2008 VIDEO HALL OF FAME PROFILE: Henry McGee
President, HBO Home Entertainment
By Laurence Lerman -- Video Business, 12/8/2008
2008 inductees for Video Business' Video Hall of Fame
When the home entertainment division of HBO, a subsidiary of Time Warner, was created in 1984, programs were issued to the domestic market in the magnetic tape format, sporting their own unique monikers of the era, VHS and Beta. HBO Home Entertainment president Henry McGee, who has headed the division since 1995 and is approaching his 30th year with the corporation, was on board back in those bygone Betamax days, just as today he is pioneering his label’s leap into the new frontiers of digital product, distribution via the Internet and manufacturing-on-demand technologies.
“Often, people say, ‘It’s a long time to spend at one company.’ Well, even though the name Home Box Office is on the door, the company is very different today than it was when I joined,” says McGee.
What was once a single channel that was not even on 24 hours a day, HBO has matured into a vast network of seven branded channels: HBO, HBO 2, HBO Signature, HBO Family, HBO Comedy, HBO Zone and HBO Latino—all of which funnel product into the HBO Home Entertainment pipeline.
McGee’s first position with HBO found him acquiring foreign-language and independent films for exhibition on the channel, an early experience that undoubtedly sparked his interest years later in the home entertainment sector in the form of such successful arthouse acquisitions as Maria Full of Grace, Real Women Have Curves, American Splendor, La Vie En Rose and Elephant along with the surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Though the company was originally most identified with its slate of theatrical features, HBO has produced original programming since the late ’70s (remember the football comedy 1st and Ten?). It has been the HBO programs of the past decade or so—comedies such as Entourage, Da Ali G Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm, dramas such as From the Earth to the Moon, The Wire, Big Love, Carnivàle, Six Feet Under and Rome, and the cultural landmarks Sex and the City and The Sopranos—that McGee and his division have taken and capitalized on in the rapidly expanding worldwide DVD marketplace.
Acting on the international growth and potential of DVD, McGee was instrumental in the expansion of the division, with the creation of a London-based office in 2003. Today, the global audience has grown to more than 70 countries and, according to McGee, international business accounts for a solid third of HBO Home Entertainment’s revenue.
The growth and continued strength of the TV DVD market can be directly attributed to McGee and the release of HBO’s premium programming over the past decade, be they individual seasons or elaborately packaged “Complete Series” boxed sets, which have proven to be desirable commodities for collectors.
The best-selling TV DVD title of all time remains HBO’s Band of Brothers. Released in 2002, it has brought in more than $200 million and was just issued in the Blu-ray Disc high-definition format.
“One of the exciting things about HBO is that we’re already using the new technologies,” says McGee, who has always been one to tap the latest media advancements and enhancements for his division. “The new technology—and here I’m thinking of Blu-ray and BD Live—allows the consumer greater connectivity and immersion with the filmmakers and artists and their programs.”
In 2006, HBO was in fact the first company to release TV programming in Blu-ray. Currently, HBO is planning the Blu-ray version of the network’s latest hit series, the Southern-fried vampire melodrama True Blood, as well as other BD releases.
Under McGee, HBO Home Entertainment was one of the first labels in the industry to use the Internet in its marketing, launching its first Web site, HBOHomeVideo.com, in 1995. And this past year, the label began to sell digital downloads of its titles via the Internet, along with strengthening its documentary output (consisting of titles from HBO and sister network Cinemax) via manufacturing-on-demand, which allows HBO to produce the exact amount of stock of titles per customer without risking retail returns.
McGee views manufacturing-on-demand as a major alternative to traditional DVD distribution to retail, be it in-store kiosks or as an off-site venture. He feels, quite simply, that it “lets us open up the number of titles we can do.”
McGee’s involvement in the arts is not limited to his position overseeing the distribution of some of the country’s finest TV programming. Living in New York City, McGee is the president of the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation, the nation’s largest modern dance organization, and serves on the boards of both the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Black Filmmaker Foundation. In the past, he has served as a trustee of the Sundance Institute, the Studio Museum in Harlem and the New 42nd Street, the organization that oversees the revitalization and management of seven historic theaters in Manhattan’s Times Square.
“For me, it’s a twin balance—commerce at HBO and the arts,” says McGee. “I’m in a happy situation in my life in that my professional and personal interests are the same.”
Among his awards and honors, McGee was named one of New York’s Top 100 minority executives by Crain’s New York Business in 1998, and that same year, he was elected a fellow of England’s Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce. In 2002 and again in 2007, Black Enterprise Magazine named him one of the 50 most powerful African-Americans in the entertainment business. In 2004, the Harvard Business School African-American Alumni Assn. honored McGee with its Professional Achievement Award; McGee received his B.A. from Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Also in 2004, the Video Industry AIDS Action Committee selected him as a recipient of its Visionary award.
“Henry’s many years of foresight and creativity have set a standard of quality throughout the video industry,” says Bill Nelson, chairman and CEO of HBO. “His extraordinary talent, leadership and pioneering efforts have put HBO Home Entertainment in a place of prominence and success. All of us at HBO congratulate him on his induction into the Video Hall of Fame.”
“My induction into the Video Hall of Fame is as much about honoring the entire HBO team—it’s an extraordinary group of people, and I’ve had the great privilege of leading them,” says McGee.