HOLLYWOOD — In less than eight weeks, Rich Ross has stamped his imprimatur on Walt Disney Studios. The novice movie chairman and his boss, Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Iger, want to create a new business model for Hollywood to address the sweeping changes roiling the entertainment industry, including slumping DVD sales and the growing role the Internet plays in movie marketing.
Seeking to recast the studio for the digital era, Ross and Iger have set in motion a plan to challenge entrenched practices, potentially pitting Disney against theater owners, retailers and other business partners. The gambit, if it works, could be emulated by other studios. If it backfires, it could undermine what historically has been the creative heart of Disney.
In meetings with producers, filmmakers and agents, Ross attacked the industry custom of spending $40 million on TV advertising two weeks before a film's opening, rather than enlisting more targeted campaigns that harness social networks and the broader Web. And he again has raised the touchy subject advanced by Iger that consumers are demanding that movies become available for home viewing sooner after release in theaters than traditionally has been the case.
Hollywood might finally be absorbing the message.
"Any of us that are sitting around protecting old business models unfortunately are destined to have a hard time succeeding in the coming years," said Sam Gores, chairman of talent agency Paradigm.
In September, Iger stunned the industry when he ousted Disney movie chairman Dick Cook, a 38-year veteran, and installed Ross, who built the Disney Channel into a global juggernaut.
Since Ross took over in early October, he has dismissed several top executives and begun restructuring operations. Since then, Disney watchers have needed a scorecard to track the comings and goings.
Last month, Ross flew to New York to fire Daniel Battsek, head of Disney's struggling specialty movie label. A week later, he pushed out another company veteran, Mark Zoradi, who was president of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, in a prelude to his overhaul of the marketing and distribution operations. Ross next let go marketing president Jim Gallagher and elevated former home video chief Bob Chapek to an expanded role that encompasses all aspects of film distribution from movie theaters to home and digital delivery.
Beyond organizational changes, Ross' vision for the types of movies that ultimately will define Disney is starting to emerge. Iger's overarching strategy is to amass a stable of recognizable entertainment brands — Pixar Animations Studios and the pending acquisition of Marvel Entertainment — and exploit the films across its TV, theme parks, consumer products and game divisions.
One of the things Ross has told agents is that he's looking to make more movies that appeal to women. "He seems to be open to broadening what it means to be a Disney movie," said United Talent Agency partner Jeremy Zimmer, "And to have more diversity and stronger execution of movies."