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Warner’s Lieberfarb knows next big thing

Mar 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Warren Lieberfarb says he’s ready to take on the next big issue facing the entertainment industry, that of VOD, or video on demand.
As president of Warner Home Video, Mr. Lieberfarb, who said he has “always looked at home video as another form of the television delivery system,” is known industrywide as the “architect of the DVD.” Indeed, industry executives credit Mr. Lieberfarb’s “drive and bulldog determination” with bringing about the successful launch of the DVD. They also see Mr. Lieberfarb as the key executive who will inspire the next wave of industry change.
Mr. Lieberfarb sees his role in spurring along the development of the DVD as only one of many successful changes he’s brought to the entertainment industry.
“I enjoy change and being a provocateur of change,” he said.
As the keynote speaker at this week’s CTAM conference in New Orleans, Mr. Lieberfarb said that when he speaks to conference attendees on Wednesday, he hopes to drive home the importance of the industry pressing forward with VOD, which he calls “a shared opportunity whose time has come at last.”
“This is a product that has significant potential if it’s done right,” he said. “It could be above the results realized from conventional pay-per-view.”
The main challenge, according to Mr. Lieberfarb, is that the cable industry needs to “change the consumer proposition on VOD so that convenience, choice and control, with `convenience’ underlined and italicized, is emphasized.”
“The existing transactional delivery systems-VHS rental and pay-per-view delivered via analog transmission-cannot deliver state-of-the-art convenience, and the provider is not giving the consumer the maximum amount of control,” he said. “That’s the key-placing control in the hands of the user, not the programmer, who decides what’s running, or the retailer who says you have to bring the tape back at a certain time or you run up late charges. A product that is designed to immediately improve the consumers’ experience would seem to me to have the ingredients of success.”
The DVD has emerged “as the new must-have digital format in a growing number of households,” said Tim Hanlon, director of emerging contacts, Starcom Worldwide, Chicago, a unit of the Starcom MediaVest Group. “Once consumers have had a taste of a delivery system with a high level of clarity, sound and features, there’s no turning back. DVD … is clearly a success story.”
Success is something that Mr. Lieberfarb has enjoyed throughout his career, although joining the Hollywood scene was not originally part of his game plan.
Mr. Lieberfarb received a bachelor of science degree from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the University of Michigan. By his own admission, he “went Hollywood” in 1968, leaving a solid job as a financial analyst at Ford Motor Co. for what he saw at the time to be “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in a creative business.”
At the time, most MBA graduates were taking jobs with such industry stalwarts as J. Walter Thompson, IBM Corp. and Lehman Bros. Mr. Lieberfarb’s decision to leave a blue-chip automobile corporation to join Paramount Pictures was atypical, to say the least. “It was very unfashionable not to join the IBMs, JWTs or Wall Street … and it was a little embarrassing then to say you were going to work in the movie industry,” he said.
At that time, Paramount was owned by Gulf & Western, and “the movie business in 1968 had not yet gone through a generational change in terms of its executive ranks,” Mr. Lieberfarb said. “It was still staffed with people from a pre-television era, and therefore, objectively speaking, there was more opportunity. … A person with my background was in short supply.”
Mr. Lieberfarb eventually served as executive assistant to the president of Paramount Pictures before joining Warner Bros. in 1975 as vice president, marketing. At Warner Bros., he held positions as executive assistant to the chairman of the board and as vice president, international advertising and publicity.
Later, at 20th Century Fox as vice president, telecommunications, Mr. Lieberfarb was instrumental in early initiatives that led to the growth of cable, pay TV and home video.
Rejoining Warner Bros. in 1982 as senior vice president, sales and marketing, just two years later Mr. Lieberfarb became president of Warner Home Video (WHV), now a Time Warner Entertainment Company. Under his leadership, WHV expanded its global presence to include 78 international territories while increasing total revenue sevenfold. With the largest film library of any studio-its catalog includes more than 6,000 titles-WHV’s worldwide distribution includes several major entities, such as Warner Bros., MGM/UA, New Line Cinema, Turner and HBO Pictures.
For nearly a decade, Mr. Lieberfarb served as the architect behind Warner Bros.’ DVD efforts. As a direct result of his work, a single DVD format was accepted by the consumer electronics, computer and entertainment industries, a feat other industry executives are quick to acknowledge.
“Warren is a very spirited executive with a clear vision of what he thinks the future is,” said Benjamin Feingold, president, Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, business, operations and home entertainment. “We both believe DVD is an important cornerstone of the motion picture business. He believes in the future. He loves what he does. He’s a very hard-working executive, and that’s one of the reasons why he-and Warner-have been successful.”
“I’m a big fan of Warren, and it’s not because we’ve worked together in the same company since 1996,” said Stephen Einhorn, president and chief operating officer, New Line Home Video, New York. “Warren is extremely strategic, analytical and very results-oriented. He has an extremely global perspective of the motion picture business and approaches the business of motion picture distribution as an organic process.”
Mr. Lieberfarb chalks up much of his success to his early educational and occupational training, both of which tend to be heavily weighted toward analytics. But his “entrepreneurial side” drives his efforts to find new ways of doing business.
“I like the stimulus of being analytic and acting upon that analysis when it suggests change,” he said. “I’m comfortable with going against the grain.”