Peter Rice Downplays Layoff Threat to Disney TV Staffers in Town Hall

Walt Disney Television chairman Peter Rice downplayed the threat of massive layoffs hitting Disney’s enlarged television division during an hourlong town hall held Wednesday morning.

The gathering marked the first time that many Disney TV employees had the chance to see Rice in person. The event was held at a theater space on the Disney lot and live streamed to thousands of employees. Rice oversees all of Disney’s television operations with the exception of ESPN.

The question of large-scale layoffs has hung over Disney for nearly 18 months as it pursued the acquisition of 21st Century Fox, a $71.3 billion deal that closed last week. A day later, dozens of employees on the Fox side were let go, mostly on the film side and in television distribution and sales.

Layoffs after a merger are largely are the result of “duplication,” Rice told the crowd, according to multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of the meeting. Disney’s television units have little direct overlap, he said. He pointed to the vast differences in the kid-friendly content produced by the Disney Channels Worldwide group and the edgy material that comes from the FX Networks team, now part of Disney.

The 20th Century Fox Television production arm and ABC Studios operation do have obvious redundancies now that they are under the same roof. Rice said that a big part of Disney’s motivation for buying 21st Century Fox was to beef up Disney’s content creation pipelines. Some attendees interpreted that as an indication the two banners would continue to operate with autonomy.

Rice opened the session with a joke about wanting to speak in a “Mary Poppins accent” to warm up the crowd. Numerous Disney TV staffers were said to be unaware that the former 21st Century Fox president executive is British before today’s meeting.

Rice emphasized the importance of the enlarged Disney team finding creative ways to work together to generate distinctive content for Disney’s many platforms. He took questions from employees that were described as “softballs” and none that pressed him on layoffs or organizational changes to come.

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