Ann Sarnoff is about to become the new chair and CEO of Warner Bros. – and the first female chief in the studio’s storied history.
Sarnoff’s appointment was announced on Monday by John Stankey, the CEO of WarnerMedia, which is also the parent company of CNN Business.
Sarnoff is currently the president of BBC Studios Americas, with about a decade of experience at the BBC. She previously held executive roles at Dow Jones, the Women’s National Basketball Association, and Viacom.
“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 in a statement.
A female studio chief is a rarity in Hollywood, even though the industry’s trade association says women account for 51% of moviegoers in the United States.
The gender gap behind the camera – from the writer level to the C-suite – has been a glaring problem in the industry for decades.
The announcement comes three months after the previous head of the movie and TV studio, Kevin Tsujihara, stepped down amid an investigation into allegations about an improper relationship with an actress.
At the time, Tsujihara said he was proud of his decades of work at Warner Bros. but believed that “my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s continued success.”
Stankey thanked him for his service and said “Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the Company’s leadership expectations and could impact the Company’s ability to execute going forward.”
While WarnerMedia searched for a new CEO, the studio was managed by three of its top executives – Toby Emmerich, Peter Roth, and Kim Williams.
A company spokesman said Monday that all three will remain in their roles, reporting up to Sarnoff.
Stankey thanked them on Monday and said “it’s clear that Ann becomes part of a team that is second-to-none.”
Sarnoff – described by entertainment industry news outlets as a surprise pick – is joining Warner at an incredibly complex time.
The studio’s parent company is investing heavily in a streaming TV and film service that will launch in beta by the end of the year. A full launch is expected in early 2020.
In an interview with Deadline, she said the studio’s main challenge is to “emotionally connect with our audiences and build a connection that can last into future generations.” Her point about the audience: “They’re experiencing entertainment differently than any generation previously.” She described Warner as an “amazing institution” and a “solid base” to grow from.
WarnerMedia officials said Sarnoff brings a wide variety of experience with TV, film, streaming video, marketing, distribution, and other facets of the business.
She also happens to have a famous last name, one that calls to mind David Sarnoff, a broadcasting pioneer who has been called the “father of American television.”
David Sarnoff is a great-uncle of Ann’s husband Richard, a top executive at KKR.