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Homevid & PPV to wed at WB

Lieberfarb set to head unit

Warner Bros. has decided to marry its homevideo and pay-per-view activities, a move discussed by several studios lately.

Warner Home Video prexy Warren Lieberfarb is set to head the pay-per-view unit following the planned year-end retirement of Ed Bleier, a 31-year Warner vet and industry legend.

Although nothing has been finalized, plans also call for the remaining TV and feature-film licensing elements of the Warner Bros. Pay TV, Cable & Network Features unit to move from New York to L.A. under executive VP, marketing, Eric Frankel, who is said to have tentatively agreed to relocate.

Bleier, who is credited with aggressively developing the new markets that have grown out of new technologies since he began — including PPV, pay TV, cable networks and home video — will lead the transition this year and then stay on as a part-time consultant to the studio for several years, according to sources.

A new model

Marrying PPV with home video could become the model for other studios as the two industries — which have heretofore been rivals in terms of fighting over the management of release windows and piracy issues — begin to move closer together through various forms of electronic distribution.

Blockbuster recently announced a partnership with TiVo for a new form of PPV through digital video recorders.

The Warner unit is unique in the industry, with Bleier overseeing the licensing of TV and film product separately from the TV division, where most other studios have their licensing units.

Although Frankel, a 20-year Warner executive, reports to Bleier, the two execs have already pretty much separated duties, with Bleier mostly handling PPV, and Frankel handling the licensing of TV series and movies to cable and feature films to broadcast and cable networks. Warners is one of the biggest licensors of film and TV product in the industry. Frankel has initiated the production of several original music-oriented cable TV series.

Shape of things to come

The upcoming retirement of Bleier will give Warner an opportunity to move the unit to L.A. — it had remained in New York primarily in deference to Bleier — and allow the studio to make adjustments to the “jury-rigged” unit, according to one insider.

“Pay-per-view and video are much more aligned than PPV and the distribution of programming to cable,” the source said.

Lieberfarb, who led the studio’s and the home video industry’s charge into the DVD market and who oversees one of the two biggest studio home video units, was said to have been angling for a bigger role at the studio when studio co-chairmen Bob Daly and Terry Semel left last year. That hasn’t happened, and the addition of the PPV duties was not a result of those discussions, but rather something that had been in the works even before Semel and Daly resigned.

Unclear future

It’s not clear what the shift of the PPV unit from Leiberfarb in New York will mean to existing staffers or the operation of the unit. Industry observers say that it will greatly smooth out areas of friction and competition between the PPV and home video industries since the same person will be responsible for managing the windows of both.

It’s expected that Frankel, who was promoted to exec VP, marketing, in 1994, will report to studio chairman and CEO Barry Meyer through Bruce Rosenblum, who was recently named exec VP, TV, at the studio.

Bleier began his career at Warner Bros. in 1969 after holding senior executive positions at ABC for 15 years. He graduated from Syracuse U. in 1951.

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