By Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover
Jan 28 (Reuters) - Time Warner Inc named digital technology expert Kevin Tsujihara as chief executive of Warner Bros. Entertainment, the film and television studio behind the “Harry Potter” movie franchise and TV hit “The Big Bang Theory.”
Tsujihara will begin the CEO job on March 1, Time Warner said in a statement on Monday. He will succeed Barry Meyer, who will stay with the company as chairman through 2013.
The decision underlines the importance Warner Bros. is placing on digital distribution. Since 2005, Tsujihara has run the Warner Bros. home entertainment group, overseeing home video, digital distribution, video games, anti-piracy efforts and emerging technology.
In that role, he pushed Warner Bros. to take advantage of a consumer shift to viewing of entertainment content over the Internet via computers, phones and tablets.
Tsujihara oversaw Warner Bros.’ 2011 acquisition of movie discovery website Flixster. That same year, he was one of the first major media company executives to embrace Facebook, letting users rent Warner Bros. movies through the social-networking site.
Tsujihara also championed Hollywood’s UltraViolet initiative, an effort to promote movie ownership by letting consumers purchase digital copies stored in the cloud. And he pushed back against video rental service Netflix Inc to boost Warner’s own home video business, extending the time Netflix users must wait to rent Warner Bros. movies on DVD.
“We have always adapted to new business models and new technologies, and we will continue to do that,” Tsujihara said in an interview on Monday. “But this company’s real strength has been the great entertainment that it has always created.”
“We are fortunate that we are at the top of our game, creatively and financially,” he added.
Outside of his digital focus, Tsujihara gained experience in the creative side of the business by taking part in decisions about which movies and shows to send into production. “I understand the process, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to give casting instructions,” he said.
Warner Bros., founded in 1923 by four brothers, has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises including the “Harry Potter” series and the recent Batman trilogy, which concluded with “The Dark Knight Rises.” Its TV studio gave birth to hits such as “Murphy Brown,” “ER” and “Friends.”
This year, the Warner Bros. film slate includes a new Superman film, “Man of Steel,” and the second of three “Hobbit” movies.
The appointment of Tsujihara settles the question of who would succeed Meyer, who is expected to retire after 14 years running the studio. Warner Bros. Television President Bruce Rosenblum and Warner Bros. Pictures President Jeff Robinov also had been in the running to replace Meyer.
Tsujihara said no decision has been made as to whether he will succeed Barry Meyer as chairman, or what kind of management structure would be created for Rosenblum and Robinov. “That’s my first job,” he said.
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes called Tsujihara “one of the most effective and respected executives within Time Warner, and the right leader to ensure Warner Bros.’ preeminence into the future.”
Time Warner shares fell 0.6 percent, or 31 cents, to close at $50.09 on the New York Stock Exchange.