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Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Disney shakes up its studio business

REVAMP The company has replaced the head of live-action production and will reduce the number of films it makes every year as part of a major reorganization


The Walt Disney Co announced a major revamping of its movie studio on Tuesday, cutting 650 jobs worldwide and replacing some crucial executives.

Nina Jacobson, who has been head of live-action production at Walt Disney Studios, including last year's hit The Chronicles of Narnia, will leave immediately, the company said.

Her departure was not unexpected by many in Hollywood, although its timing was a surprise; many here said that she would stay for several months because she had recently renegotiated her contract.

Jacobson's successor at the studio will be Oren Aviv, who has been overseeing Disney's domestic marketing. Aviv joined Disney in 1991 and had recently sought to expand his influence at the studio. He was an executive producer for two feature films, Rocket Man in 1997 and the blockbuster National Treasure in 2004, a story idea he came up with.

"He's well suited to the job," Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said of Aviv.

"He's got a great sense of marketing and how to sell something," Cook said.

Cook declined to comment on Jacobson's departure. But people apprised of the studio's plans said Aviv did not want to share responsibility with Jacobson.

"The studio is undergoing a major reorganization, and there simply isn't room for everyone in the new structure," Jacobson said in a statement.

"I'm sorry to go, but I am proud of what I've left behind -- a vibrant movie studio with major franchises and thriving relationships with some of the most talented filmmakers in the world," the statement said.

As part of the corporate revamping, Disney will limit the number of movies it makes to about 12 or 13 a year, from as many as 20 in previous years. The reduction would include both live-action and animated films. The studio employs more than 2,000 people worldwide.

Disney will also focus on making more family films with the Walt Disney Pictures brand, which it hopes to market around the world. In turn, it will release two to three films a year from its Touchstone Pictures unit, which has had a series of disappointments like The Alamo, The Ladykillers and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

Jacobson was often an advocate for such movies.

The studio revamping had been expected and comes on the heels of the highly successful release of the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which has already brought in US$266 million at domestic box offices.

The last two years have proved disappointing in business terms for Disney despite the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, which remained in top place at the box office last weekend.

Last year, Disney fell to No. 5 in its domestic share, bringing in US$962 million. In 2003, it was ranked No.1, with US$1.5 billion in ticket sales.

Cook said that half of the 650 jobs to be eliminated were expected to come from international operations and the other half from domestic operations. While cuts will be made in all divisions, most will be in theatrical distribution and home video.

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