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Warner Bros. On ‘Precipice of Change’ as Studio Preps for WarnerMedia Boot Camp

Leadership at Warner Bros. Entertainment have started packing designer luggage for the first corporate huddle with their sister brands under AT&T.

The interim leadership at the studio — film head Toby Emmerich, TV chief Peter Roth and CFO Kim Williams — are headed to New York next week for the “first corporate offsite of WarnerMedia,” Emmerich said Saturday in conversation at Produced By 2019, the annual conference of the Produces Guild of America held on the WB Burbank lot.

“We are on the precipice of a lot of change coming, [and] a lot of intracompany collaboration,” Roth said.

Emmerich and Roth kicked off the conference with a keynote conversation, where they discussed life under new ownership and how it might shape the future of the historic studio.

“Look at your phones. We used to have three [reception] bars, now we have five,” Emmerich joked.

Synergy has been a long time coming, given this month marks a year since AT&T and Time Warner closed their mega-merger, bringing together content giants like WB, HBO and Turner in concert with the telecomm operation.

Emmerich tempered the merger’s impact, pointing out that “Peter has been making TV for HBO for years. We’ve alway had a lot of business with Turner and HBO. The priority is the launch of direct to consumer offering.”

The deep Warner Bros. film and television library will be a key selling point for consumers, especially content like DC Film’s superhero fare and New Line’s low-budget, top-earning horror titles. On the TV side, Roth has also ordered up a few straight-to-service titles like a series from Elizabeth Banks, with many more expected.

The streaming platform is a top goal of WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, as the company looks to compete with rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as looming threats Disney Plus, Apple and Comcast.

The panel moderator raised the question of calling back “Friends,” a WBTV production which Netflix licenses, to ding their competitor and incentivize a wide fanbase to subscribe to WarnerMedia’s platform. 

“I object to that, as a consumer,” Roth said of content companies relying only on their library titles. “Homogenization of TV is never good for the costumer. Our goal is to be a key content provider.”

Roth may see a level playing field in the TV space, but Emmerich was frank about the state of the theatrical film business — particularly the growing monolith Disney, which just ingested 20th Century Fox’s film and TV assets.

“I’m jealous because they’re going to be number one for the foreseeable future, “ Emmerich said. “They will be the number one producer and distributor … but it creates opportunities for Warner Bros. and Universal, I think.  My impression is Disney-Fox has a particular focus.”

He’s not incorrect. Emmerich’s film group, which also encompasses release label New Line, had its biggest year ever In 2018 and is only bested in box office marketshare by Disney. What’s more — they’ve won big on original movies that support emerging filmmakers and diversity (“A Star is Born,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) .They’re also a supporter of the movie musical (Lin Manuel Miranda’s forthcoming “In The Heights”) and protector of the rom-com (Rebel Wilson’s “Isn’t It Romantic”).

Stankey’s other top priority is to replace ousted Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara.

“The loss of our CEO was a painful experience,” Roth said of Tsujihara, who stepped down in March following accounts of misconduct, “but it  was critical to calm the waters.”

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