Fox Layoffs: Distribution and Marketing Leaders Out

Chris Aronson, Heather Phillips, Julie Rieger, Mike Dunn, Andrew Cripps among executives in first wave of layoffs.

A Brinks armored truck pulls into the lot of 20th Century Fox in Century City, Califorinia USA, 14 December 2017. The Walt Disney Company announced plans on Thursday to purchase most of the assets of 21st Century Fox (the parent company of 20th Century Fox) for approximately 52.4 billion USD (44.5 billion euro).Disney to Buy 21st Century Fox for 52 Billion USD, Century City, USA - 14 Dec 2017

Layoffs have hit Fox following the entertainment company’s sale to Disney.

The staff cuts are hitting employees at the SVP, EVP, and president level. Senior staff is expected to be among the first to be impacted. However, the cuts will be deep, with the ax falling hardest of Fox’s film team. There could be as many as 4,000 jobs cut in the merger, according to some reports. On the studio side, the first wave of job losses is relatively small and targeted.

One of the most prominent names to lose his post is domestic distribution head Chris Aronson, a fixture at Fox, who was given his 60 day notice on Thursday. The blunt-spoken Aronson helped oversee the rollout of such Fox hits as “Life of Pi,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Kingsman.”

“It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the domestic distribution team, which I consider to be the gold standard in the business,” Aronson said in a statement. “While I am disappointed not to continue, I look forward to starting a new chapter in this business during this exciting time of change.”

Heather Phillips, EVP and head of domestic publicity, and Mike Dunn, president of product strategy and consumer business development, were also let go. Phillips was at Fox for a total of almost 10 years, over two stints, overseeing theatrical publicity and awards campaigns. Dunn previously served as president of home entertainment worldwide. He was seen as being a prescient leader at Fox, who was quick to understand the power of digital distribution. As an executive, Dunn helped bridge the divide between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, securing partnerships with the likes of Google and Amazon.

Fox’s marketing leadership was also hit hard. Pam Levine, worldwide theatrical marketing president, Kevin Campbell, co-president of worldwide theatrical marketing, and Tony Sella, chief content officer, have all be let go. Levine was previously chief marketing officer at HBO and had another stint at Fox serving as co-president of domestic theatrical marketing. Campbell was previously head of marketing for Amblin Partners. At Fox, he was very involved in the selling of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and its awards campaign. And Sella is on his second tour at the studio. His first one ended in 2013 after 23 years. His second kicked off in 2018. In between, Sella and Fox Network Group formed a joint venture, All City that created branded marketing campaigns.

Before joining HBO, Levine held several positions at Twentieth Century Fox, including nine years as Co-President of Domestic Theatrical Marketing, spearheaded the launch and growth of blockbuster franchises such as X-Men, Ice Age, and Night at the Museum. She jointly led marketing for over 140 movies, including The Devil Wears Prada, Walk the Line, Borat, Alvin and The Chipmunks, Marley and Me, The Simpsons Movie, Taken, and Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time.

Julie Rieger, the studio’s chief data strategist and head of media, is among those pink slipped. She had played a critical role in building Fox’s data management program and was part of an effort to give the studio a better understanding of its customer base. Hanno Basse, chief technology officer at the film studio, has been laid off.

Andrew Cripps, president of international distribution, has been let go. He joined Fox in 2016 after a stint at Imax overseeing its international operations. Cripps also served as president of Paramount Pictures International.

Danny Kaye, the head of the Fox Innovation Lab, has also been dismissed. The lab worked with emerging technologies for production and post-production and served both Fox film and TV arms with programs like augmented reality.

Dan Berger, executive vice president of corporate communications, was among those laid off. Berger was previous head of corporate communications at DreamWorks Animation and held a number of senior communications roles at 21st Century Fox.

Distribution also appeared to be hit severely on the TV side, where longtime syndication vet and Twentieth Television president Greg Meidel was cut.

Meidel had served as president of Twentieth TV for nine years, heading up all first run, network and off-network programming and distribution for domestic syndication, media sales and the MyNetworkTV programming service. It was his second run at Twentieth, having previously served as president/COO from 1992 to 1995.

On the studio side, movement at 20th Century Fox TV appeared to be quiet so far, as staffers there are in the middle of pilot season.

“People are distracted by pilot season, they’re either on set, or traveling to sets in other states,” one insider said. “Or they’re still closing deals on casts, and business affairs is busy working on overall deals.”

Coincidentally, 20th Century Fox TV announced its first major overall deal under Disney ownership, a pact with writer/director Drew Goddard, on Thursday.

Disney closed its $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox on Tuesday. It is buying 20th Century Fox, FX, NatGeo, and much of Hulu in a deal that is expected to reshape the entertainment landscape.

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and President Alan Bergman were on Fox’s Century City lot for meetings with executives this week. In a memo, Bergman and Horn said they would try to be as open as possible about the changes that will take place at the entertainment company and said they would soon be making announcements about the film division’s senior leadership structure.

“Day-to-day, our top priorities remain the same: to support the great content we’re creating and deliver a superb experience to our consumers, and to continue to build an inspiring, inclusive environment where employees can bring their best to work every day,” the two men wrote. Bergman and Horn also cautioned staffers to expect “quite a bit of change across our organizations.

Some of Fox’s film leadership will remain in place. Twentieth Century Fox Film vice chairman Emma Watts, Fox Family president Vanessa Morrison, and Fox Searchlight co-heads Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley are among those making the move to the Mouse House. Fox film chief Stacey Snider will not make the transition.

Fox 2000 head Elizabeth Gabler had been expected to make the move to Disney, but the studio will retire the label. That means Gabler, who played a key role in such films as “Life of Pi” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” could be a free agent.

Fox staffers began receiving layoff news on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. The severance packages are said to be generous with some senior staff getting between a year to two years of full pay.

Cynthia Littleton and Michael Schneider contributed to this report.