The king of catalog is retiring.
Jeff Baker, who as EVP and GM of theatrical catalog for the last 13 years oversaw the marketing for some of Warner Bros.’ biggest catalog releases, is stepping down at the end of August to take a new assignment as creative consultant to director Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment.
Baker played a key role in Warner’s decision to re-release many of its classic movies in elaborate gift sets, at a premium price. They included not just a wealth of digital extras, from outtakes to behind-the-scenes documentaries, but also tangible trinkets such as watches, commemorative photo books, posters, publicity stills and, in the case of the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” a ruby slippers snow globe.
During Baker’s reign, other top releases include 70th and 75th anniversary editions of “Oz” and “Gone with the Wind”; several boxed sets of as many as 40 Clint Eastwood movies; the 10-disc “Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection” Blu-ray package; and an assortment of “Harry Potter” gift sets, including one that came packaged in a trunk and included an interactive game and a pack of trading cards.
Baker also oversaw Warner’s big 90th anniversary campaign, highlighted by the release of the “Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection” and a new documentary, “Tales From the Warner Bros. Lot.”
Jim Wuthrich, president of the Americas for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, said in a memo to employees that during Baker’s leadership of Warner’s catalog division, “The group generated nearly $7 billion in consumer spend and was responsible for maintaining our leadership in the category.”
“Jeff and I have worked closely together for a very long time,” said Ron Sanders, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “He has that rare combination of commercial plus creative instincts. He’ll sit eye-to-eye with a retailer and develop really strong catalog plans that actually work, and then go meet with a filmmaker and help craft a documentary that will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. He has thrived in a very tough environment as discs give way to digital, and never lost his passion and energy for the business. He’s a true personality, and we’re going to miss him around here.”
Baker is one of several Warner Bros. home entertainment executives who have left the studio over the last year, including VP of publicity Ronnee Sass and Mike Saksa, until August 2014 Baker’s counterpart for new theatrical releases. Saksa has since become head of content and marketing at Redbox, where he works alongside president Mark Horak, himself a Warner alumnus (he left in February 2014).
Baker’s departure comes as the home entertainment business grapples with plummeting revenues from theatrical catalog DVDs and Blu-ray discs, a category in which studio executives privately say sales are down by as much as 80% from their mid-2000s heyday largely due to Netflix, which only streams older movies. Consumer spending on subscription streaming in the first half of 2015 shot up an estimated 25% from the first six months of 2014 to $2.38 billion, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, with the majority of that going to Netflix (DEG numbers don’t include Amazon Prime). TV shows account for about 70% of Netflix viewership, but the remainder goes to movies, and no studios currently allow Netflix to stream new releases.
Baker continued to believe in the resiliency of his business, however. In December 2014, he told Home Media magazine, “The gift set market has been affected by the slow physical decline of the past few years, but remains a vibrant and steady opportunity particularly for studios that have the resources and expertise to develop new and exciting collections. Furthermore as EST gains traction, we are seeing a marked increase in bundling transactions for film collections, particularly on iTunes.”
Premium-priced gift sets continue to account for up to 10% of total fourth-quarter home video revenue, Baker added, and have “no price sensitivity, even in today’s competitive market.”