Stacey Snider Walks Fox Tightrope While Stuck in Disney Limbo

Illustration by: Matt Collins

"Hollywood is in a particular sort of chaos right now," says one analyst as a studio chief stars in her own corporate drama and everyone waits for a judge's ruling that will rewrite the showbiz hierarchy.

In December, 20th Century Fox Film chairman and CEO Stacey Snider was in a morning meeting with her top executives when the unthinkable happened: Cellphones lit up with word that The Walt Disney Co. was bidding to buy most of parent 21st Century Fox from the Murdoch family, including the film studio.

Like everyone else in the room, Snider was blindsided. Within minutes, she was called away to be briefed by her bosses Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch. Snider had been in the Fox job for slightly more than a year and was just starting to implement her agenda. But now all bets were off.

Six months later, Snider — the only woman to have run two studios, Fox and Universal — has emerged as an emblematic figure in the wave of corporate drama facing Hollywood as traditional studios scramble to compete with digital goliaths and streaming services. As consolidation looms, Snider, like many, is stuck in executive limbo, actively plotting her next move while playing a precarious waiting game. She isn't likely to join Disney, which has yet to state its plan for the Fox film and TV studios if its $52.4 billion bid is accepted over a rival from Comcast. But she can't be seen as campaigning for another job while also running the day-to-day at her studio. And 21st Century Fox president Peter Rice, who is expected to move over to a top job at Disney, has said publicly he doesn't know what his game plan is (or if Snider figures in it).

It's a delicate dance being replicated in executive suites all across Los Angeles. The dominos are expected to begin falling June 12, when a federal judge rules on whether to allow AT&T's $85.4 billion bid to acquire Time Warner, whose empire includes Fox rival Warner Bros. If that merger is greenlighted, sweeping change could come soon to Warners, which likely would get a new overseer in AT&T executive John Stankey. At the same time, Disney and Fox are expected to pursue their nuptials in earnest, with 21st Century Fox Scheduled to accept or reject Disney's bid — unless Comcast swoops in with a higher offer the Murdochs can't ignore. And at Paramount, executives are watching how the corporate infighting between parent Viacom and sibling CBS plays out, with a merger of the two or a sale of one or both a likelihood.

"There will be an acceleration phase. The armies of lawyers and bankers are all set up and waiting to charge," says analyst Hal Vogel of Vogel Capital Management. "Right now, everyone is in limbo." Adds fellow analyst Doug Creutz of Cowen & Co., "Hollywood is in a particular sort of chaos because everybody is a buyer or a target."

Snider, 57, certainly has plenty of experience weathering mergers and new owners. As chairman of Universal, she worked for a parade of bosses, from Seagram to Vivendi to General Electric. Her time as co-chairman of a pared-down DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg also was marked by turmoil over who controlled the purse strings and handled the release of DreamWorks movies. But the big difference this time is that a rival studio is gobbling up Fox, not an outside company. For the first time in decades, there will be five majors instead of six. Morale on the West Los Angeles studio lot is low, with many seeing the coming sale as the end of Fox as Hollywood has known it since 1915. "Undoubtedly, there will be cuts because there is duplication in these companies," Vogel says.

Creutz says he doesn't believe Disney will make the Fox film unit, which includes specialty label Fox Searchlight, a separate silo similar to Disney properties Pixar, Marvel Studios or Lucasfilm. "You are asking for trouble, and there will be political infighting from day one," he says. "Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar have a very specific focus, and the people who run those companies have a very specific domain." But others believe Disney likely will keep the Fox unit separate, reduce its theatrical output (the studio released 25 films in 2017, including those from Searchlight) and help provide adult-oriented content for Disney's nascent streaming services — all overseen by a top Disney executive.

This seemingly doesn't leave much room for Snider to control her own destiny, though it could mean there might be Disney roles for Fox film vice chairman Emma Watts and Searchlight presidents Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley. Snider declined to comment, but those close to her say she's considering striking out on her own with a full-fledged production venture to take part in the content gold rush that has resulted from the rise of Netflix, Amazon and now Apple and Facebook. Amy Pascal, who ran Sony's film studio before being ousted following the 2014 hack, has reinvented herself as a producer.

Snider could decide to join one of the tech companies, which are still figuring out how to navigate Hollywood culture and talent relationships. Or she could even go the studio route. If the AT&T merger goes through, there could be a change in ranks at Warner Bros. Stankey has said Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara is "a talented guy," but should Tsujihara depart post-merger, AT&T could bring in a replacement above Motion Picture Group chairman Toby Emmerich. Sources say Snider has been informally pitched to AT&T brass but stress that no overtures have been made by either side.

"It's like the NFL," says Creutz in terms of the options available to execs such as Snider. "You look at who has the experience."

This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.