BREAKING, refresh for updates… 40-year-plus entertainment industry vet Rob Friedman has relinquished his daily duties as the co-chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group and has been named Special Advisor to the Office of the CEO, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer announced today. Friedman has long guided Lionsgate’s most important releases with a serious and respected background in marketing and helped to identify and shepherd through some of its most successful franchises. He also would be a familiar voice on all of the Lionsgate earnings calls with Wall Street analysts and was a relied-upon executive helping to map out overall strategy for the company.
The Motion Picture Group will continue to be run by co-chair Patrick Wachsberger, Motion Picture Group co-president Erik Feig, Lionsgate Co-COO Steve Beeks, Chief Brand Officer & President of Worldwide Theatrical Marketing Tim Palen, President of Acquisitions & Co-Productions Jason Constantine and President of Domestic Theatrical Distribution David Spitz.
Without the strength of Friedman, the company is going to be interesting to watch as he was a key executive on many fronts, with a depth of experience from years working inside Lionsgate, Warner Bros and Paramount, and it would not be surprising if the executive would head back into Viacom/Paramount to help run the struggling company alongside Tom Dooley.
“Our current Motion Picture Group leadership has the complementary skills and forward-looking vision to capitalize on opportunities in a dynamic global marketplace,” Feltheimer said. “They are the right team to continue to accelerate the momentum of our slate and to lead our film business to the next level of performance.”
Friedman leaves at time when the Lionsgate has two buzzed-about Oscar contenders: La La Land and Hacksaw Ridge, which got outstanding reviews after their debuts at the Venice International Film Festival.
The move also comes after Lionsgate/Summit distribution exec Richard Fay left the company for Broad Green Pictures to head up its distribution division, but one source said that was just coincidental timing.
“Rob has played an integral role in leading the successful growth and diversification of our Motion Picture Group over the past four years, and he has helped assemble one of the strongest and most exciting film slates in our history,” said Feltheimer in a statement. “We look forward to his continued guidance and counsel in navigating a fast-changing industry environment. In his capacity as my Special Advisor, he will be working closely with me on our OTT platforms, Atom Tickets partnership and other new ventures.”
Lionsgate has had its up and downs over the past year. This year, the company’s $4.4 billion cash-and-stock agreement to buy the premium network Starz has been an important part of its overall strategy as John Malone expands his reach inside the company from about 3.4% to 7.5%.
However, in the wake of its Hunger Games juggernaut ending last year, Lionsgate has struggled to find its next big cinema franchise and has dealt with a string of misfires including Gods of Egypt (production cost $140M, $31M domestic), Now You See Me 2 ($65M domestic) and The Divergent Series: Allegiant, which performed so poorly at the box office ($110M production cost, $66M domestic), Lionsgate decided to shop around the final installment of the YA series to TV networks versus a big-screen release.
Lionsgate also has had some nicely done hits this year with the low-budget thriller Nerve, which has been a favorite of the young girl demo and has grossed $67.7M worldwide. Lionsgate/CBS’ critically acclaimed Hell or High Water also has surprised, grossing $20M to date, as has Now You See Me 2, which has grossed a big $331.4M worldwide.
This weekend Lionsgate has Blair Witch opening to $14M-$17M, but it’s not supposed to perform as strongly as the other horror films we’ve seen this summer, i.e. Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out, nor does its opening scream “potential franchise.” Lionsgate ended the 2015 domestic B.O. down 10% from the previous year with $665.5M. However, the final Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 repped 41% of its year, and with an upcoming awards slate that also includes American Pastoral and the highly anticipated Deepwater Horizon, it’s likely the label will weather another down year.
Other upcoming releases include the Boston Marathon bombing drama Patriots Day, which was done in partnership with CBS Films; John Wick: Chapter 2, a sequel to the 2014 Keanu Reeves actioner that grossed $86M worldwide; The Shack, based on the bestselling faith-message book; Saban’s Power Rangers franchise; the firefighter hero film Granite Mountain; My Little Pony; and the next installment of the stalwart Saw franchise.