Peter Rice Reorganizes Disney's General Entertainment Division

Peter Rice
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Disney unveiled the next wave of its companywide restructuring Tuesday as Peter Rice outlined a wave of changes to his general entertainment division.

The chairman of Disney's General Entertainment Content unit is ditching the company's longtime legacy structure in favor of creating centralized groups that are instead focused on content. That means that departments including marketing, publicity, scheduling and media planning are being consolidated into three distinct groups overseen by Shannon Ryan (Hulu and linear networks), former Twitter head of global creative Jayanta Jenkins (Disney+) and Stephanie Gibbons (FX/FX on Hulu).

Rice has also vastly expanded Disney Channel president Gary Marsh's responsibilities. The longtime Disney executive, who sources say recently renewed his deal to remain with the company, will now serve as president and chief creative officer of Disney Branded TV. His purview will now expand from kids programming to all non-theatrical Disney-branded TV content made for tweens, teens and families, including live-action and animation. He will also oversee the Disney+ unscripted content and production teams. Marsh will continue to report to Rice.

Courteney Monroe, the president of National Geographic Content, has similarly been given an expanded purview that sees her add oversight of NatGeo content on Disney+ as well as linear networks. (NatGeo is a one of the centralized channels on Disney+.) She will join Rice's senior leadership team and continue to report to NatGeo Partners chairman Gary Knell (who also answers to Rice).

Dana Walden, Rice's longtime No. 2, has also been given a new title and will serve as chairman of entertainment at Walt Disney TV. Her purview remains largely the same, after the TV stations unit moved over to the Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution Group overseen by the recently promoted Kareem Daniel. Walden is expected to announce her own restructuring in the coming weeks. Walden oversees Hulu, ABC, Freeform and Disney Television Studios. The latter division includes 20th Television, ABC Signature and Touchstone Television (formerly Fox 21).

Layoffs will eventually be a part of Rice's restructuring, though none were expected to come Tuesday. The changes are the latest in what is said to be a wave of structural repositioning across Disney. The moves started Oct. 12 when new CEO Bob Chapek shifted the company's priority to streaming. As part of the changes, Chapek tapped former consumer products president Daniel to oversee a new Media and Entertainment Distribution Group. That gave greater content control to studio leaders including Rice while handing Daniel oversight of distribution, ad sales and such other business functions as budgets. The changes created what one top literary agent dubbed a "content czar and Supreme Court of buyers" at Disney.

"This is a big change to our legacy television structure which was built around linear networks," Rice said in memo to staff Tuesday. (Read it in full, below.) "But as we look to the future and how consumers choose to watch their programming, this reorganization is an opportunity for us to fully focus on what we do best, making great programming for viewers wherever they choose to watch their favorite shows."

Other divisions within the Disney TV fold are expected to announce restructurings and layoffs as part of the larger moves at the company. This week, Disney-owned ESPN unveiled its own restructuring of its senior executive leadership, with exec vp content Connor Schell among those leaving the sports outlet. The sports outlet is expected to reduce its workforce by 500 staffers.

The realignment and pending layoffs across the company come as Disney, like other entertainment titans, is under tremendous financial pressure as a result of the novel coronavirus. With Disneyland in Southern California remaining shuttered and most movie theaters pinched by the pandemic, Disney this week announced additional furloughs for theme park employees and executives. That unknown tally will join the 28,000 park employees who were laid off in September. Disney, which reports its third-quarter earnings this week, lost $4.7 billion during Q2. The companywide restructuring is expected to be completed before its next investor day, Dec. 10.

It's worth noting that Disney's changes are similar in structure to how NBCUniversal is shifting its executive leadership. NBCU also ditched the legacy vertical structure wherein each network had its own executive, development, marketing, sales, PR and research teams. Instead, NBCUni now has a more horizontal approach that consolidates business operations under Frances Berwick and entertainment via Susan Rovner. Berwick and Rovner will each have teams charged with overseeing the same duties for multiple networks. (Rovner, for example, oversees entertainment programming for NBC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, E! and other outlets at the company.)

Here's Rice's memo to staff:

Hi everyone,

A month ago, Bob Chapek announced a bold strategic reorganization of the Company to modernize our operations and accelerate growth in our direct-to-consumer businesses. As part of that plan, the Company will separate content creation from distribution and commercialization. For our team, this means we will wholly focus our resources and efforts on developing, producing and marketing exceptional content to fuel the company’s streaming and linear platforms while our colleagues at Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution (DMED) will distribute and monetize that content and run the linear networks and streaming platforms.

This is a big change to our legacy television structure which was built around linear networks. But as we look to the future and how consumers choose to watch their programming, this reorganization is an opportunity for us to fully focus on what we do best, making great programming for viewers wherever they choose to watch their favorite shows. I know these changes raise many questions, so today I’ll provide some clarity about our structure and responsibilities.

First off, to better reflect the nature of our new role as a producer of content, the name of our overall organization will become Disney General Entertainment Content (DGE). Our new name creates a clear statement of our function and aligns us with the company’s film and sports content engines.

All together, DGE is one of the most prolific and celebrated content creators in the industry, responsible for over 250 entertainment and news programs a year representing over 4,500 hours of programming. Our content helps drive the success of the Company’s distribution business, and we have been tasked with creating more exceptional content for viewers around the world. To achieve this, we will be responsible for content strategy, development, greenlighting, casting, production, talent management and budget management for all the entertainment and news that DGE creates. Our creative process will be supported by centralized teams that will provide best practices and execution in creative marketing and publicity, content research, and scheduling of first-run content on linear networks. This structure of creative hubs and centralized functions will enable us to produce more content while maintaining the high-level quality we are known for. We will work hand in glove with Kareem Daniel, Rebecca Campbell and all our colleagues at DMED and International to deliver the most compelling content to viewers.  We have all worked together as highly successful Disney teammates for many years and this new structure will allow us all to focus and collaborate during this transformative time in the entertainment industry.

Paramount to our success is a strong, experienced leadership team who will lead the way with vision, creativity and a collaborative spirit. Below is our new leadership team, all of whom you will recognize from our current team but with some with new titles and responsibilities.

Ravi Ahuja – President, Business Operations, Disney General Entertainment Content, leads Finance, Strategy and Operations, aligning DGE’s resources and efforts with the Company. He oversees functional teams managing planning and content analysis, finance, labor relations, and music affairs. Added to Ravi’s oversight will be centralized teams for content research for testing and trends, and scheduling of first-run content on linear networks.

James Goldston – President, ABC News, oversees all aspects of the news division’s journalism, including broadcast, streaming, mobile and audio. The most trusted brand in news, ABC News reaches the largest monthly combined audience in the United States and is home to some of the most iconic and respected news brands including GMA and World News Tonight. ABC News has won the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence five times in the past seven years.

Gary Knell – Chairman, National Geographic Partners, oversees the global joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and National Geographic Society reporting to the Board of National Geographic Partners and working across the company with the teams at DGE, DPEP, DMED and International.

John Landgraf – Chairman, FX, oversees development, production, marketing and publicity for the FX brand of original programming on Hulu and linear networks. Under his leadership, John has elevated FX to a brand that is identified with exceptional, award-winning programming. This year, John, his team and our colleagues at DTC, launched FX on Hulu as the exclusive home for current and library FX programs.

Gary Marsh – President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Branded Television, will lead the expanded Disney Branded Television Group that will now include all Disney-branded television content made by DGE for kids, tweens, teens and families including live-action and animated movies and series, as well as unscripted series and specials. This new group will encompass all shows that our television production teams have been making for Disney+.  As part of this, the Disney+ Unscripted Content and Production teams join our group. Please join me in welcoming them to the team.  As president of Disney Channels, Gary was the driving force behind some of the company’s most iconic and successful programming and franchises, creating stories of optimism, self-expression and imagination that connected with kids and families everywhere.

Courteney Monroe – President, National Geographic Content, will join my leadership team as a direct report overseeing the exceptional Emmy- and Oscar-winning National Geographic branded content development and production for Disney+ and the linear networks. She will continue to participate as a member of Gary Knell’s senior leadership team. Prior to this new role, Courteney served as president of National Geographic Global Television Networks.

Dana Walden, Chairman of Entertainment, Walt Disney Television, oversees the development and production operations of Disney Television Studios, Hulu Originals, ABC Entertainment and Freeform. Setting the standard for creativity and excellence, Dana’s teams produced the No. 1 show on nine different networks and established ABC as the No. 1 entertainment broadcaster last season; won the only Best Drama Emmy for a streaming service with Hulu Original’s The Handmaid’s Tale; and continues to define content for young adults with Freeform’s coming-of-age programming.

Our incredible, cross-organization, functional services teams will continue to be overseen by

Steve Chung, Legal

Sonia Coleman, Human Resources

Charissa Gilmore, Corporate Communications

As part of the reorganization, we will consolidate marketing, publicity and media planning activities into internal units overseeing all marketing functions. These units will operate like agencies, with each focused on a specific collection of our content to manage marketing, publicity, media planning, events, talent relations and awards strategies.

The first agency will market DGE’s content slated for distribution on Hulu and the linear networks.  This includes all content produced by Disney Television Studios, Hulu Originals, ABC Entertainment, Freeform and ABC News. This agency will be led by Shannon Ryan, President, Content Marketing, Hulu and General Entertainment, reporting to Dana Walden. Shannon joined Disney from 21stCentury Fox in 2019 as president of Marketing for ABC Entertainment and Disney Television Studios. In her first season spearheading the promotion for ABC’s programming, the network became the No. 1 entertainment broadcaster of the year.

The second internal agency will oversee all marketing, publicity and media planning for content that DGE creates for Disney+ and for linear networks including Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD and National Geographic. Jayanta Jenkins will join DGE as Head of Content Marketing, Disney+ and General Entertainment, to oversee the group, reporting to Gary Marsh and Courteney Monroe. Jayanta will join the company in December from Samsung Mobile where he was the Global Executive Creative Director.  Please join me in welcoming Jayanta.

The FX Marketing and Publicity teams will continue to promote all content FX produces for Hulu and the linear networks. The campaigns this team has created helped establish FX as a best-in-class brand known for creative excellence. The FX Marketing team led by Stephanie Gibbons, President, Marketing, has been recognized for its outstanding creativity by winning PROMAX’s North American Marketing Team award for nine consecutive years.

Focusing our structure around content engines and centralized support functions will make us more effective, flexible and prolific as we focus on our core strength: making great television. Over the last several months, in the face of unprecedented change and enormous challenges, your collective efforts and tireless commitment to keeping our television business running have been nothing short of exceptional, and I am incredibly proud to work alongside all of you. Together we have achieved so much and I am excited about the amazing opportunities and limitless possibilities that lie ahead. We will undoubtedly face more questions and challenges as we implement these changes, but I am confident that together we will continue to rise to the occasion with resourcefulness and resilience.

You will hear more from your leaders in the coming weeks as they refine their new structures. Thank you for your patience and dedication. It is critical to our success as we navigate this transformation.

Warmly,

Peter