Rich Ross named Disney Studios chairman

Dick Cook left the position two weeks ago

Rich Ross, who helped make Disney Channel an international sensation, will turn his attention to movies as chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Disney CEO Robert Iger said Monday that Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide, has been elevated to the spot vacated by Dick Cook almost three weeks ago.

Ross was recruited by Disney Channel in 1996 when he was named senior vp. He was promoted to the top spot in 2004, and the job he has done in making household names of Disney Channel shows and stars made it impossible for the executive to go unnoticed.

In Disney's official pronouncement Monday, Ross is given credit for making stars of Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Raven-Symone and the Jonas Brothers, all while they were still adolescents.

The ascension of Ross will bring more cross-referencing between the channel and film studio of the sort that was done minimally under Cook, most notably with "Hannah Montana: The Movie" and "High School Musical 3."

Executives within Disney also were wondering aloud Monday what's in store for top studio executives, especially production president Oren Aviv. Aviv, a writer and producer whose credits include "National Treasure," "RocketMan" and the upcoming "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," could be on his way out.

Even without much feature film experience, Ross had been a leading candidate for taking over the studio because of his ability to take American properties and make them worldwide hits in multiple languages. Disney also is impressed by his familiarity with digital-distribution platforms.

As chairman, Ross will oversee worldwide production, distribution and marketing for the studio's live-action and feature animated film labels, including Walt Disney, Touchstone, Miramax and Pixar, and he also will head Disney's theatrical and music groups.

Disney's music business also might get a boost from Ross as he was instrumental in turning the "High School Musical" soundtrack into a massive hit and a Hannah Montana soundtrack into 2006's top-selling U.S. album.

Ross arrives amid huge changes at the studio, with Disney in the midst of purchasing Marvel and its film-worthy superheroes and getting set to distribute movies from DreamWorks. Disney also is busy downsizing Miramax.

Ross was seen as a primary candidate to replace Cook from the moment the longtime Disney employee was forced out in mid-September.

Cook's departure was telegraphed by Iger and Disney CFO Tom Staggs, who said in May that the studio's second-quarter operating income, which sunk from $377 million a year ago to $13 million this year, was unacceptable.

As for Ross' replacement at Disney Channels Worldwide, Anne Sweeney, who oversees the channels as president of Disney/ABC Television Group, sent out an internal e-mail saying she expects to name a successor within a few weeks.

Insiders point to the deep executive bench of the operation worldwide as well as outside candidates but not necessarily Ross' second in command, Gary Marsh.

Marsh already has a sizable playing field as Disney Channels Worldwide's entertainment president, overseeing the programming side, and might not be attracted to the large amount of travel associated with the vacant top position, sources said.
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