Fast Company Profiles Disney’s Rich Ross (and Misses the Point)

Fast Company recently ran a profile on Rich Ross, the current head of the Walt Disney Studios (i.e. the division that actually makes the films). The article itself is well worth a read seeing as it’s slightly above the usual blind admiration that non-trade publications and outlets are infamous for.

The article points out some bleedingly obvious things, but still manages to miss the point of exactly why Ross is a TV guy running a movie studio.

The movie division has not been Disney’s most profitable arm for many years. Yet it remains the company’s big intellectual property “wave maker,” to use the phrase you hear a lot these days inside Disney’s executive suites.

Unfortuntaley, “making waves” is defined as finding a hit franchise (read: Pirates of the Caribbean) and running it into the ground. This is somewhat unfortunate as Tangled did quite well (considering) and while it was unproven, it was a solid film that was always going to do well.

This brand stewardship is the source of controversy surrounding Ross, Iger, and Disney in general these days. A lot of movie fans–ticket buyers, critics, and industry professionals included–hate seeing films reduced to such crass commercial terms. Hollywood still promotes itself as our manufacturer of dreams, relishing the cultural currency and aesthetic cachet that comes with the territory.

Arguably, this is true, except for the small matter that this has always been the case. Hollywood has never made a movie for the fun of it. Films are made for one reasons and one reason only: to make money.

Having said that, there is a fine line between making films for the audience and making films for the studio and it would appear that that line has been crossed this decade of the new Millennium. The old adage of Walt Disney seems to have been lost:

We don’t make movies to make money.
We make money to make more movies.

Notwithstanding the small fact that making more movies will make you more money, but I digress.

So how exactly has the Fast Company article missed the point when it comes to Ross’ promotion? Well, it muses over the fact that he is from a background in television but completely fails to opine that most studios in Hollywood are run by TV folks these days (yes, Bob Iger was at ABC prior to Michael Eisner’s departure).

For that, we need to visit a second article by Edward Jay Epstein in Adweek that chronicles how the vast majority of revenue for the big 6 comes not from the movies themselves but from TV rights to said films. Such an arrangement has (according to the article) assured that any movie put out by a studio has a solid ability to be sold or packaged for TV. The result is that a TV person familiar with the medium is best placed to run the show, as Epstein puts it:

They know a crucial reality: whatever hurts TV’s ability to sell ads, hurts their own bottom lines. Consequently, when new-age players such as Netflix, Apple, Google, or even Hulu (Hollywood owned) threaten to undercut the ad base of the traditional TV networks, they’re also threatening to gut Hollywood’s golden goose

Hence Ross’ promotion from Disney Networks to the hallowed movie studio.



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