A week into the new era at Disney following the completion of the Fox asset acquisition, the company’s new top TV executive, Walt Disney Television chairman Peter Rice, addressed the combined company’s TV troops in a town hall meeting on the Disney lot, which was live streamed to all employees from Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, across the ABC owned TV stations and beyond.
As we reported, outside of TV distribution (domestic and international), which had been expected to undergo reductions to eliminate redundancies, the merged Disney-Fox TV operations had been largely spared of layoffs, with the 20th Century Fox TV, Fox 21 TV Studios and ABC Studios teams left intact so far. That was in stark contrast to the exodus of high-profile Fox movie executives last week.
The lack of post-merger cuts has helped with morale among the TV ranks but it also has heightened anxiety over when and how the TV layoffs will be implemented. Naturally, Rice was asked to address that.
He said that there were no plans for wide-scale layoffs on the TV side. He acknowledged that some duplication exists but did not elaborate when cuts may be coming and largely downplayed the possible downsizing.
Rice echoed the thoughts he shared in his first memo as a Disney TV chief last week that the combined TV studio operation is “a massive creative engine providing entertainment, news and information to fuel the company’s networks, streaming platforms and direct-to-consumer service.”
With so much demand and so many platforms within the Disney-Fox portfolio, including the upcoming direct-to-consumer service Disney+, that will need high-quality TV content, Rice indicated today that it makes no sense to scale down TV development and production but instead they could expand even further.
Craig Hunegs, President of Disney Television Studios, who oversees the combined TV production units, 20th Century Fox, Fox 21 TV Studios, ABC Studios/Signature, last week hinted that they will continue to function as stand-alones, with no current plans to consolidate them as some had feared. While Rice did not directly address the issue, he also stated that having multiple entry points for talent within the company is part of the strategy and did not speak of consolidation.
Rice previously received high marks for his Fox town halls in the months following the announcement of the Disney-Fox deal, where he revealed his favorite Disney character, Goofy. His first Disney town hall also got thumbs-up, with attendees noting that he came across as well prepared, smart, funny, charming and transparent, answering all questions honestly.
Rice stuck to one of his trademarks, opening with a joke, something he also did in his memo last week, which started with his admission that he “managed to make it to Disney today without getting lost.”
The British-born executive started his presentation by sharing that, to make everyone feel at home, he was planning to deliver his speech in an accent from Mary Poppins, a nice plug for one of Disney’s highest-profile titles.
In his memo last week, Rice urged everyone “to introduce yourselves to your new colleagues.” He took that a step further at the town hall with a bonding exercise, asking everyone present to introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them.
On other topics, Rice listed Netflix, AT&T and Comcast as Disney’s biggest competitors in terms of scale. He noted that the company has a head start in the streaming wars with Hulu, which is now majority owned by Disney, and referenced remarks by Disney’s Bib Iger and Kevin Mayer that the company is interested in taking full control of the streaming platform but would not elaborate on that.
Rice also said that there are no plans to rebrand FX and that animation is now in the mix for other networks.
Rice’s pitch echoed some of the pep talk in his memo last week, in which he hailed the scale of the combined TV business “It includes 257 ongoing and forthcoming shows, 258 Emmy nominations last year, and a monthly audience reach of 227 million people in the US alone,” he wrote. “We are home to some of the most powerful brands in television, and with the full weight of the company behind us, we have the opportunity to target these brands globally at a scale that’s never been possible before.”