Providing Quality Entertainment to Consumers:
Top Warner Bros. Execs Reveal Studio’s Strategy in the Age of Streaming
By Dr. Tom Synder
The future of the entertainment industry was on the minds of producers and major studio and television executives at the 11th Annual Produced by Conference held by the Producers Guild of America this weekend at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif.
In the major panel of the weekend Saturday, the top two executives at Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Bros. Television, Toby Emmerich and Peter Roth, revealed the studio’s strategy in the new challenging era of video streaming and niche marketing.
Peter said Warner Bros. focuses on “community and the value of people and the content we make.” He didn’t like working at Fox and blamed Rupert Murdoch because, in Roth’s mind, Murdoch only focused on money.
Peter said the loss of their CEO at Warner Bros. Entertainment, Kevin Tsujihara, was a “very painful experience.” Until they find a new CEO, Warner Bros. is being run by an “interim team” consisting of Toby, Peter and Kim Williams. Both Peter and Toby said they think they each complement one another beautifully.
“We’re on the precipice of a lot of changes” in the entertainment industry, Toby said, including the “direct to consumer” market of streaming.
“This is the evolution of television,” Peter said regarding streaming and the new market of interactive television. “It all begins with the consumer. People want greater convenience, greater control and greater choices.”
Roth said Warner Bros. will be asking itself, “How are we serving our customers. It’s an appropriate evaluation.”
Because of the huge increase in streaming, and the new streaming services coming online at Disney, Warner Bros. and other studios, Emmerich said, “Motion picture companies are going to start to look like direct to consumer companies.
“The definition of what people will go to see is changing,” he added. “A [theatrical] movie that you have to see opening weekend because it is a part of a conversation becomes all the more important. We all believe people will always go to theaters, but the kind of movies that justify that experience will become more limited.”
Emmerich said he agrees with Pixar executive Ed Catmull, who argued in his recent book that “The best strategy is providing quality entertainment to consumers.”
He noted that Disney is most likely going to be the top dog in the movie industry for several years.
“I’m jealous because they are going to be No. 1 for the foreseeable future,” Toby said, “but it creates opportunities for Warner Bros. because, even with Fox, my impression is that Disney/Fox has a specific focus” on family and franchise movies.
“Everybody feels that our jobs are not getting any easier,” he added, in the wake of the competition from Disney and from Internet streaming.
As for Warner Bros. Pictures, Emmerich said Warner is focusing on a couple major horror films releasing later this year and on a series of about four or five original dramas. He said at Comic Con they are focusing on the upcoming horror movie sequel IT CHAPTER 2 and its scary JOKER movie about the origins of the infamous Batman villain, because its next major superhero movies won’t be coming out until next year.
Because of the competition, he said, his strategy for Warner Bros. Pictures will be to “hit the ball where they aren’t.”
Peter agreed and said the thing that bugs him the most about the entertainment industry are “arrogant executives” who say you can’t do this or that because it’s not popular or because it hasn’t been done before by anyone.
He noted that, in 1992, a producer told him that someone in television should look into doing a series that’s scary, because it hadn’t been done in a while. The very next year, THE X-FILES became an iconic hit for the Fox Network. A similar thing happened with Aaron Sorkin’s THE WEST WING, which became the first program set in the world of politics in Washington, D.C., to become successful.
Roth said producers and writers should ask themselves, “How can you dare to be different?”
Emmerich agreed with Roth about all this and said, “Nobody knows anything,” repeating the famous dictum that became a mantra in the late acclaimed Hollywood writer, novelist and playwright William Goldman’s 1983 book ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE.
Roth comically said that, whenever someone asks him what are the TV networks looking for this year, he replies, “They’re looking for hits.”
Seriously, though, he said his recommendation to people is to focus on “the best of who you are,” so he always asks the writer or producer to tell him about themselves, and then tells them to do something they experienced themselves or to do the kind of TV program or movie that they themselves would like to see.
Emmerich said Warner Bros. Pictures is a “director dominated studio” and likes to contract with filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, and James Wan.
“Great directors are the lifeblood of a studio,” he said, “but they need great producers. Producers are the collaborators, partners, and enablers of great directors.”
Of course, great directors like Eastwood and Scorsese, or classic directors like Frank Capra, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Howard Hawks are also great producers in their own right.
Roth said he doesn’t like Hollywood’s focus on always going for the home run instead of hitting singles and doubles.
“I don’t like this trend,” he said. “It’s a dangerous trend. It’s an economically challenging trend.”
“If there is one thing I fear about the future,” Roth said, “it’s increased insularity and increased vertical integration. As a consumer, I object to that. From my point of view, we are trying to be a key content provider while still retaining our freedom.”
Toby Emmerich said he fell in love with movies when he sat through two showings of the heist comedy THE HOT ROCK with Robert Redford and Zero Mostel. He had to walk home at night, but his mother had already called the police!
After seeing the movie, Toby said he decided that “Making movies is what I’m going to do the rest of my life.”
Peter Roth said playing hooky from school to watch television was what motivated him. He said he loved television and watched it as often as he could.
“I have always loved television,” he said. “Television has always transported me. It really, really moved me.”