Commentary

Warner Bros. Marketing Chief Sue Kroll 'Segues' To Producer Role

Sue Kroll, the well-connected and long-tenured guru of worldwide marketing and distribution at Warner Bros., is stepping down to take a three-year deal to produce movies for the Burbank-based studio. Toby Emmerich, meanwhile, has been promoted to chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group. He will assume her responsibilities and oversee worldwide theatrical production, marketing and distribution at the studio.

“The reorganization is meant to help the studio better adapt to rapid changes in the business. The home entertainment industry has been hit hard with declines as consumers shift to streaming networks online. Studio insiders said Warner Bros.’ previous strategy of marketing movies separately for theatrical release and home entertainment was outdated in today’s marketplace,” writes Ryan Faughnder for the Los Angeles Times.

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“It's the right structure at the right time. We should be marketing our movies with a life-cycle approach rather than marketing for the theatrical window and the home entertainment window,” Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara tells Faughnder. “It's really about having a marketing and distribution strategy that is seamless across windows. That's how the consumer thinks about movies, and that's how we want to be organized.”

Tsujihara has been one of the most outspoken media executives when it comes to evolving consumer taste — specifically around the theatrical release window, virtually all studios are warily trying to shorten the time between a film’s debut in theaters and home entertainment or streaming availability,” write Matt Donnelly and Sharon Waxman for The Wrap.

Additional changes, which headline writers are billing as  a “major shakeup” but Warner Bros.’s release about Kroll characterizes as a “segue,” include the promotion of Kroll’s former assistant, Blair Rich, who will head global theatrical and home entertainment marketing and Ron Sanders becoming president, worldwide distribution while remaining president of the home entertainment group. 

“Rich has been courted by several studios in recent months, and is highly valued internally. She was one of the masterminds behind the marketing campaign for last fall’s blockbuster ‘It,’” reports Brent Lang for Variety.  

Kroll, whose production company will notably be housed on the storied lot in a bungalow formerly occupied by Jack Warner, has been with Warner Bros. in various marketing capacities since 1994. She “will be attached to” the upcoming films “A Star is Born” and “Motherless Brooklyn” and will continue to oversee the awards campaigns for “Wonder Woman” and “Dunkirk,” according to the studio.

“It’s a phenomenal change for Kroll, who has been integral to Warner Bros’ blockbuster success (read its banner $5.1 billion worldwide-grossing 2017), but also in its Oscar track record, overseeing the campaigns for such winners as ‘Argo,’ ‘Gravity,’ ‘The Blind Side’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ Throughout the years she has developed close working relationships with talent like Bradley Cooper, Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck among others, stars who continually look to her for guidance. On top of this, she has knack for knowing what type of four-quad source material actually works in this rapidly changing, Millennial-moviegoing environment,” writes Anthony D’Alessandro for Deadline: Hollywood.

“Warner Bros. is actually coming off a fairly strong year, as ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Dunkirk' were both box office hits and critical darlings that are major players in this year’s awards season,” points out Dusty Stowe on Screenrant.com. “But ‘Justice League’ was a box office disappointment, and that film’s shortcomings — as well as the [DC Extended Universe’s] issues at large — have been laid at the feet of Warner’s top brass, who have lacked a clear vision for their comic book properties and have continually played second fiddle to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

“The key thing we need to do is maintain our cultural relevance. I don’t think it’s healthy the way the business is becoming so binary — either so successful or so challenging,” CEO Tsujihara tells The Wrap’s Donnelly and Waxman about “the industry’s reliance on tentpole films like the superhero fare that brought Warner Bros. nearly 19% of the theatrical market last year.”

Regarding Emmerich’s expanded role, Tsujihara said: “Over the last 12 months — and really throughout his career — he’s proven he has great instincts, the ability to balance the creative and commercial needs of the studio, a deep well of experience and a leadership style that inspires those around him,” Mia Galuppo and Gregg Kilday write for the Hollywood Reporter.

In other words, there’s nothing binary about him.

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