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Digital Drivers 2016 High-Level Strategists

Home Media Magazine has identified some high-level strategists who are at the forefront of digital change:

On the studio side, executives are finding new ways to foster digital content, especially ownership.

Ron Sanders and Thomas Gewecke lead the team at Warner looking for new and innovative ways to maximize value for the studio’s content in digital channels. Sanders oversees the digital transactional business (EST and VOD) and global distribution of Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Television and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. He is charged with simplifying and promoting digital ownership growth. Under Sanders’ leadership, Warner was one of the first major studios to drop the old silo approach and combine the physical and digital organizations into one commercial group, driving innovation around windowing and pricing that has resulted in double-digit growth in digital for five consecutive years. Sanders has also been spearheading adoption of digital storefronts at MVPDs, giving a widely hailed keynote speech last year at the cable industry symposium in New York in which he laid out a compelling business proposition for cable services to support digital sales. Sanders has included Vubiquity in a key role to be the white label technology platform to help cable companies get into the business faster, without a big investment in engineering set-top boxes. Meanwhile, Gewecke articulates and focuses the studio’s vision as chief digital officer and EVP, strategy and business development. He is charged with oversight and coordination of the studio’s various digital distribution strategies to maximize the value of Warner content across all current and emerging digital exhibition platforms.

Over at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Mike Dunn, worldwide president, and Mary Daily, president of worldwide marketing and chief marketing officer, are looking to innovation in digital delivery and marketing, in addition to fostering ownership with Digital HD and early digital release. Dunn, through the Fox Innovation Lab, is pushing into virtual reality products as well as 4K Ultra HD content with HDR to increase consumer interest in home entertainment content. Daily has spearheaded numerous award-winning digital campaigns, and her team is also focused on the promise of virtual reality.

At the Walt Disney Company, Janice Marinelli and her team at Disney/ABC Domestic Television have aggressively promoted Digital Movies Anywhere, a proprietary digital movie locker for Disney, Pixar, Marvel and “Star Wars’-branded films, to encourage ownership of movies and TV shows in the digital space. Just this month, Disney entered into a content licensing deal with Comcast to start offering a selection of digital library titles and new releases, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, through Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand digital store.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment recently launched its new 4K Ultra HD movie streaming service, ULTRA, in addition to creating next-generation added-value content such as virtual reality apps. Under the leadership of president Man Jit Singh, SPHE April 4 bowed ULTRA on Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs with Android TV in the United States, bring the highest-quality picture to the digital realm. Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing, directs the studio’s digital content marketing efforts, as well as promoting virtual reality and digital extras.

Paramount’s home entertainment team, under president Bob Buchi, has looked at windows and broken tradition. The studio cut theaters in on digital revenue on certain titles to satisfy consumer demand for early digital availability of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. It was a bold and unique move by Paramount to court the digital customer while at the same time boosting theaters with new revenue.

In the over-the-top distribution realm, competition and innovation has exploded.

OTT  distribution of pay-TV went from the conceptual stage to reality in 2015 — spearheaded by Dish Network’s Sling TV, the first online pay-TV platform, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, and Charter Communication’s Spectrum TV Plus, among others.

After joining Dish in 2009, Roger Lynch pushed the skinny pay-TV channel blueprint into motion with the relaunch of DishWorld (now Sling International) in 2012. Under his leadership, DishWorld grew its subscriber base more than tenfold.

Working with Sruta Vootukuru, VP of business development and operations, Lynch readied Sling TV for its February 2015 launch. As CEO of the startup, Lynch and his team expanded Sling TV to 12 device platforms, grew available domestic programming to more than 80 channels and introduced a beta
multi-stream service.

In subscription streaming, pioneer Netflix launched global service, Amazon Prime Video rebranded as a standalone service, shortened its name (no more “Instant”), upped (by $1 billion) content spending and launched its first theatrical feature film — Spike Lee’s urban drama Chi-Raq.

The move into original movies (and TV shows) was spearheaded by Roy Price, VP of digital video and Amazon Studios, with assistance from Brad Beale, VP of content acquisition, and Jason Ropell, worldwide head of motion pictures. Other programing highlights included Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning series “Transparent,” Golden Globe award-winning series “Mozart in the Jungle,” and Emmy-winning kids series “Tumble Leaf.” Michael Paull, VP of digital video, transitioned from Prime Video to Amazon’s Streaming Partners Program — an OTT subscription streaming platform that provides Prime members access to third-party SVOD services such as Starz, Showtime, RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn TV and Cinedigm’s CONtv and Dove Channel, among others.

While CEO Reed Hastings in January formally announced Netflix’s expansion into 130 new countries (190 countries total), and Neil Hunt, chief product officer, upped the service’s 4K Ultra HD prowess, CCO Ted Sarandos turned his attention toward challenging Hollywood norms with simultaneous theatrical/streaming original movie launches of Beasts of No Nation, Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, among others.

With a mandate from co-owner 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch to transform Hulu into a legitimate competitor to Netflix and Prime Video, former Fox executive and current Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins and Craig Erwich, SVP, head of content, aggressively sought out content exclusives, including “Seinfeld,” “Empire,” “Blindspot,” “Fargo,” “Broad City” and “UnReal.” Erwich also signed content deals with AMC Network, FX and Turner. Hopkins also dropped the Hulu “Plus” suffix. Tim Connolly, SVP, head of distribution, inked a distribution deal with CBS’s new standalone Showtime OTT, making Hulu the first-ever streaming service to offer a premium add-on available through its platform. He also signed deals with seven pay-TV operators, including

Cablevision, to distribute Hulu directly via TiVo set-top boxes to subscribers.

Meanwhile, HBO a year ago debuted HBO Now, a standalone service offering all of the pay-TV channel’s coveted programming including “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective,” among others. The launch — guided in part by Sofia Chang, EVP of worldwide digital distribution and home entertainment — included HBO Now access on digital platforms such as Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Play.

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