” for the magazine this week was a revelation. In such an established business, it is interesting to see how many executive up-and-comers are working on the digital frontier as well as in the established packaged-media business.

The home entertainment industry is undergoing more change than perhaps it ever has, with a growing cadre of delivery options to bring entertainment directly to the consumer, both physically and digitally. A new generation of future leaders is helping the veterans chart a new course for the home entertainment business, and Home Media Magazine is proud to honor them.

From digital, marketing and sales executives working at the major studios and independent suppliers to siblings in the family DVD business, our “Under 40” list runs the gamut of the home media business. Also included are executives from the retail front, both in the physical and digital realm. There are Ph.D.s and M.B.A.s and executives long on experience for their relative short stint in the business. We also included some executives who oversee such creative ventures as disc extras, as well as some with pure technical know-how, who have helped push home entertainment into the digital age.

It is fitting that our celebration of the under-40 set coincides with the launch of a new, more sleek and updated design for the magazine. In updating our look, we attempted to make the content pop on new technologies such as mobile phones and iPads, as well as in physical form. The magazine is now easier to hold and read, I think. The new logo calls out the “ME” in Home Media Magazine, and that’s intentional. It’s a nod to the increasingly personal nature of home entertainment. Dad can watch an action blockbuster on the giant flat screen, while mom catches a TV episode on her iPad as she waits in line at the store. Meanwhile, the kids can catch a flick on a phone or iPod as they fly to see Grandma.

Media consumption is changing, but what doesn’t change in the value of good content.

Posted in: People , Steph Sums It Up
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March 19, 2009

Shakeup at Best Buy

There's been another changing of the guard at Best Buy, sources say. Jill Hamburger, for years the consumer electronics chain's point person with the Hollywood studios, has reportedly taken a buyout, while the top DVD and Blu-ray Disc buyer has left the company. Hamburger’s former boss, Julie Owens, is reportedly the studios’ new contact; at last January’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Owens — Best Buy’s SVP of entertainment and digital applications — picked up Best Buy’s “retailer of the year” award from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Hamburger's position as VP of movies and games has long been one of the most important in the home entertainment retail sector, since the chain is one of the three largest sellers of DVD and Blu-ray Disc software in the country (Wal-Mart is No. 1 and Target Stores, No. 2). Hamburger's two predecessors, Gary Arnold and Joe Pagano, were both frequent guests at studio junkets, and Pagano was even hailed as Billboard's video "man of the year" in the late 1990s for his aggressive stance toward DVD.

To view additional postings, visit the homepage for TK’s Take.

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September 23, 2008

Beyond the Glass Ceiling

In our current issue, Home Media Magazine honors the women of home entertainment, a smart and savvy group of executives who are leading our industry at a time when we are at a critical crossroads.

DVD, the format that led our industry to unprecedented growth over the past 11 years, is now mature, and sales have leveled. Blu-ray Disc, the format that will likely allow packaged media to survive, and even thrive, in an increasingly digital world, isn’t “there” yet. Sales are climbing impressively, but the format is still a good year or two away from mainstream adoption.

As our industry buckles down to weather the transition, we find a significant percentage of top industry executives are women. We decided to profile some of them in this issue, and as I edited senior reporter Chris Tribbey’s nearly 6,000-word report on the women of home entertainment, I found some similarities among the honorees. Specifically, they are well-educated, well-rounded and in positions of increasing importance, both at their own company and within our industry. While there is just one worldwide president of a major studio’s home entertainment division — Kelley Avery of Paramount — there are more than a half-dozen other business and marketing leaders who essentially call the shots at their respective studios, from developing and implementing an overall Blu-ray Disc strategy and overseeing every stage in the product distribution cycle to acquisitions, packaging, sales and marketing, and fulfillment.

The import of women isn’t limited to the studio system. Amy Jo Smith, executive director of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, is now taking the lead in promoting awareness of Blu-ray Disc to the world at large. Jill Hamburger at Best Buy is a trendsetting retail executive whose empire happens to be one of the country’s biggest sellers of DVD software. And there are several other women who run, or have founded, independent DVD suppliers — entrepreneurial mavens who have been taking pot shots at the proverbial glass ceiling for years.

So congratulations to all the women of home entertainment. And lest I forget, let me also give kudos to the women of Home Media Magazine: Stephanie Prange, Angelique Flores, Kyra Kudick, Renee Rosado, Julie Savant, Joni Wu, Kristina Kronenberg, Kaitlyn DeWaard, Jennifer Evans, Brady Gallardo and Jennifer Guerena. Hey, that’s more than half the staff …

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