Warner Bros. UK & Ireland chief Josh Berger exits, Polly Cochrane promoted

Polly Cochrane & Josh Berger

Warner Bros. UK, Ireland and Spain president & MD Josh Berger is stepping down after more than 30 years at the company, with Polly Cochrane promoted to take up part of his remit.

Berger, who is also president of Harry Potter Global Franchise Development, will leave in December, with Cochrane – who was most recently EVP & Group marketing director for Warner Bros. UK and Ireland – now becoming country manager for the territories.

Priya Dogra

Streaming restructure continues

She reports into Priya Dogra, who was recently announced as head of WarnerMedia EMEA & Asia (excl. China) as part of the company’s focus on streaming.

Cochrane’s remit includes overseeing theatrical distribution, content licensing, home entertainment, consumer products, as well as ad sales and affiliate distribution for the WarnerMedia channels.

She will work closely with teams in the US and across Europe, including the WarnerMedia EMEA leadership team, which includes recently promoted country managers Iris Knobloch (France, Benelux, Germany, Austria and Switzerland), Barbara Salabè (Italy) and Pierre Branco (CEE, Nordics, the Middle East, Turkey and Africa), who is also head of affiliate and ad sales for EMEA.

The senior team also includes Hannes Heyelmann and Antony Root, who respectively lead the general entertainment programming and original production remits, while Pedro Cosa continues to lead data and insights for networks. Lesley Bailey and Cecilia Persson continue as leaders of the central EMEA kids and young adults team, with a dual report to Dogra and Tom Ascheim, president of kids, young adults and classics for WarnerMedia.

The reorganisation follows the announcement in August that WarnerMedia was bringing the international operations of Warner Bros., HBO and Turner under one leadership for the first time, with Gerhard Zeiler, to whom Dogra reports, named as head of WarnerMedia International.

Dogra said: “Polly brings a strong and inclusive leadership style, combined with a proven innovative approach to driving our beloved brands and franchises. As she takes on this broader set of responsibilities, our business will benefit from her wealth of experience in the UK media sector. I’m looking forward to tapping into the fresh thinking she will bring to the table.”

Gerhard Zeiler

Berger departure

The reshuffle comes at a turbulent time for WarnerMedia, which unveiled  a vast restructuring process this summer in a bid to deal with the fall-out from Covid-19 and as part of its re-focusing on DTC streaming. Earlier in October, the AT&T-owned company started the process of shedding thousands of jobs in a bid to cut costs by as much as 20%.

It also marks the end of Berger’s longstanding tenure at the US studio, where he had been for 31 years. He first joined the international TV arm of Lorimar-Telepictures, which was bought by Warner Bros. in 1989.

He then moved to the UK 24 years ago to oversee all TV activities for EMEA and in 2002 became the company’s first country manager, taking control of the UK and Ireland. Berger added management of Spain to his responsibilities in 2009 and has headed up the country’s Spanish-language production hub, which has been behind Lo Imposible, Palmeras En La Nieve, and Villaviciosa De Al Lado.

Berger has also managed the expansion of the Harry Potter global franchise since 2014 and was appointed chairman of the British Film Institute in 2016, having been a BFI governor since 2011. He was also a key figure in Warner’s 2012 acquisition of Leavesden Studios and helped to launch the Warner Bros. Creative Talent programme to develop diverse, emerging talent from all backgrounds.

He will remain as an advisor to senior management until the middle of 2021 for the Harry Potter franchise, in his capacity as an executive producer on the third instalment of the Fantastic Beasts film series and upcoming BBC documentary Fantastic Beasts: A Natural History, among other projects.

Zeiler, head of international at WarnerMedia, said: “Josh is one of the most respected people in the industry. He has been integral to the ongoing success of our Warner Bros. businesses in the UK, Ireland and Spain, and has been an incredible steward to the Harry Potter franchise.

“He was also the first Warner Bros. country manager, pioneering the model which shapes the international organisation today. It is fair to say, that thanks to his leadership and energy our company is for sure better off today. I respect his desire to take on new challenges and, along with all of our colleagues across the company, wish him the very best.”

Berger added: “Over the last 31 years at Warner Bros., I’ve been lucky to see every part of that process in action. I’ve seen ideas being formed and deals being struck, magic being made in front of the camera and behind it, and stories being told from – and sent to – all corners of the earth. I’m so grateful to all my colleagues for making this place feel like home for so long and wish them all the best for the future.”


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