Ending months of speculation and weeks of deal-making, Disney this morning officially announced the top TV executives from 21st Century Fox who will transition to Disney following its $71.3 billion acquisition of key Fox assets. As expected, the list includes 21st Century Fox president and Chairman & CEO of Fox Networks Group Peter Rice, Fox TV Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf and Gary E. Knell, CEO of National Geographic Partners. Also moving to Disney are the top executives from 20th Century Fox TV, Jonnie Davis, Howard Kurtzman and Bert Salke. All will carry on their current Fox duties until the Disney deal is completed, expected by early 2019.
Also as expected, missing from the list is Fox TV Group chairman and CEO Gary Newman who is in final negotiations to remain at “Fox” for a period of time and oversee the broadcast network as it ushers in a new era as an independent.
As rumored for awhile, Rice, who has been named Chairman, Walt Disney Television and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks, will be leading the TV linear entertainment content business of the combined company. He will work alongside Disney’s Kevin Mayer, Chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, and Bob Chapek, Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products.
Reporting to Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger, Rice will oversee the ABC network, ABC Studios, the ABC Owned TV Stations Group, Disney Channels, Freeform, 20th Century Fox Television, FX Networks and FX Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, and the National Geographic channels. He succeeds Ben Sherwood who is set to depart as co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney|ABC Television at the close of the Disney-Fox transaction.
It is unclear how exactly 20th Century Fox TV and ABC Studios would mesh together. For the time being, the two studios and their executive teams are expected to remain relatively intact and operate as different labels under one umbrella as indicated by Rice’s title.
Reporting to Rice will be Walden, who has been named Chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment; Landgraf, Chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions; Knell, Chairman of National Geographic Partners; Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Channels Worldwide; and James Goldston, President, ABC News.
Walden will oversee the combined TV mega studio, comprised of 20th Century Fox TV and ABC Studios, as well as ABC, Freeform and the ABC Owned & Operated stations. Landgraf and Knell will continue to lead their network groups as they migrate from Fox to Disney. The appointments, led by Rice and Walden, signify a total takeover by Fox of Disney’s TV assets which will now be run by Fox executives.
Joining Walden at Disney will be 20th Century Fox TV: President of creative affairs Jonnie Davis and President Business Operations Howard Kurtzman as well as Fox 21 TV Studios president Bert Salke. They will work alongside ABC Studios president Patrick Moran.
Reporting to Walden in the new structure will be Channing Dungey, President, ABC Entertainment; Moran, President, ABC Studios; Davis and Kurtzman, Presidents of 20th Century Fox TV; Bert Salke, President, Fox 21 TV Studios; Tom Ascheim, President, Freeform; and Wendy McMahon, President, ABC Owned TV Stations Group.
While the leaderships of the 20th TV and ABC Studios remain intact for the moment, it is still clear that there will be layoffs, including executive departures, in the combined TV studio operations. Disney is targeting about $2.6 billion in cost-cutting by eliminating redundancies and laying off at least 5,000 people, 2,300 on the Fox side and 1,700 on the Disney side, in TV and film combined. (Some insiders and analysts have peg the number of pink slips at 5,000-6,000 or even more.)
Landgraf is expected to bring in his core team who have been together for more than a decade. Because FX Networks has kept a pretty lean operation and because there is nothing like it at Disney — an adult-focused basic cable network and streaming platform — that division is expected to be among the least impacted by cuts. Expected to follow Landgraf to Disney are FX presidents Nick Grad, Eric Schrier and Chuck Saftler, while Nat Geo Networks CEO Courteney Monroe is expected to join Knell.
“The strength of 21st Century Fox’s first-class management talent has always been a compelling part of this opportunity for us,” said Iger. “Upon completion of the acquisition, this new structure positions these proven leaders to help drive maximum value from a greatly enhanced portfolio of incredible brands and businesses.”
Iger acknowledged Sherwood who has led Disney’s TV division for the past four years. “I want to personally thank Ben Sherwood for his years of service at ABC and Disney,” he said. “Ben has been a valued colleague, and I deeply appreciate his many contributions and insights, as well as his professionalism and cooperation in this transition.”
The announcement of the post-merger executive structure comes two months after the formal Fox shareholders vote approved of the transaction. It follows lengthy negotiations that are said to have included the consideration of potential additional areas of oversight for Fox executives, including sports and streaming. Today’s announcement was originally expected last Monday but was ultimately postponed by a week.
In part in anticipation of the expansion with the Fox acquisition, Disney in March reorganized its operations, adding to the portfolios of Mayer and Chapek, dividing the company’s operations into three big areas, distribution, led by Mayer, experiences, led by Chapek, and content.
Rice and Mayer both have been rising star executives at Fox and Disney, respectively, so it is logical for them to be considered potential successors to Iger.
“I love making television and have been fortunate to work with incredibly talented executives and storytellers,” Rice said. “Disney is the world’s preeminent creative company, and I look forward to working for Bob, and with his exceptional leadership team, to build on that amazing legacy. I also want to thank Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch for the privilege of working on such a wide array of movies and television, both entertainment and sports. It has been a wonderful thirty years.”