After $71 billion merger, new owner Disney begins layoffs of Fox executive ranks

by in News

The day after closing its deal to take control of Fox’s filmed entertainment assets, The Walt Disney Company began laying off executives at the Century City studio, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Among those receiving as 60-day notice was Fox’s Domestic Distribution president Chris Aronson, who issued the following statement:

“I am extremely grateful for my time at Twentieth Century Fox under the leadership of Tom, Jim, and Stacey,” Aronson’s statement said, referring to former Fox studio chiefs. “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. While I am disappointed not to continue, I look forward to starting a new chapter in this business during this exciting time of change.”

While Burbank-based Disney did not respond to requests for confirmations Thursday, among the other Fox executives widely reported to have been let go were Twentieth Television president Greg Meidel, executive vice president of Corporate Communications Dan Berger, Domestic Publicity head Heather Phillips, president of Consumer Products and Innovation Jim Fielding, Fox’s Worldwide Theatrical’s Marketing president and co-president and Chief Content Officer, International Theatrical Distribution president Andrew Cripps and Mike Dunn, president of product strategy and consumer business development.

Thursday’s moves, though swift, are in line with some analysts predictions of how the merger, which cost Disney $71.3 billion, would begin to shake out.

“Executives, obviously, are being forced out,” Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Center for Regional Economics at the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute, told the Southern California News Group earlier in the week. “Regardless of how Disney chooses to run Fox filmed and television entertainment, you don’t need as many managers, you don’t need as many people in the decision train.”

While reductions in redundant positions were expected, Hollywood was surprised to hear reports Thursday that Disney intends to shut Fox 2000, the midrange movie production division, headed by Elizabeth Gabler, that’s been responsible for such adult-aimed titles as “Hidden Figures” and “The Devil Wears Prada” and thoughtful Young Adult productions “The Hate U Give,” “Love, Simon” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” Upcoming fall release “The Woman in the Window” looks like it’ll be the last release under the Fox 2000 label, though its movies currently in production will probably be completed.

Although Disney previously indicated it plans to keep Oscars-winning arthouse division Fox Searchlight going, shuttering Fox 2000 appears to be a move in keeping with Disney’s overall disdain for medium-budgeted, “realistic” movies in favor of reliance on blockbuster popcorn fare from its animation, live-action fairy tale, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm divisions and subsidiaries. The Fox deal brings more Marvel superheroes and “Star Wars” control to the Mouse House, as well as such well-known science fiction franchises as “Alien,” “Predator” and “Avatar.”

“The real question is, how much of the Fox content that’s being (made) now does Disney still want to stick with,” Klowden observed. “Is there the chance that Disney does what (it) did years ago and say, ‘We’re making too many movies, let’s focus on making fewer, better movies and fewer, better TV shows’? And if they do that, that’s going to affect jobs . . . and that’s going to affect local jobs.”

Though Disney has not released any estimates of how many jobs will be lost in the merger, outside analysts have been batting around a 4,000 figure. The company has targeted $2 billion – in what it calls efficiencies – of merger-related cost cuts over the next two years, even as it plans to launch its expensive Disney+ streaming service later this year.

“Although there is much to look forward to, we know this integration will entail quite a bit of change across our organizations,” a memo sent to Fox staffers Thursday morning from Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn and president Alan Bergman said. “We want to acknowledge that and assure you we are committed to engaging in this process thoughtfully and communicating changes as we are able – most importantly with respect for all involved.”