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Ross shuffles Disney execs

Restructuring hits marketing, distribution, operations

Rich Ross’ new team is taking shape at Disney.

A month after taking the reins as chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, Ross on Wednesday unveiled an overhaul of the company’s marketing, distribution and operations arms that looks more like the upper ranks at a TV network than a studio.

With four senior execs overseeing key divisions and reporting directly to Ross, it’s a model that the former head of the Disney Channel is certainly familiar with. It also reflects the mindset of Walt Disney Co. president-CEO Robert Iger, whose background is in TV and who has frequently introduced ideas to shake up traditional studio habits.

Bob Chapek, formerly Disney’s homevideo boss, will now serve as president of distribution, managing the delivery of films and TV shows across multiple platforms, including theatrical, home entertainment, pay TV and digitally. The amount of duties are new for the post.

Chuck Viane continues to handle theatrical distribution and reports to Chapek.

The new title is a major promotion for Chapek, who has been key in driving Disney’s homevideo biz, a major moneymaker for the studio.

He also was instrumental in getting the studio to distribute more of its films and TV shows through new digital distribution methods, including on Apple’s iTunes service, over the years. It’s an area that Iger is especially interested in exploring further, now that studios are starting to re-evaluate the current state of release windows.

“Bob Chapek has been at the forefront of new technology for many years, and has the expertise and track record to guide and consolidate our future distribution efforts,” Ross said.

With technology expected to play a major role in delivering entertainment, most notably digitally, Disney has created the post of chief technology officer, with former Pixar tech guru Greg Brandeau filling that role. He had overseen technology at Pixar Animation from 1996 through 2001 and again starting in 2004.

As Disney focuses more heavily on exploiting its top brands, oversight of its key franchises like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” will now be handled by Walt Disney Studios prexy Alan Bergman, who also oversees the Muppets Studio and Disneynature docu label. He also guides post-production, business affairs, legal affairs and finance.

The development and production of live action features will continue to be headed by Oren Aviv as president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, who will now also oversee physical production.

Ross still needs to tap a marketing prexy. The studio is in an unusual position of not having a marketing exec at all, with Mark Zoradi having resigned as president of worldwide marketing and distribution of the Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group on Monday, and studio marketing prexy Jim Gallagher no longer at the company because of the restructuring moves.

A new marketing maven is said to be announced shortly. It’s a post Ross is especially keen on, considering he was hands-on when it came to marketing franchises like “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana” while at the Disney Channel. The hire, who will shepherd campaigns for live-action and animated films, as well as pics released by Miramax, DreamWorks, and the home entertainment arm, is likely to come from outside of the Mouse House, those close to the company said.

Ross also needs to tap an exec to oversee Miramax Films after Daniel Battsek said he will ankle as prexy of the specialty label at the end of January. Moving forward, Miramax will only produce three pics per year.

The restructure came as Disney is set to announce its third-quarter earnings today.

“A certain amount of change is inevitable as we move to adopt a new strategic approach to the way we make, market and deliver our films.” Ross said in a statement. “The way today’s audiences and consumers experience our movies, home entertainment, and other multi-platform programming is rapidly changing as new technology offers more options than ever before. The studio restructuring will embrace new possibilities and opportunities, and find innovative ways to provide quality entertainment that is readily available.”

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