The Walt Disney Co. has undergone a reorganization of its executive ranks, moving the well-regarded marketing maven Ricky Strauss to President, content & marketing, for the upcoming Disney SVOD service while 14-year studio veteran Asad Ayaz has been named to the President of Marketing post (filling Strauss’ previous post). In addition Cathleen Taff, who has been taking on responsibilities of outgoing distribution chief Dave Hollis, has a new title — president of theatrical distribution, franchise management and business & audience insight.
The moves come as Disney is gearing up for its SVOD service which is set to launch in late 2019. Ayaz will report to Walt Disney Studios President Alan Bergman. Strauss will report to Kevin Mayer, chairman of the Direct-to-Consumer and International (DCTI). Taff, who took over in March from Hollis, will also report to Bergman.
It’s important to note that OTT programming chief Agnes Chu (who had previously worked for ABC creating original content for digital platforms) will continue in a key position as senior VP of content for Disney’s SVOD and will now report to Strauss. Strauss will be responsible for all facets of content marketing for the service while President of Disney’s Streaming Service Michael Paull will oversee product technology, distribution, customer acquisition and lifecycle marketing.
Moving Strauss to the SVOD service is a big vote of confidence in the executive who has led Disney’s marketing on the theatrical side with strong campaigns for many of the blockbuster live-action and animated films that has pumped through distribution including the Star Wars and Marvel movies, Disney’s The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast and Frozen and Inside Out, to name only a few. It’s also a vote of confidence in Ayaz, who has been a strong part of Strauss’ marketing team for a long while.
“We are fortunate to have a wealth of talented leaders at The Walt Disney Studios, and even as the wonderful Ricky Strauss takes on a new role for Disney’s streaming service, the elevation of our own Asad Ayaz and Cathleen Taff provides continuity of leadership alongside new and diverse perspectives that keep our business ahead of the curve,” said Alan Horn, Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios.
Disney’s strong commitment to its streaming service has been evidenced by the kind of product it’s been readying for release. The studio ended its output deal with Netflix to put its muscle into its own direct-to-consumer service. And in terms of direct-to-consumer, there is no company with the years and years of experience that Disney has. It is one of the most recognizable brands in the world and its licensing and merchandising prowess really has no equal and many other companies, throughout the years, have tried to copy its model.
For the SVOD service, the studio plans to use both its established brands such as Lady and the Tramp, Sword and the Stone, 3 Men and a Baby, High School Musical, Monsters, Inc. as well as one of the most anticipated projects — the Star Wars series from Jon Favreau — along with new product such as Stargirl, Noelle and The Paper Magician, Timmy Failure and Don Quixote — to populate its film and TV programming.
Strauss is highly-regarded in marketing circles in town and is well-known. He has been in the industry for about 25 years and joined Disney in 2012 after a seven-year stint as President of Participant Media. Ayaz was previously exec VP of head of theatrical marketing for Disney’s live-action releases (since 2011) and then took over animation marketing oversight, too, working closely with Strauss.
“We’re so thankful for Ricky’s leadership, and when it came to pass the torch, it was clear there is no one more equipped or deserving to take the reins of our marketing organization than Asad Ayaz, who has been a key driving in evolving our marketing strategy and mobilization,” said Bergman.
Taff most recently oversaw the release of Incredibles 2, which was yet another success story for the studio after the family superhero film opened to $183.2M to become the best animated opening of all-time, beating the record set by the studio’s own Finding Dory ($135M) in 2016. She has been at Disney for 24 years and previously headed up the Integrated Planning and Franchise Management division and before that led the Disney music Group from 2009 to 2013. She was also an SVP/Controller for the Studios for five years.