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Disney Video Chief Bill Mechanic Expected to Be Next Fox President

September 25, 1993|CLAUDIA ELLER and JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Twentieth Century Fox is expected to name Bill Mechanic, the chief architect of Walt Disney Co.'s hugely successful home video operation, as its new president.

Mechanic, 43, will fill the vacancy created in June when former Fox President and Chief Operating Officer Strauss Zelnick left to head a Silicon Valley high-tech firm, Crystal Dynamics. An announcement of Mechanic's appointment is expected next week.

Mechanic, a nine-year Disney veteran, could not be reached for comment on the expected move. Neither could Disney. Fox Chairman Peter Chernin declined to comment.

Sources said Mechanic accepted the job because of the larger responsibilities and the chance to advance within the global empire of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox. He will report directly to Chernin, whom he knows from their days as pay TV executives.

While Mechanic will not be given the chief operating officer title Zelnick held, he will have broader responsibilities. He will oversee all operations of the company, which include production, marketing, distribution, music and foreign activities. Mechanic will also have authority over Fox's pay TV and video operations.

Mechanic, whose title at Disney is president of international theatrical and worldwide video, is a highly respected executive who, in addition to home video, oversees international theatrical distribution and pay television.

His chief contribution has been the mass merchandising of Disney videos, one of the company's most profitable businesses. Ironically, his decision comes just as Disney is about to release "Aladdin," which may be its biggest seller yet.

Mechanic in April suggested that "Aladdin" could become the first videocassette to sell more than 30 million copies, eclipsing the more than 20 million copies of "Beauty and the Beast" sold by Disney. Securities analysts are projecting that "Aladdin" video sales could gross as much as $400 million for Disney, contributing $200 million or more to its pretax profit.

Some of Mechanic's Disney colleagues expressed surprise that he would leave, because he has such an important, and presumably lucrative, position.

Mechanic has worked with Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner and studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg since their days at Paramount Pictures more than a decade ago. He set up Disney's direct video sales organization and established Buena Vista International Theatrical Distribution, which was formed after Disney ended a foreign venture with Warner Bros. Before Disney, he worked in pay TV at Paramount and SelecTV.

Several senior Fox executives said they are thrilled to have Mechanic on board.

"He's a perfect fit," said one Fox insider. "He's a long-term strategic thinker. He's very, very analytical; he studies trends and does his own research. So for him, being at a company with a global position is really an exciting challenge.

"He's someone who understands programming, strategic positioning of all sequential markets and the impact of video on pay TV," the source said.

As for Mechanic's replacement, the front-runner appears to be Ann Daly, now president of Buena Vista Home Video and one of the highest-ranking women at Disney. An 11-year veteran of the operation, Daly has been taking an increasingly visible role at Disney and has been instrumental in helping Mechanic build Disney's home video operation. A Disney executive said the company is "losing a great piece of manpower" in Mechanic, but said he is leaving a solid organization in place.

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