For the first time in its history, Warner Bros. will have a female CEO.
John Stankey, CEO of parent company WarnerMedia, has found his replacement for ousted Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara, tapping BBC executive Ann Sarnoff for the role. She will be based in Los Angeles and begin the job later this summer.
The news comes after the company was headed toward the end of its third month searching for a leader who could usher the historic film and TV studio into a new era under AT&T ownership. In Sarnoff, who was president of BBC Studios Americas, Stankey finds a leader with the operational chops to woo the telecom giant’s Dallas-based top brass.
Sarnoff joined BBC Worldwide in 2010 after having served as president of Dow Jones Ventures. The executive previously served as the COO of the WNBA, overseeing business operations for the league. Earlier in her career, she worked at Viacom from 1993 to 2003, where she held multiple titles, including COO of VH1 and CMT.
With her appointment, Stankey also adds some much-needed X chromosomes to his executive bench, a must after he drew flak for stacking his ranks with men, including Bob Greenblatt, Jeff Zucker, Kevin Reilly and Casey Bloys. It was not lost on observers that, at the time of his exit, Tsujihara was the only diverse senior content-focused leader at the company.
“I am delighted Ann is joining the WarnerMedia team and excited to work side by side with such a talented and accomplished individual. She brings a consistent and proven track record of innovation, creativity and business results to lead an incredibly successful studio to its next chapter of growth,” Stankey said Monday in a statement.
He added, “Ann has shown the ability to innovate and grow revenues and has embraced the evolution taking place in our industry. I am confident she will be a great cultural fit for WarnerMedia and that our employees will embrace her leadership, enthusiasm and passion for our business.”
Among the tricky situations that Sarnoff will have to maneuver will be liaising between the film and TV studios and WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service to determine what of the company’s vast library and upcoming releases makes sense to exploit on the direct-to-consumer offering and what should be preserved for more traditional distribution.
“It is a privilege to join a studio with such a storied history. Warner Bros. has been an industry leader for decades and is known for creating many of the most iconic film, television and gaming properties,” said Sarnoff. “I accept this position excited by the opportunity to work with the most accomplished executives and teams in media, and confident about carrying this incredible heritage forward with them.”
There also will be the task of winning over the rank and file at Warners, especially with tension high following the AT&T acquisition and subsequent departure of Tsujihara, who had been given greater purview within the organization before a THR report in March revealed that he’d had an apparent sexual relationship with an actress, Charlotte Kirk, and then used his influence to try to help her career.