CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves has hired a top creative executive to oversee his fledgling movie division, which aims to make four to six films a year with budgets of as much as $50 million apiece.
Amy Baer, who had been a senior production executive at Sony's Columbia Pictures for the last nine years, will oversee the development, production, acquisition, marketing and distribution of the movies in her new role as president and CEO of the CBS unit. She expects to come aboard in the next few weeks.
CBS plans to form an in-house distribution operation to release its movies in the U.S.
Baer said she intended to make a wide spectrum of "concept-driven, emotional" movies for a broad audience, not unlike those she oversaw at Sony, including such hits as "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Something's Gotta Give" and "My Best Friend's Wedding."
Moonves launched CBS Films in March after eyeing the movie business for more than a year. In January 2006, Sumner Redstone split his entertainment empire, with CBS spun off as an independent company from Viacom Inc. and Paramount Pictures.
Despite the volatility of the movie business, Moonves saw it as an opportunity to diversify CBS and reduce its dependence on television and radio advertising and syndicated programming sales. The CBS chief also believes that owning movies as well as TV shows will give CBS more leverage in a digital world.
In an interview Tuesday, Moonves said CBS' cable network Showtime would also benefit financially from owning its movies rather than exclusively relying on its outside studio suppliers Paramount, Lions Gate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
Moonves was noncommittal about whether he planned to renew Showtime's output deals with those studios when they expire over the next year and a half.
Asked why he opted to have CBS handle its own theatrical domestic distribution rather than put the films out through Paramount or another major studio, Moonves said: "It gives us more control over our destiny and it's a better economic deal" in that it cuts out having to pay a third party distribution fees.
Baer is the second hire at CBS Films. In March, Moonves brought aboard former Paramount executive Bruce Tobey to oversee business affairs, legal, finance and video distribution.
Moonves said Tobey was working closely with CBS' New York-based business executives to line up outside financing for the movie unit. "We're talking to all the usual suspects," said Moonves, noting that the group included banks and private equity investors. The CBS chief said that he already had "many financing offers on the table."
"The good news is that we now have our two key people in place and CBS has some cash to get this launched," Moonves said.
Baer said she planned to hire a small staff of production and marketing executives, but she vowed to run a "lean and mean" operation. Baer previously worked at Sony's TriStar Pictures from 1992 to 1997 and before that at Guber-Peters Entertainment Co. She began her industry career at Creative Artists Agency in 1988 as an assistant to the late agent Jay Moloney.