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Rich Ross restructures Walt Disney Studios

The new chairman's moves reflect his focus on cultivating entertainment franchises and finding fresh ways to reach audiences through technology.

November 12, 2009|Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz

Just a month after being named chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Rich Ross has carried out a broad restructuring of marketing, distribution and operations to reflect a focus on cultivating entertainment franchises -- and finding new ways to reach audiences through technology.

The moves underscore a new set of priorities for the studio driven by Ross and Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger, who has taken a renewed interest in the film business since ousting former Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook in September.

Ross on Wednesday recruited a veteran of Disney-owned Pixar Animation Studio to fill the new post of chief technology officer and promoted the longtime home entertainment head, who has been instrumental in developing new digital distribution platforms.

Jim Gallagher, president of marketing, was pushed out as part of the shake-up. A new head of marketing will be announced, with a broader mandate that will include live-action movies, animated films and home entertainment. That person will report directly to Ross, people close to the situation said.

About 20 other studio employees also were laid off Wednesday.

"The studio restructuring will embrace new possibilities and opportunities and find innovative ways to provide quality entertainment that is readily available," Ross said in a statement. He declined to comment further.

Home Entertainment President Bob Chapek was elevated to president of distribution, a newly created post that for the first time will put a single executive in charge of all outlets for Disney movies, including theaters, DVD, pay television and new media.

Chuck Viane will continue to oversee theatrical distribution, drawing on his deep ties to movie theater owners, but will now report to Chapek.

The new structure, a first for any major studio, is designed to allow Chapek and his team to potentially wring more value out of films by coordinating marketing strategies that encompass all distribution platforms.

Concerned about shifting consumer patterns in entertainment, Iger has championed a shake-up of traditional distribution strategies, including shortening the traditional three month-plus delay between the time a movie debuts in theaters and when it reaches DVD.

Chapek recently spearheaded an initiative at Disney called KeyChest that would make it easier for consumers to pay for a movie once and watch it on multiple digital devices.

As part of the reorganization, Greg Brandeau, who was senior vice president of technology at Pixar, is taking the newly created role of chief technology officer at the studio. At Pixar, his team created the digital pens and pencils that artists use to make films and oversaw e-mail, networks and other technological infrastructure.

Alan Bergman, a 13-year veteran who is president of Walt Disney Studios, retains that title and adds the responsibility of managing "studio franchises," reflecting former Disney Channel Worldwide chief Ross' focus on brands that can be utilized by other divisions within the company, including consumer products, video games, television and theme parks.

Production President Oren Aviv, whose future has been the subject of speculation in the industry, retains his job overseeing the making of live-action movies. In the past, he has been associated with such studio hits as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Wild Hogs" and "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." This year, however, Disney's slate has had several costly flops, most notably the guinea pig action movie "G-Force" and "A Christmas Carol," which opened last week to a soft $30 million in domestic ticket sales.

Pixar and Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter reports directly to Iger, and President Ed Catmull reports to Iger and Ross.

Since Cook's departure, the troubled movie studio has rapidly shed executives who were close to the former chairman. Daniel Battsek, president of specialty label Miramax, was ousted in October, while Mark Zoradi, who oversaw worldwide marketing and distribution, left Monday.

His departure, along with Gallagher's on Wednesday, suggests that Ross and Iger have been dissatisfied with recent marketing efforts.

One example frequently cited throughout the company was a lavish and apparently unsuccessful six-month whistle-stop train tour for "A Christmas Carol."

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dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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