Peter Rice Fired

FYI - Just saw this. I thought he was well thought of. - Ned…

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Ned, thanks for alerting us to this. I could not get into the link, but checked around at the trades. I must be honest, didn’t realize this was as big a deal as it was. The theme seems to be, whether accurate or not, that Chapek didn’t want this individual around because it might have threatened his position as CEO. I also read that Chapek doesn’t have a signed contract renewal yet.

For me, it doesn’t affect the DIS thesis, but I believe the reason this is such big news in Hollywood now - and it is big, from what I am reading - is that, to echo what you wrote, talent really liked this guy, and they look to be furious at his exit. Apparently Rice was a polymath of sorts in terms of shepherding movies, TV shows, sports stuff, financial programming, and other stuff, as opposed to being an expert in one area, as Alan Horn was with film. Still, for whatever Chapek’s reasons, the company will move on, and the second-in-command, Walden, will simply step up (I guess she was his exec partner and both came over from the Fox side; I’m sure she’ll do fine). Sometimes change can lead to new, positive catalysts; hopefully, anyway.

That’s just my quick take on this. I just can’t see this leading to anything really bad for DIS. I do wonder, though, if this might mean that Chapek doesn’t have as long a tenure as Iger, deserved or not. Chapek I think is coming across more as a numbers guy, and this doesn’t bode well with talent…still, Iger certainly checked data sets every now and then, I’m sure! Makes for an entertaining corporate story to watch as we continue to wait for DIS (and the rest of the market) to rebound…

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Often when there is a rash of stories questioning whether a Board of Directors has faith in their CEO, there’s someone who is planting the stories as part of an internal political battle. In the past, the finger has pointed at Iger, suggesting he was jockeying to get his job back. I never bought into this, and noted that there were naturally going to be sour grapes as Chapek made changes from how Iger managed the company, and that some Iger executives would be left behind while Chapek picks were installed into key roles.

This is not the first time the Board has backed Chapek, and I am not saying that Rice was behind any media leaks or corporate infighting. But clearly, there were missteps that Chapek felt were unacceptable. Of course, there will be plenty of speculation about what Rice did or did not do, and any reports claiming knowledge has to be taken with a grain of salt, their sources having their own axe to grind. And an executive can be both beloved and ambitious.

I think, and maybe it is just my perception, that there has not been a focus on Disney’s broadcast (ABC) and cable television businesses as the company has poured resources into building out Disney+. NBC and CBS have strong franchises and Shonda Rhimes has largely moved to Netflix. And while ABC still has American Idol and The Bachelor/Bachelorette, it has not been able to put together the kind of prime time programming that holds eyeballs like NBC and CBS.

At the same time, it feels like the flow of originals on Disney Channel and Disney XD has slowed to a crawl. I don’t follow FX or National Geographic as much (though I am currently watching the 2020 Animal Kingdom backstage series) but I would imagine if Disney’s production resources were being redirected to Disney+, they are likely affected as well.

Of course, the emphasis on Disney+ was Iger and Chapek’s plan, and again, I don’t know what, if anything, Rice did wrong to lose Chapek’s trust and earn his exit papers. Perhaps it was the kind of programming he was greenlighting, or complaints from show runners about his management style, or ratings disappointment. Maybe his summer promotion went to his head and he assumed more authority than Chapek felt he had granted. Or maybe he was just talking behind Chapek’s back.

Whatever the reason, I would be surprised if Rice was as blindsided as he is said to have been. He may not have been expecting to be fired, but he probably was not as bewildered of the reasons.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing, though. Tom Stagg’s exit was unexpected as well, though he chose to leave after the Board made it clear there was a ceiling to his advancement opportunities within the company. CFO Jay Rasulo also left the company after his path to the CEO role was upended, ironically by Staggs.

Disney may operate the happiest resorts on earth, but the company is not immune from political infighting and unexpected shake-ups. And I am not worried about Chapek’s contract negotiations. For all we know, the deal is done just not announced. The D23 Expo is coming up in September, and this is just the kind of announcement that the company might make at that venue.

Who thinks the one thing he is sure of is that this won’t be the last time something unexpected happens in the Disney C-Suite and the only one who is safely ensconced at the top of the company is Mickey Mouse…

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