Bewkes is right to emphasize digital by naming Tsujihara CEO of Warner Bros.

Warner Bros

Warner Bros (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time Warner Inc. has played, for several years, the most conspicuous role in trying to make sure that filmed entertainment isn’t destroyed as the music business was around the turn of the century. Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes underscored that leadership role this week with the appointment of Kevin Tsujihara as the CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Tsujihara has been the head of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Much of the discussion about the move has focused on the resentment it could draw from Warner Bros. Television chief Bruce Rosenblum and Jeff Robinov, executive in charge of film production. Both units have done extremely well.

Nikki Finke, editor-in-chief of Deadline Hollywood Daily, blasted Bewkes, saying he has just “destabilized Warner Bros. in a big way,” and added: “Bewkes could have (and in my opinion, should have) done nothing for several more years, and simply allowed his Warner Bros troika to coexist as equals. Now Bewkes, especially given the harshly crude way he handled this announcement, is risking the loss of two superlative executives.”

Kevin Tsujihara will assume the role of CEO at Warner Bros. in March.

However, it’s now rather hard to imagine any other choice. Bewkes understands that the public wants access to any show they want to see, any time, on any device. However, he’s not willing to make those movies and TV shows available at a price that isn’t going to ensure a smart return for Time Warner’s units. You can watch the popular shows on the Turner cable networks, or HBO — but you’ll have to have a subscription to a pay-TV provider to see them, unless you’re going to opt for piracy. And in Tsujihara, he has an executive more than willing to stand firm in that last line of defense. But his new top man at Warner Bros. plays intelligent offense, as well, as seen by the studio’s shrewd deals with Netflix, iTunes and other “over-the-top” players, along with the acquisition of social-media entity Flixster.

While streaming video is the marquee topic in terms of home entertainment, I always feel as if its role is overstated.

Certainly, the under 30 crowd is often willing and able to use the TV as merely a monitor for online video, or to be satisfied with phones, tablets or laptops.

The industry can’t rush headlong toward these consumers, however, to the exclusion of all the Gen-Xers, Boomers and others who have spent $2300 on a 55-inch Panasonic HD set, and spent perhaps thousands more on a good surround-sound speaker system, a remodeled den or basement to look more like a movie theater, and various additional items. For many of these people, the optimum television-viewing experience is driven by Blu-ray. (Yes, Tsujihara backed the doomed HD DVD format for a while, but by many accounts it was a better-looking format.) And they have far more disposable income than the average teenager or recent college grad.

Poster for “Giant” (1956), one the many thousands of classic films in the Warner Bros. library.

The point is that there are still enough billions at stake in physical formats to keep one eye on the Blu-ray sparrow. It should be remembered, too, that Warner Bros. possesses one of the largest, most varied and compelling of all the movie libraries, which includes all Warner-produced films, short subjects and cartoons and TV shows from 1923 to the present, all RKO titles and MGM films from 1915 to 1986.

While many of those titles don’t enjoy big public demand, some of them do, and just about any money that can be generated from the others is rather like icing on a cake. It is a massive job to make the most of the catalog, exploit current releases in a way that satisfies both the casual viewer and the aficionado, and stop piracy (or at least make it too much trouble for the person with average technological savvy).

– David B. Wilkerson