As expected, longtime Warner Bros. pay-per-view and television executive Edward Bleier will retire at the end of the year, handing the studio's future video-on-demand business over to its home-video division.
Bleier-currently president of the studio's Domestic Pay-TV, Cable & Network Features unit-will remain a consultant for the studio on all aspects of marketing and programming, including PPV.
Warner Bros. will dissolve the division and place all responsibilities under the company's Los Angeles-based home-video president, Warren Lieberfarb.
But PPV-division executive vice president Eric Frankel and senior vice president of sales, planning and business affairs Jeff Calman will continue to handle PPV duties, according to sources close to the situation.
Bleier will end a full-time, 31-year career with Warner Bros., during which he oversaw the studio's entry into broadcast television, pay TV and PPV.
Many industry observers credited Bleier as one of the forefathers of the PPV business and with developing new markets and program-distribution windows for the various distribution technologies.
Bleier was one of the first studio executives to implement upfront guarantees for top PPV titles in return for better PPV windows.
More recently, Bleier has been very outspoken about the development of the VOD business, which he believes could become a major revenue source for both operators and studios if implemented correctly.
He believes the industry is at a crossroads with VOD and the threat of emerging technologies such as the Internet, similar to the launch of DirecTV Inc.'s near-VOD service several years ago.
DirecTV has gone on to take a significant amount of PPV-movie revenue from the operators with its NVOD and sports packages, and Bleier believes the Internet could do the same with VOD in several years if the industry drags its feet in launching VOD.
"I think the ball is in cable's court, " he said last week. "The technology works, but the operators need to establish VOD within a two-year window before the Internet comes in and establishes itself. VOD can generate a good $15 to $20 per month in incremental revenue from a good percentage of digital households."
To assure the greatest financial gains from VOD, Bleier said, the industry needs to work with studios to attempt to shrink home-video windows so that VOD will eventually run day-and-date with home video and DVD releases.
"But unless the industry gets to a guarantee and revenue-sharing model, [operators] will never get day-and-date [titles] with home video, and they will waste the potential of VOD and NVOD," he added. "With VOD's functionality, the operators will be able to [make up] that guarantee easily."
Bleier didn't know how Lieberfarb-who will oversee the operations of the studio's competing home-video and VOD businesses-would handle the windows issue, but said he would hand a pro-VOD philosophy to Lieberfarb on his departure.
Bleier joined Warner Bros. in 1969, when he primarily worked with the three original broadcast networks, but he soon became a leader in the development of pay TV, basic-cable networks, PPV and VOD.
Prior to Warner Bros., Bleier worked at ABC Inc. for 14 years, in a number of roles within the broadcast group.