Warner Bros. chief Barry Meyer extends contract two years as studio prepares for succession
Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes has devised a plan to ready Warner Bros. for management succession that will see studio Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer remain on board for an additional two years and name three top executives to a newly formed Office of the President.
Under the realignment, studio President and COO Alan Horn, who has been in his job 11 years, will step down next April -- eight months earlier than planned -- and remain a consultant until Meyer retires in December 2013.
Both Meyer and Horn were given two-year contract extensions last year and were originally expected to depart at the end of 2011. Bewkes said he was extending Meyer's contract because he wants to ensure a smooth transition to the new management team.
"We're ready to start the succession process now," Bewkes said.
To that end, the Time Warner chief has created an Office of the President to bring together three of the studio's top managers: Warner Bros. Motion Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov, who will become the studio's top film executive with green-light authority when Horn leaves; Warner Bros. Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum; and Home Entertainment Chief Kevin Tsujihara.
All three executives will retain their current duties and job titles but will be given broader responsibilities for operations of the overall studio, helping strategize business initiatives as distribution platforms continue to converge and traditional models get redefined by new technologies.
"All these business models need to have a rigorous debate," Bewkes said."These three will work as a unit toward evolving Warner Bros. to the next era of being a more digital and more global company."
But some inside the studio fear that promoting Robinov, Rosenblum and Tsujihara to equal management positions will only ratchet up internal competition over the CEO role, creating a public contest that could undermine stability.
Bewkes said he won't tolerate that: "Neither Barry or I like or value jockeying, and anyone who does it eliminates themselves."
Warner Bros. has long prided itself on orderly management, with the prior regime of Bob Daly and Terry Semel lasting for two decades. Meyer, who has worked at Warner Bros. for nearly four decades, says he wants the next generation to carry on that tradition.
"I'm here to help these three guys grow into the senior management of the company and help them move a step beyond each of their businesses to understand how they are interlocked with each other," he said. "The digital transition has taught us that these businesses don't exist in silos."
One reason Bewkes wanted Meyer to remain in the fold for a transitional period was to maintain consistency as the business evolves in financially turbulent times. Meyer has played a key role in navigating Warner Bros.' transition in the digital age and, along with Horn, has delivered reliable profits in film, TV and home entertainment, with such lucrative movie franchises as "Harry Potter" and "Batman" and popular TV shows such as "Two and A Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory."
Warner Bros. now accounts for 43% of Time Warner's annual revenues and 23% of operating income, Bewkes said, identifying the studio's biggest priorities as continuing to develop hit movies and TV series, evolving business models to make content available in all formats, and delivering content to global audiences "at a fair price."
For his part, Horn admitted he has bittersweet feelings about leaving. He's been actively grooming Robinov for his job in recent years, handing him additional responsibilities for physical production, music and marketing and distribution, while lessening his own workload.
Bewkes needs a succession plan to put in younger and "arguably better-looking people," Horn quipped. "Sure, it's uncomfortable being the only one leaving and having Barry stay and the others promoted," he said, "but having given away much of my portfolio, and my work having gone down considerably, it's time to find something more interesting."
Robinov is credited with helping Horn shape the studio's "event film" strategy, which has paid off handsomely with the "Harry Potter" franchise and such hits as director Chris Nolan's "The Dark Knight" and "Inception." Robinov, a former talent agent who joined Warner in 1997, is known for having edgier taste than Horn and has pushed for films like "Inception" and the raunchy comedy "The Hangover."
Now the 51-year-old executive is under pressure to deliver more box-office hits and develop new franchises to replace "Harry Potter"; the last two films in the series will be released over the next year. Although "Inception" was a runaway hit, with worldwide ticket sales of $750 million worldwide, and Ben Affleck's crime drama, "The Town," had a strong debut last weekend, Warner Bros. has had several high-profile disappointments this year, including "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" and "Jonah Hex."
Robinov, who was given oversight of DC Entertainment last year as part of a reorganization of the comic-book unit, also must prove he can overcome the division's long-running dysfunctional relationship with parent Warner Bros. and turn out more tent-pole movies from the library to compete with Disney's Marvel Entertainment.
-- Claudia Eller
Upper photo: Barry Meyer. Credit: Warner Bros.
Lower photo: Alan Horn. Credit: Warner Bros.