Exec lulled from retirement

Signaling its commitment to the future of digital cinema, the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group has named former distribution topper Phil Barlow to the newly created post of executive VP in charge of e-cinema and other new technologies dealing with motion picture theatrical exhibition.

Chuck Viane, previously senior VP and general sales manager for Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, has taken over as president of Disney’s domestic theatrical relasing arm, a position Barlow held for the past four years.

Before the announcement, Barlow, who served as senior VP/general sales manager for 10 years before becoming president, was widely rumored to be considering retirement.

“Phil wanted to retire but we wouldn’t let him,” said Dick Cook, chairman of the Motion Picture Group. “We’ve been partners for 14 years and we couldn’t imagine not having his wit, wisdom and brilliant strategic mind in helping us look into the future of our theatrical business. Phil … has played a major role in making us the top distributor of the last decade.”

Viane, a well-liked distribution veteran, is seen by distribution and exhibition pros as an obvious choice to take over the reins of Buena Vista. A 13-year BV employee, he was vice president and assistant general sales manager for nine years before being promoted to senior VP. Over the last year he has taken on additional responsibilities in anticipation of Barlow stepping down.

Speaking of his replacement and longtime second-in-command, Barlow said: “He’s been so qualified for so long and he spent so many years trying to make me look good, that he’s earned his shot at getting the credit for how well this company runs.”

Prior to joining BV, Viane was head film buyer for General Cinema Theater Corp., where he started his career in 1973.

Viane said he expected to promote someone from within the BV sales ranks to replace him as senior VP and general sales manager within a month or two. He said he also expected to make some minor changes within the distribution organization by the end of summer some.

Speaking of his new role, Barlow said that before an industrywide conversion to digital cinema could be implemented there were four constituencies who needed to be convinced of its advantages: the creative community, the studios, exhibition, and the moviegoing public. “The first three are already convinced to varying degrees, and the last will be.”

Barlow said the most important, and probably the most difficult obstacle to be overcome is the need for a single, open standard, which multiple manufacturers adhere to. “We can’t succeed if we end up with the number of projectors that we have sound systems,” he said. The presence of three major incompatible digital sound systems, made by DTS, Dolby Laboratories and Sony Cinema Products, has been a bain to theater owners.

Once the obstacle of a standard is overcome, Barlow said he believes the issue of how to divide the cost of converting the nation’s roughly 35,000 screens will be fairly easily resolved. “When it’s a win-win situation, I’m confident that the industry as whole will find an equitable solution.”

Before joining BV in 1985, Barlow worked for over two decades as an exhibition exec at circuits including Edwards, Syufy, General Cinema and National General.

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