Warner Bros. executive Tom Ascheim has been promoted and will oversee the studio’s Harry Potter franchise and Wizarding World properties. Ascheim also serves as the president of kids, young adults and classics at Warners. He reports to WarnerMedia chief Ann Sarnoff.
As part of his new responsibilities, Ascheim acts as the chief representative of WarnerMedia in its relationship with author J.K. Rowling and her reps, agent Neil Blair and Blair Partnership Chief Creative Officer James McKnight. He will also be tasked with expanding the Wizarding World property for the studio’s various outlets and platform partners. The studio didn’t make any concrete plans for the future of Harry Potter in Thursday’s announcement.
Rowling, one of the most successful authors ever, has become a polarizing figure. She’s come under fire many times over unsolicited comments about transgender people. Rowling has made clear she believes gender identity invalidates biological sex, meaning she doesn’t think transgender women are woman or transgender men are men. She’s also raised the specter of men calling themselves women just to gain entry into women-only spaces, a common (and widely discredited) scare tactic of anti-trans activists. For Rowling’s lifelong fans, her anti-transgender tweets were a stark contrast to the Harry Potter novels’ overarching themes of empathy and love.
“In Harry Potter and the Wizarding World, we have an iconic franchise and characters that have become a beloved part of the lives of millions around the world,” Sarnoff said. “This new management of the franchise highlights its enormous importance to Warner Bros. and the myriad opportunities we see for continuing to engage and delight fans of all ages across the globe. I’m excited for Tom to be leading our efforts and look to him and his team to work across the company to discover innovative and creative ways of keeping the Wizarding World fresh and relevant for years to come.”
The Harry Potter series is one of Warner Bros.’ highest priorities because the eight films in the original franchise generated more than $7.7 billion at the worldwide box office. The studio has revisited the property with the prequel spinoff series “Fantastic Beasts.” The first entry in the intended five-film franchise, 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” was a commercial hit, grossing $800 million globally. But the series is already experiencing diminishing returns. The sequel, 2019’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” ended its theatrical run with $654 million worldwide, marking the lowest ticket sales for the fantastical property.
“Fantastic Beasts” has been plagued with its own controversies. Johnny Depp, the actor who portrayed the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, was recently forced to exit the role following the outcome of his libel case against the British tabloid The Sun, which alleged he was a “wife beater.” Mads Mikkelsen was recast as Grindelwald for the third film, which is scheduled to debut in 2022. The ongoing “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise will continue to be managed by Warner Bros. Pictures Gruop.
The Wizarding World, of course, is much more than a film series. It has also inspired theme parks in Orlando, Fla., and Osaka, Japan, as well as live events, consumer products and studio tour stops. And “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” an original play that ran on the West End and on Broadway, has been widely praised and received numerous Tony Awards. Meanwhile, the Portkey Games has developed video games and Wizarding World Digital has been a source of Potter-related digital news.
“I’ve been an avid Harry Potter fan for years and an admiring observer of how the Wizarding World franchise has been managed,” Ascheim said. “I’m honored to now be leading the very talented individuals and teams who have done such a great job in growing this brand and its meaning and value to fans everywhere. I look forward to going even further in exploring and expanding all of the opportunities we have in this incredible world.”
The new management structure will build on the work of the previous Harry Potter global franchise development team, which was founded in 2014. Josh Berger, who previously oversaw the team, stepped down in 2020 after 30 years with the company. The group will now be part of the Global Brands and Experiences team. In managing the Wizarding World and Harry Potter franchise, Ascheim will work closely with Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences President Pam Lifford.