21st Century Fox president Peter Rice held the first of two town hall meetings on the lot today to reassure Fox Networks Group staffers amid jitters related to the pending acquisition by The Walt Disney Co. of key Fox assets, including 20th Century Fox movie studio, 20th Century Fox Television TV studio and FX Networks. There were no pressing issues on the agenda, with Rice just providing an update on the process (and also revealing his favorite Disney character — it’s Goofy).
While there had been some optimistic early estimates that the deal, announced last December, could go through regulatory approval faster, Rice told Fox employees that the transaction will most likely be completed by spring-summer 2019 and end of summer 2019 at the latest. That would fall within the conservative 18-month initial projection (The original expectations were that the deal would close in 12-18 months).
The remaining Fox assets, including Fox Broadcasting Company, national sports cable networks FS1 and FS2, Fox News Channel and the Fox stations, will form a new company, previously referred to by Rupert Murdoch as New Fox. Today Rice jokingly called the slimmed-down post-merger group “Diet Fox” in response to a comparison an attendee made between New Fox and New Coke. He noted that the new company will likely be called Fox. Rice expects that management changes at Fox would be announced first — over the next 12 months — because that company has to be up and running on the day the Disney transaction comes through.
Rice also reiterated comments he as well as Fox TV Group chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman had made in the past couple of months that it will be business as usual for Fox Broadcasting Co., but the network will evolve over time while continuing to be “an exciting entertainment network.”
Post-merger, FBC will be separated from 20th TV, which provides 70% of its programming and also dominates its development for next season. While live programming and sports are expected to be a major part of the evolved FBC, as underlined by Fox’s recent deal for Thursday Night Football, the network also plans to license shows from studios, Rice said. TNF makes Fox NFL’s most important partner with 40% of the viewership across broadcast and cable, he noted.
The post-deal Fox will remain based in West L.A. and Disney will be leasing offices on the Fox lot for the next 7 years. For those moving to Disney, the transition should be seamless, while for those staying, it will be an “exciting time” as the new Fox would be a focused, nimble and well capitalized company set up for the future, Rice said.