Conventional wisdom has it that you have to move along to get ahead in the corporate world. But don't tell that to Eric Frankel, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution (WBDCD). He has been with one division of one corporation his entire 22-year career. He started as a publicist. Now he runs it.
One of the first letters Frankel wrote after graduating from college in 1979 was to Ed Bleier, the Warner Bros. executive who had the job of selling movies to the broadcast networks and the fledgling cable industry.
In some respects, the two were kindred spirits: Both had gone to Syracuse University, and both had an entrepreneurial outlook at an early age. Frankel, for his part, had been the college concert booker/promoter and figured out ways to put on 35 concerts a year on a $50,000 budget. Finding sponsors helped a lot, he recalls. He also worked at a local radio station and sold cable TV door to door.
Frankel spelled Bleier's name wrong in the letter, but that didn't seem to bother the Warner exec. Instead of tossing the résumé, he passed it around to some industry colleagues, much to Frankel's amazement after he realized his error and also heard from some of those colleagues.
Frankel wrote Bleier again (spelling his name correctly) and aggressively pushed for a job. "The next thing I know, I get a phone call asking me when I was going to be in New York."
They met, and Bleier made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Bleier was creating an advertising/publicity position. He told Frankel the job was his—on a three-month probationary basis: If it worked out, fine; if not, chalk up an experience to put on the résumé.
Well, it worked out. About 13 years later, Frankel became Bleier's No. 2 and, nine years after that, succeeded him, moving the New York-based unit to Burbank, Calif., in the process. "I guess I passed the test," he jokes.
Bleier retired at the end of 2000 but remains a senior adviser to the company. "When you semi-retire," he says, "you take enormous pleasure and satisfaction that your protégé has done brilliantly."
Frankel's goal is to see that the division continues to grow. If he can seal more deals like the one with Disney for the first two Harry Potter
movies, growth is all but assured. Estimated at $130 million to $140 million, it's a record for a two-movie back-end deal.
Frankel has made a career of working back-end cable and satellite rights to Warner Bros.' program library, which comprises nearly 5,000 feature films, 750 TV series, 560 made-for-TV movies, 100 miniseries and 600 specials.
His clients number about 75 distribution entities, and not just the Disneys and HBOs of the world. He persuaded the National Football League to run movies on what would otherwise be a barker channel for its pay service offering season-long packages of games to out-of-market viewers. Tech TV airs off-network series Max Headroom. And Animal Planet bought Gorillas in the Mist.
The client base is likely to expand dramatically as advertisers seek new ways of reaching customers. One example: Sears Roebuck & Co. was a serious bidder for the Harry Potter
rights, says Frankel.
Typically rising at 4:30 or 5 a.m., he spends the first couple of hours thinking not just about the day ahead but also about innovative ways to market the library.
"Marketing is critical to this business," he says. "Whether it's to make sure that our clients know about a particular film or television series in our library or it's providing marketing support to our clients' broadcast, we really place a great deal of importance on support of the product. We're partners, and we share in their success as well as their failure."