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Fox Will Be Ready to Close Disney Deal Jan. 1, Says Peter Rice (EXCLUSIVE)

Fox will be logistically ready for its pending mega-deal with the Walt Disney Co. to close Jan. 1, top exec Peter Rice told employees Wednesday. According to sources present at a town hall meeting on the Fox lot in Los Angeles, Rice reiterated that the deal is still on track to close sometime in the first half of 2019, either in the first or second quarter. But he said that structure of New Fox — down to elements such as human resources and payroll — will be ready to go by Jan. 1. Regulatory processes will likely drag the ultimate closure beyond that date.

Rice, the 21st Century Fox president who is set to join Disney as a top TV exec when the deal closes, was joined onstage by John Nallen, the 21st Century CFO. Nallen is set to become COO of so-called New Fox, the company that will be spun out of the remaining Fox assets not being picked up by Disney.

Rice also assessed the uncertainty generated by the agreement — which appeared endangered earlier this year when Comcast made its own, ultimately failed play for Fox — but sought to buck up both those staying at Fox and those moving under the Disney umbrella. He and Nallen fielded questions in person and online, with Rice handling the Disney-related questions and Nallen answering those pertaining to New Fox.

Many questions related to shared services — jobs that may straddle both companies. Rice acknowledged that the deal will lead to employee layoffs. The impression left was that layoffs will be contained to those divisions going to Disney, with New Fox units such as Fox Sports, Fox Broadcasting, and Fox News being less affected.

Handling a question about the potential for culture clash, Rice noted that Disney has successfully absorbed multiple organizations in the past. Acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm notably kept the unique cultures of those organizations largely intact. Rice also touted Disney’s creative bona fides — calling it the only media conglomerate founded by an artist rather than a telephone or cable company.

The town hall was the first of two slated to take place today on the lot, with the second scheduled for 3 p.m. Other top Fox executives on hand included Fox Television Group’s Gary Newman and Dana Walden, and FX’s John Landgraf.

The town hall took place as the shapes of New Fox and post-deal Disney are beginning to come into focus. Disney announced Monday that Rice will, as anticipated, join the company as head of its entertainment TV operations after the acquisition closes. Serving as chairman of Walt Disney Television, he will be joined by Walden, who will report to him as chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment. Other top Fox TV execs, including Landgraf and National Geographic’s Gary Knell, are also set to head to Disney.

Fox earlier this month unveiled a new top executive team led by CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Nallen. On Monday, the company announced that Hope Hicks, a former White House aide to President Donald Trump, will take over as head of corporate communications next year.

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