Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution Taps Werner for Top Job

Aug 28, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Last week marked a changing of the guard at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, and a changing of the guard for the syndication business as a whole.

Veteran television distribution and WB executive Ken Werner is taking the reins as president of the company. He assumes the role held for 17 years by Dick Robertson, a 40-year veteran of the business who was one of the original architects of the barter advertising model.

With Telepictures Productions President and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution Executive VP Jim Paratore leaving the executive ranks to form a new production company based at Warner Bros., one of the most prolific syndication suppliers and distributors is going through a significant management transition. But a change at the top doesn’t mean there will be an immediate change in how the company is run, Mr. Werner said.

“Change? That would be foolish,” Mr. Werner said in an interview with TelevisionWeek last Wednesday. “It’s not like anything’s broken. This is the premier distribution organization.”

What is changing is the nature of the TV syndication business, which is grappling with rising costs, declining viewership and the impact of digital platforms such as the Internet, iPods and cellphones.

“Some people think it is not a positive time,” Mr. Werner said. “But challenge like this provides huge opportunity.”

Mr. Werner declined to go into specifics on who would replace Mr. Paratore or his plans in terms of capitalizing on the new digital platforms. “It’s too early to discuss,” he said. “I don’t have a schedule. They couldn’t even get me a temp.”

But the key to Warner Bros.’ continued success in syndication is its programming and marketing, he said.

“What we need to do is be attuned to the marketplace,” Mr. Werner said. “Last year, if we were having this interview, it was a totally different world. What Warner Bros. needs to do is continue to produce the best content possible. The key elements a viewer cares about is being entertained and having some way of understanding it.”

For 2006-07, Warner Bros. will distribute seven first-run series, including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Extra,” “Judge Mathis,” “The Tyra Banks Show” and newcomer “The Dr. Keith Ablow Show.” Off-network programs include “Will & Grace,” “Sex and the City,” “Without a Trace” and one of the top comedies in syndication, “Friends.”

Mr. Werner said he has no overarching philosophy when it comes to the TV business, noting that “if you’re too doctrinaire of all of this, you can’t respond to the marketplace.”

“What prescribes success is a process,” he said. “You see where the opportunities present themselves.”

Mr. Werner, who had been executive VP of distribution for The WB since 1997, increased The WB’s coverage in the U.S. from 56 percent to 94 percent during his tenure with the network. Recently he has been working on the rollout of The WB’s broadcast successor, The CW.

Mr. Werner would not discuss the specifics of how he got his new job, but he had been in discussions with his boss and longtime colleague, Warner Bros. Television Group Bruce Rosenblum, about finding his next gig after spending years on the network side, sources said.

Mr. Werner’s top lieutenant at The WB, Elizabeth Tumulty, was named senior VP of network distribution for The CW in May.

The selection of Mr. Werner is a classic Warner Bros. executive move—going for an out-of-the-box choice with an in-house perspective, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group.

“In some ways I was surprised, but in other ways, given what he’s been able to do for them at both The WB and now The CW, it’s not surprising,” Mr. Carroll said. “If they were looking in-house and looking in a different direction, they would look at someone without a specific role in The CW but a role within their organization.”

A strong corporate background with stints at CBS, Walt Disney Television and Buena Vista TV make Mr. Werner a good choice for the top job at Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution, said Chuck Larsen, president of distribution consulting company October Moon.

“It’s a positive,” Mr. Larsen said. “Ken has a diverse background in television, and certainly a solid background in management and business. That’s extremely important in this marketplace. You need a businessman in there.”

Mr. Larsen also alluded to the legacy Mr. Robertson leaves after selling more than 100 series and 40 movie packages in his career.

“Dick Robertson is not an easy act to follow,” he said, “but Ken’s going to do fine.”