Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara made moves on Tuesday to stabilize his film studio against an uncertain $85 billion merger with AT&T, but his company’s challenges are not just in media consolidation, he told TheWrap.
“We face headwinds in every single one of our businesses. Each are more competitive than they were yesterday,” Tsujihara told TheWrap shortly after promoting Toby Emmerich from studio president and chief creative officer to chairman of the motion picture group.
He also upped executives Blair Rich and Ron Sanders to key marketing and distribution roles left vacant by a departing Sue Kroll, a 23-year studio veteran who will become a producer on the lot from her SVP marketing role.
“The key thing we need to do is maintain our cultural relevance. I don’t think it’s healthy the way the business is becoming so binary — either so successful or so challenging,” Tsujihara said of the industry’s reliance on tentpole films like the superhero fare that brought Warner Bros. nearly 19 percent of the theatrical market last year, second only to Disney.
“As an industry, we need to continue to create a balanced slate of all types of movies and all genres. Current economics make that challenging, but requires you to have fresh, high-quality movies, because of television and all the other options,” he said.
He’s got the right hire in Emmerich, who made a name for himself as a producer and procurer of relevant and innovative low-to-mid-budget genre titles that return big. Last year’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” starring Bill Skarsgard made a staggering $700 million worldwide on a $35 million budget.
Warner Bros. posted a reported an all-time high profit of a $1.7 billion last year thanks to the DC Films unit (“Wonder Woman,” “Justice League”) and a savvy extension of the Harry Potter universe (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”).
The executive ceded this that this success came at a time of “more vertical integration than ever before.”
Tsujihara has been one of the most outspoken media executives when it comes to evolving consumer taste — specifically around the theatrical release window, virtually all studios are warily trying to shorten the time between a film’s debut in theaters and home entertainment or streaming availability.
TheWrap asked if conversations were still going on between the studio and American theater owners, who are vehemently opposed to reducing the current 90-day exclusivity period they enjoy with new releases.
“Shrinking windows closer? I can’t say that we are,” Tsujihara said, adding that the average consumer does not distinguish a theatrical release from a pay TV window or an iTunes debut these days.
“We’ve got to make it more seamless for consumers to find what they want when they want it,” he said.