Disney's New Studio Chief and the Future of the Company

Disney is counting on success in its global Disney Channel to translate to the big screen and give a much-needed boost to its studio. Monday night Disney appointed Rich Ross, the president of Disney Channels Worldwide, to take the post of Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, replacing veteran Dick Cook, who stepped down three weeks ago.


This choice is a testament to the success of the Disney Channel worldwide -- especially in new markets like India -- and how important it is for the studio to grow overseas. It also shows how the company continues to hone in on its core brands and audiences: the Disney Channel, which has been a way to exploit talent found at Disney's record label, and a way to build brands to big to the big screen. The Disney Channel and brands like "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana" are at the core of CEO Bob Iger's strategy to build brands to exploit across all of Disney's platforms.

Now Ross faces the somewhat daunting task of getting the studio back on track and focused on Disney-branded films as the company starts its integration of Marvel Entertainment and its studio. This year the studio has suffered through an unusually long string of disappointments from "Confessions of a Shopaholic" this winter to "Surrogates" just a few weeks ago. These films have been such a drag on results, they've wiped out the upside from hits like "Up."

When the studio lost $12 in the last quarter Iger didn't mince words, attributing it solely to creative failure. Needless to say Ross will be listening closely to Iger to be sure to give him what he wants. Here Ross' experience with marketing will surely come into play, as the Disney Channel has been a key marketing tool for Disney films.

Cook's resignation last month was met with shock through the industry, if only because he was so well liked. Most importantly his departure raised questions about whether certain studio films are at risk, a concern fanned by Johnny Depp declaring his loyalty and affection for Cook in the Los Angeles Times. No surprise, this made some Wall Street analysts nervous that Disney could lose the rest of a profitable franchise like "Pirates of the Caribbean." Now the company is hoping to do some serious damage control, talking up Ross' strong relationships with agents and talent and his general respect around the industry. Sources at the studio tell me that Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg are "thrilled to death" Ross is taking over as they ready to distribute their DreamWorks films through the studio, and that they're planning to meet with Ross within a week.

It's been a busy time at Disney between the acquisition of Marvel, just a few days ago the news that it's dramatically streamlining of Miramax, its specialty studio, and now this appointment. I'm not the only one who's curious to hear from Ross and his strategy moving forward.

UPDATE and CLARIFICATION:Disney tells me that while Johnny Depp did express support for Cook, he has advised his representation and Jerry Bruckheimer that he's in for the next Pirates.

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