After 17 years at Walt Disney Studios and breaking multibillion-dollar industry records at the global box office for the Burbank, CA lot, Dave Hollis, President of Worldwide Distribution, will leave the company in May as he becomes CEO of Chic Media, a company established by his wife Rachel Hollis who is an author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur.
At the same time, studio president Alan Bergman has announced that 24-year Disney veteran Cathleen Taff has been promoted to EVP Theatrical Distribution, Franchise Management and Business & Audience Insights, and will take over management of theatrical distribution from Hollis, who will stay at the studio until May and assist with the transition.
This new, expanded role brings under one umbrella the global theatrical distribution, franchise management, and consumer insights and analytics for the studio’s collection of films from Disney, Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm. Taff currently leads franchise management and business and audience insights, and will maintain oversight of those areas.
Taff’s promotion is also a notable breakthrough for women in studio distribution, which has largely been a male-populated arena with previous female distribution chiefs including Universal’s Nikki Rocco and Warner Bros’ Sue Kroll, who recently segued from her role as President of Worldwide Marketing and Distribution to being a producer on the lot.
“The creation of this new role is a significant step in more effectively supporting and expanding the presence of The Walt Disney Studios’ world-class collection of filmmaking studios, and Cathleen Taff is the perfect person to take it on, having demonstrated an expansive knowledge of our business, incisive creative instincts, and boundless resourcefulness over the course of her multifaceted career at Disney,” said Bergman in statement. “Having worked closely with Cathleen for over 20 years, I know her to be a savvy business executive and a skilled team and relationship builder who is greatly respected across the board by colleagues and filmmakers. I could not be more thrilled to work with her as we continue to evolve our Studio business.”
Prior to her most recent role at Disney, Taff headed up Integrated Planning and Franchise Management, driving collaborative efforts across Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Company to maximize the value of the studios’ brands and creative properties. She previously led the Disney Music Group as SVP/General Manager from 2009-2013 and was SVP/Controller of Walt Disney Studios from 2003-2008.
“It’s an exciting time at our Studio as we continue to chart new territory in so many areas, and when we approached the idea of more closely aligning our robust global distribution operation with our franchise and analytics work, we saw a compelling opportunity to further leverage the strengths of these fantastic teams,” Taff said. “I’m honored to take on this unique role and, most of all, thankful to be working with the best people in the business, who represent, to me, the limitless possibility that makes Disney special.”
Hollis had been the head of Disney’s theatrical distribution since January 2011 when he took over the reins from then-25-year vet Chuck Viane, who retired at the time. Talk about going out on a high note. What box office records didn’t Disney break during Hollis’ tenure? In 2016, his department led the studio to an all-time industry record of $7 billion globally, $3 billion worldwide in a calendar year. Last year, Disney became the only major Hollywood studio to surpass the $6 billion mark worldwide twice. Hollis has seen 12 Disney releases clear north of $1 billion at the global box office, and one over $2 billion (Force Awakens) during the last seven years.
After the studio came out from the weathered Rich Ross era to become a franchise behemoth with Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar and Disney Animation and Disney live-action, Hollis and his team ensured all the brands resonated at the box office to jawdropping results. After Star Wars was dormant for quite some time, The Force Awakens went on to post the best opening ever ($247.9M) and highest-grossing film overall at the domestic B.O. ($936M). Disney owns eight out of the top 10 best opening at the domestic B.O., and 10 out of the top 20 global openers.
Recently, Disney/Marvel’s Black Panther posted the second best four-day opening ever at the domestic B.O. with $242.1M after Force Awakens’ $288M, and it would not be a surprise if Black Panther clears $1 billion at the global B.O. and beats Avengers ($623M) as Marvel’s top pic at the domestic B.O.
Prior to becoming Disney’s global distribution boss, Hollis was known for moving up the VOD/DVD window by 30 days with Disney’s 2010 $1B success Alice in Wonderland.
Hollis also spearheaded Disney’s innovative Cinema Partnerships initiative, collaborating with exhibitors to enhance the theatergoing experience through custom branded content programs and offerings. Hollis has a reputation as a nice guy, one with a keen sense about how this business of ours works. As streaming, mobile, video games and social media have stolen away the under 25 audience, and left many scratching their heads, Hollis has been able to cut a swath through the noise and have Disney’s event films sing at the box office. Disney has held the line in the industry’s push to introduce a premium PVOD window, one if it ever encroached on theatrical, could impact the business entirely.
“I am very thankful to Dave for his dynamic and fearless leadership of our distribution organization, which has seen our Studio to incredible heights at the worldwide box office, culminating in our three biggest years on record and, in 2016, the biggest year in industry history,” said Bergman. “We are very sad to see him go but wish him and his family all the best.”
Hollis, who is moving to Texas to spearhead Chic Media, said: “I can’t count the number of ‘pinch-me’ moments I’ve had in my time at Disney, and in a world where so few opportunities could compare, the chance to support my wife and help grow her company was something I couldn’t pass up. It’s been an honor to work with such amazing people over these past 17 years, and I am deeply grateful for each and every one of these friendships and experiences as my family and I embark on the next chapter in our lives. One of those remarkable people is Cathleen Taff – I could not be passing the torch into more bold, capable, or caring hands.”
At Chic Media, Hollis will oversee the expansion of all aspects in books, events, speaking and product partnerships. Rachel Hollis is the author of Girl, Wash Your Face which came out in February and is Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller. She’s a motivational speaker, called the “Tony Robbins for women,” and has been a regular on Hallmark’s Home and Family, a regular contributor on The Steve Harvey Show, Nate Berkus Show, Harry Connick Jr Show and has appeared on Today, Rachel Ray, The Talk, Extra as a lifestyle expert. She’s had product on QVC, and is a spokesperson for brands like Rubbermaid, the Dairy Board, Huggies and Wal-Mart. Her second cookbook is hitting storeshelves in May and her next non-fiction book Sorry, Not Sorry will be released in the spring 2019. She was previously named one of Inc Magazine’s Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30.