Fox Exec Peter Rice Expected to Take Major Role in Combined Disney-Fox

Peter Rice - 2017 Milken Institute Global Conference - Getty - H 2017
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Dana Walden also is in talks for a new role at the company, while Ben Sherwood is likely to relinquish his current portfolio.

Fox executive Peter Rice is in talks to lead the combined TV properties of Fox and Disney when the companies clear regulatory approval for Disney’s proposed $71.3 billion acquisition of many of 21st Century Fox’s film and TV assets. 

The move has been expected, and comes as Comcast on Thursday officially dropped its bid for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

Fox shareholders are scheduled to vote on the sale July 27. And the deal has already been approved by the Justice Department, on the condition that the new company divests Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, which would compete with Disney owned-ESPN.

However, Disney’s vast international assets mean that the deal also must clear regulatory hurdles in some international markets including India and Latin America. And there is still the matter of Sky. Rupert Murdoch has long been pursuing the 61 percent of the European pay-TV giant that he does not already own. And now he has competition from Comcast, which withdrew from the competition for 21st Century Fox in part to pursue Sky.

“I’d like to congratulate Bob Iger and the team at Disney and commend the Murdoch family and Fox for creating such a desirable and respected company,” Comcast’s chairman and chief executive, Brian Roberts, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Dana Walden, also is in negotiations for a role at the new company. Walden and Gary Newman, the current co-chairs of Fox and studio 20th Century Fox Television, recently finalized one-year contract extensions. Walden and Newman expanded their purview of the Fox broadcast network in 2014 after more than a decade running the studio.

And many observers expect Walden to have a role running the combined television studio business or a position at Hulu, with the combined company’s stake in the streamer expanding to 60 percent. (Walden is on the Hulu board.) But it’s unclear what her purview on the network side might be. Meanwhile, speculation has centered on Newman running the TV assets of New Fox under Lachlan Murdoch. If Walden moves into a major oversight role of the combined studio and TV assets, Ben Sherwood would necessarily transition to a new role at the company.

Sherwood has been running the Disney-ABC Television Group since early 2015, and his purview includes ABC, ABC Studios and its suite of cable networks including Disney Channel and Freeform. The former president of ABC News, Sherwood is known to have a close relationship with Iger, and might take on a role running the new company's news assets, which could include Sky.

Iger also recently installed Jimmy Pitaro as the president of ESPN. Pitaro reports to Iger, and that is not expected to change. FX Networks CEO John Landgraf also is expected to remain at the helm of his networks.

Iger released his own statement on Thursday expressing "incredible enthusiasm" for the pending acquisition. "We’re extremely pleased with today’s news, and our focus now is on completing the regulatory process and ultimately moving toward integrating our businesses," he said.