What kind of a boss will Disney be?
That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to assuage anxieties. Many employees arrived at Fox’s Century City lot expecting the worst. The Fox and Disney merger is expected to result in as many as 4,000 lost jobs.
The ax has yet to fall, but many staffers believe that pink slips could be handed out this week. There are rumors that some employees will be asked to stay on for a transitional period while others will be given severance packages almost immediately. Employees who are staying on expect to be told who they will report to by Thursday.
Murdoch’s new Fox Corp. held on to the 20th Century Fox lot in the sale process. Disney has a seven-year lease with Fox Corp. to continue housing the 21st Century Fox businesses that it has just acquired. The bifurcation of the consolidated Disney-Fox operation has led to speculation about where the senior executives will settle over the long term: Burbank or Century City?
Walt Disney Studios president Alan Bergman and chairman Alan Horn were expected to be on the lot for meetings. Dana Walden, chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, started her day on the Fox lot.
So far, communication has been limited to a note from Disney CEO Bob Iger, which seemed to allude to the deep staffing cuts to come.
“Our integration process will be an evolution, with some businesses impacted more than others,” Iger wrote. “We’ve made many critical decisions already, but some areas still require further evaluation. We may not have answers to all of your questions at this moment but we understand how vital information is, and we’re committed to moving as quickly as possible to provide clarity regarding how your role may be impacted.”
Iger has visited Fox’s offices for one-on-one and group meetings in the months leading up to the sale’s close, but he was not seen on the lot on Wednesday.
Employees were also contacted by human resources with a link to a portal detailing Disney’s organizational structure and outlining key benefits.
On Monday, shortly before the sale was finalized, Fox staffers received a note from Murdoch, who thanked them for being part of the studio’s history. It was one of the first solo letters staffers had received from the mogul in months — he typically co-signed his missives with sons Lachlan and James.
“For decades we have been a catalyst for change, driven by an aversion to complacency, a sense of curiosity about the world and an abiding embrace of bold ideas,” Murdoch wrote. “Together, over decades we have charted new territories, served customers across continents and shaped a bright future for our businesses.” He also emphasized that he sees both businesses poised to “flourish in years to come.”
Lachlan Murdoch appears to be moving aggressively into the future, one that will see him try to leverage Fox News, Fox Broadcasting, and Fox Sports into a media player that will lean heavily on sports and breaking news. For the foreseeable future, Fox Corporation will be sharing space with FX Networks, Searchlight, and whatever becomes of the 20th Century Fox film and TV production operations. That could be awkward, as staffers wondered if communal areas such as the commissary will be accessible to both Fox Corp. and Disney employees.
Lachlan Murdoch made it clear who owns the physical space. Greeting employees driving to the lot on Wednesday was a banner that read: “Welcome to Fox.”
Murdoch is set to host a town hall for Fox Corp. employees on Thursday morning. Fox Corp. also announced plans for an investor conference to be held on May 9. Disney is preparing for an investor presentation on April 11 to detail its post-merger plans for launching the Disney Plus service by year’s end.