Warner Bros. picks BBC’s Ann Sarnoff as new CEO, first woman to lead its movie studio

BBC executive Ann Sarnoff was named chief of Warner Bros. on Monday, making her the first woman to head the movie studio in its 96-year history. Her appointment follows the departure in March of Kevin Tsujihara, who stepped down after misconduct allegations.

WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announced Sarnoff’s hiring, concluding a three-month search for one of Hollywood’s most prized roles. Many had expected WarnerMedia to turn to an experienced film executive such as movie-division head Toby Emmerich, who was part of the interim committee running the studio after Tsujihara’s departure, Disney veteran Anne Sweeney or former Fox chief Stacey Snider.

But to the surprise of much of the industry, WarnerMedia turned to Sarnoff, who has worked primarily in television. Sarnoff, who takes over as chief executive and chair of Warner Bros., is currently president of BBC Studios Americas. She has previously been a top TV executive at Viacom and with the WNBA.

“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. “Ann has shown the ability to innovate and grow revenues and has embraced the evolution taking place in our industry.”

In March, Tsujihara stepped down following claims that he promised roles to an actress with whom he was having an affair. His attorney denied that Tsujihara had any direct role in the woman’s hiring, saying he was departing to avoid being a distraction.

Sarnoff takes over one of the most storied studios in Hollywood. In recent years, the Walt Disney Co. has surpassed Warner Bros. as the market leader, pushing the latter to an increasingly distant second. The studio this year has continued the turnaround of its DC Comics films with “Shazam!” though its big summer movie, “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” has underperformed.

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