Barbara Salabè (above) is Warner Bros. Italy’s Country Manager responsible for all Warner Bros.’ businesses in the beautiful Southern European country. We recently caught up with Barbara for a quick Q&A. Read on to learn more about WB Italy and the local media industry.
Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to Warner Bros. Italy?
I consider myself a truly European executive. My background is bicultural—Italian and German. I grew up in Italy and then moved to Germany, where I ultimately graduated in Economics. I did some extensive travelling but thereafter mostly lived in Italy. Over the past 24 years, I have worked for Italian, German, French, American and Dutch companies. My professional development was mainly with start-ups in the new markets of the media industry.
In 1996, I was part of the start-up of the second Italian Pay-TV platform Stream. In 1999, I launched Turner Italia which was the company’s foray into kids’ TV in Italy.
Before joining Warner Bros., I was responsible for the Italian start-up Stage Entertainment, the leading European musical production company. It was a great honor when, in November 2011, I was asked to join Warner Bros. as President & Country Manager of Italy and I consider this appointment the epitome of all my professional experiences.
How does Warner Bros. fit within the entertainment industry in Italy?
The Italian media industry is traditionally a late adopter of technology and modern marketing techniques and lagged behind other markets in the consolidation of distribution outlets. As a result, in our main business areas of theatrical, digital and retail, we still have a very fragmented market but, paradoxically, a three-player TV market.
Warner Bros. is the leading content company in the entertainment industry in Italy. Our strong position was built, throughout the years, thanks to the superb product lineups in every entertainment sector, giving us undisputed cross-category leverage thanks to the high level management and distribution skills of the local team.
Today, we outperform our competitors by maximizing the “one company” integrated approach, which allows us to address consumer needs and desires and drive innovation.
Last year’s achievements reflect the first results of our integrated activities. In a theatrical market dominated in the past by Italian distributors RAI and Medusa—local films can reach up to a 37% market share—Warner Bros. Pictures was #1 for the second year in a row. Our distribution of Sony Pictures titles and several very successful local productions contributed toward increasing our market share by 9%.
We are also growing all our physical businesses through integrated marketing and sales activities at retail: Home Video is now #2, growing by 4% market share; Games is #7, climbing 10 positions and up by 3%; and Consumer Products has a solid second rank despite the consumption crisis in Italy.
TV distribution represents the backbone of all our sales and marketing activities. We have a long-term partnership with Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster, Mediaset, which mainly depends on our products to program its free and pay TV outlets. Mediaset is also our structural ally in local content production. Most of all we’re proud of our digital distribution achievements. Italy is a heavily pirated market, but we are now the leader on all global and emerging local platforms, and have set the market benchmark for the development of a strong and appealing legal offer in Italy.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for Warner Bros. Italy in the coming years?
Warner Bros. Italy’s overall growth driver is to maximize all opportunities generated by the integrated company approach. This means taking leadership in digital innovation, franchise and lifecycle management, kids and family entertainment and local content.
Local films are an important area of development and growth. Italian audiences are very receptive to local content and the good performance of recent comedies (“Un Boss in Salotto,” €12.3million/$16.7 million USD) encourages us to continue on this path.
Digital development is one of the biggest opportunities, especially over the next few years as finally a good anti-piracy law has been implemented (March 2014).
We also believe in our retail and physical market, particularly in the kids and family category. These products, if sustained by proper lifecycle and marketing activities, could have a longer life in Italy than in more digitalized countries.
The only potential barrier I can see is the current weakness of the Italian economy. However, after three years of recession, consumption is finally recovering this year. If this trend continues nothing can stop us.
Tell us something people may not know about you.
I wanted to be lead singer in a rock band – but I’m tone-deaf …
Since joining Warner Bros. Italy, you have implemented a number of big developments – the bringing together of the offices in Rome and Milan, the creation of a integrated marketing and sales functions, and the acquisition of Medusa Home Entertainment. Can you talk a bit about these and what they have meant for the company in Italy?
All the developments of the structure I have created in the last two years represent an effective response to the radical change of consumer habits and the media convergence in the entertainment world. Changing the organization to be in sync with the market changes is one of the answers to the question: “How do we grow our businesses?”
The Warner Bros. offices in the U.K., Germany, France and Spain transformed into integrated operations some years ago. Italy, as said before, is generally a late adopter. Therefore, the market and consumer changes started to impact our businesses just a couple of years ago. At that point, and with my arrival, it was natural to adopt a more integrated structure in Italy.
Being the last territory to adopt an integrated structure was actually quite fortunate. It gave me a big advantage, as I had the chance to listen and to learn from my fellow Country Managers and, hopefully, to implement the best possible model for the Italian environment.
The basic assumption of our structure is as follows: If our consumer integrates their entertainment consumption across all platforms with less and less time lapses, then we need to build a department that is able to constantly and adequately connect with their needs, desires and aspirations. We know that a Group Marketing function is the core tool to respond to these consumer needs by promoting and keeping our products “hot” through the full lifecycle. This includes cross-divisional strategies for our theatrical slate, franchise management of DC Entertainment and Harry Potter, and a greater focus on family and kids’ entertainment.
Reorganizing some of the sales and distribution functions around this new consumer-driven approach was natural: we merged into one division all our physical retail businesses and created a separate digital distribution entity that works closely with TV. Our consumer goes to a movie theater, goes shopping and watches content on screen. All divisions served, supported and guided by a centralized Group Marketing.
Moving part of our staff from Milan to Rome was an implicit consequence of this strategy: a head office in Rome encompassing all distribution, marketing and corporate functions with a smaller sales office in Milan for the retail distribution of our physical product. Also, after 40 years in the same place, we finally moved into new functional offices in Rome.
During these changes, our TV partner, Mediaset, offered to sell us the home video division of their theatrical distribution company, Medusa. We responded positively as we felt it was a great opportunity to increase our leverage in a declining home video market. In fact, the acquisition of the Medusa business has significantly improved our shelf space with the main retailers and also our results. Moreover, the home video distribution market is consolidating with a positive impact on the business as the decline is now flattening.
Photo and Q&A courtesy of Warner Bros.