There’s a shakeup in Disney’s marketing ranks.
As part of the overhaul, longtime studio marketing chief Ricky Strauss has been named president, content and marketing, for the upcoming Disney streaming video on-demand (SVOD) service, a Netflix rival that is set to launch in late 2019. He will be replaced as marketing president by Asad Ayaz.
The moves had been rumored for some time, particularly after Ayaz was approached for and turned down top executive jobs at Fox and Paramount. The official announcement was made after a Thursday morning meeting at the studio’s headquarters. By promoting both men, Disney is able to keep two of the most widely coveted executives on its Burbank lot and, more importantly, out of the leadership suites of its rivals.
In his new role, Strauss will oversee the development of the service’s original programming and will manage production partnerships and acquisitions. The hope is to offer a compelling alternative to other streaming services by producing content with high production values. Projects reportedly being eyed for the streaming service include a film version of Don Quixote, a series based on “High School Musical,” a live action Star Wars series from Jon Favreau, and “Noelle,” a fantasy comedy with Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader. But there are risks, namely that Disney is forgoing billions of dollars in pure profit as it unwinds its licensing deals in order to launch the streaming service with the best of its own movies and shows. There’s some thought that Fox, which Disney is trying to acquire, will help populate the service with films and other programming.
The promotions aren’t the only major changes at Disney. In March, Cathleen Taff was named to lead the studio’s global theatrical distribution, replacing veteran Dave Hollis, who left to work on his wife Rachel Hollis’ company, Chic Media. Taff now serves as president, theatrical distribution, franchise management, and business and audience insights. The studio also said that Agnes Chu will continue in a key leadership position as senior vice president of content for the service, reporting to Strauss.
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The moves come at a time of great transition in executive suites all across Hollywood. The pending sale of Fox means that many leading executives, a group that includes studio chief Stacey Snider, vice-chairman Emma Watts, and Fox Searchlight heads Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, will either be making the trek to Disney or will be displaced. That means they could find a new home at one of the other major studios or at tech companies like Apple or Amazon that are moving more deeply into producing their own content.
It also unfolds as several studios have overhauled their leadership teams, particularly on the marketing side of the equation. Last spring, Warner Bros. ousted marketing chief Sue Kroll and replaced her with the more digitally savvy Blair Rich. Sony Pictures recently parted ways with domestic marketing head Christine Birch following a staff mini-revolt over her alleged pot smoking and caustic behavior. And Lionsgate recently replaced marketing guru Tim Palen with Sony executive Damon Wolf.
Both Strauss and Ayaz are well respected for their work promoting Disney films, having been tasked with bringing everything from Pixar to Star Wars to the masses. They’ve been aided by the fact that Disney continues to dominate the film landscape. The studio recently crossed the $2 billion mark at the domestic box office, the fastest it has ever reached that milestone. Recent hits include “Incredibles 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Black Panther.” The studio did have a rare misstep with this summer’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which has the ignoble distinction of being the first film in the franchise to lose money.