Skip to main content

The Pirates' Foe

Warner Bros. chief anti-piracy executive Darcy Antonellis is a captain of her own ship—literally. She has a captain's license from the U.S. Coast Guard, a high standard of boating excellence, and enjoys zooming around the open waters of Southern California, where she lives.

Metaphorically, this all makes particular sense: One of Antonellis' jobs, as senior VP of worldwide anti-piracy operations for Warner Bros. Entertainment, is to find video and entertainment pirates and bring them to justice.

She has put a lot of effort into China and the rest of the Far East, where many of the pirates reside. To combat the production and sale of illegal DVDs, Warner Bros. recently set up its own DVD-distribution business in China. Instead of the cheap quality and illegal $1 DVDs that Chinese consumers can buy, Warner Bros. offers a $2 alternative: a stripped down version with no director's comments, deleted scenes or extra content.

So far, Warner has made some inroads, says Antonellis. But there is much work still to do. Chinese politicians are loath to change much of the way that nation's multibillion-dollar entertainment business is structured; jobs, graft and a still-developing understanding of intellectual-property rights all play a part.

Warner Bros. is unique among many big studios and content providers. It was the first studio to name an anti-piracy chief, and Antonellis' groundbreaking work is why she is receiving a Technology Leadership Award.

But her job doesn't just stop at catching thieves.

She, her team and others at Warner Bros. have an important role in inking digital/Internet/broadband deals for content. That comes from her other job at Warner Bros.: executive VP of distribution and technology operations.

Why put these two jobs together? “We wanted to have a corporate group to be completely sensitized with the commercial issues at hand,” Antonellis says.

Her group was responsible for doing deals with two Internet peer-to-peer–technology companies last year—companies that were originally on the wrong side of the copyright-issue debate: and Far and away the biggest is BitTorrent, which has access to about 165 million computer users worldwide—the largest site for peer-to-peer downloads.

“BitTorrent was an example of a bad actor turning to a good actor,” says Antonellis. “They have delivered on everything they promised. We thought it made sense to offer our content in places that we traditionally don't. We'll look at certain commercial relationships—if nothing else than to provide us with good examples to show to legislators.”

On the technology side, Antonellis is also spearheading Warner Bros.' part in an agreement with Universal Pictures and the big theater groups—Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Inc. and Cinemark USA—to distribute HD-quality movies into newly digitally equipped movie theaters.

Antonellis has deep and wide technical experience. Before arriving at Warner in 1998, she was VP of technical and Olympic operations for CBS, holding senior positions at three Winter Olympics broadcasts: Albertville, France; Lillehammer, Norway; and Nagano, Japan.

Chris Cookson, president of Warner Bros. Technical Operations/chief technology officer for Warner Bros. Entertainment, has been her longtime boss.

“We have been together about 19 years,” he says. “I must have liked her work because I hired her three times—CBS twice [and once at Warner Bros]. I had the misfortune of someone hiring her away from me, so I had to hire her back.”

When asked how much time Antonellis devotes to her two jobs—anti-piracy and technical operations—Cookson says about “75% each.”

“Each one is a full-time job,” he explains. “I can't imagine any other person doing so well with both jobs.”

Her other boss, Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, says, “She has an MBA from Fordham as well as an engineering degree. As you look at the skills for an executive of Darcy's type, both are extremely important. It's one of her greatest strengths.”

With so much piracy in the world, Antonellis always seems to be on a plane these days. As a result, she has far less time to be on her boat or run marathons—although, after a long absence from racing, she recently squeezed in time to run a fourteenth marathon.

She wouldn't have it any other way: “This is an amazing time in our industry—all the uncertainty, all the changes to come. It's a defining time for our business,” she adds. “That scares the heck out of some, us included sometimes. But it is something I really, really love.”