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Monday Mouse Watch: What to make of Mickey’s mixed signals

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Monday Mouse Watch: What to make of Mickey’s mixed signals

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It’s been quite a month for the Mouse, don’t you think? Inside of one single 30 day span, The Walt Disney Company has:

Disney's Fifth Avenue Store in New York City

I gotta tell you, folks. From the e-mails that I’ve been receiving, Disneyana fans aren’t exactly thrilled with all of these changes that seem to be coming so fast. For every piece of good news (EX: The $300 million-plus that Disney Parks & Resorts will be spending to expand the Fantasyland portion of WDW’s Magic Kingdom), there are two other stories that then give these people pause (EX: The Company’s recent announcement that the 5th Avenue “World of Disney” flagship store will be closing on December 31st and/or today's news that Rich Ross, the president of Disney Channels Worldwide, has been tapped as Dick Cook’s replacement).

So what are you guys making of Mickey's mixed signals? As one JHM fan recently put it in a note to yours truly:

“I feel like I’m not going to be able to recognize the place in 5 to 10 years. Couldn’t they get someone like John Lasseter to replace Dick Cook?”

John Lasseter and Dick Cook
(L to R) John Lasseter & Dick Cook

Sorry, but John’s plate is full right now. Some might even say too full.

I mean, think about it. As of this moment, John Lasseter is riding herd on:

Lasseter Family Winery
Copyright 2009 Lasseter Family Winery. All Rights Reserved

  • And did I mention the Lasseter Family Winery in Glen Ellen, CA. ? Or that John & Nancy’s five sons are growing up very fast these days? Which makes Lasseter’s family time seem that much more precious

So – in short – John Lasseter’s dance card is full. Very full. Which is why taking on the additional responsibility of running Walt Disney Studios was just a physical impossibility.

Besides running the movie side of the Mouse House these days would seem to be kind of a thankless task. To me, anyway. Think about all of the 800-pound gorillas that you’d regularly have to deal with if you had that job …

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland Logo
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

  • Jerry Bruckheimer
  • Tim Burton
  • John Lasseter
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Robert Zemeckis

… With each of these guys then expecting that their latest film will get your full attention. That their upcoming production will get the best possible release date. More importantly, the lion’s share of that year’s promotional budget.

That’s why I don’t envy Rich Ross. Now that he's going to be the new Chairman of Walt Disney Studios (as well as head Disney's Theatrical & Music groups), Ross has a very tough act to follow. More importantly – given everything that’s going on in the entertainment business these days (i.e. the drop in DVD sales, consumers failing to fully embrace Blu-ray, etc.) -- picking projects that will actually pay off for the Mouse House in the long run is going to be a real challenge.

Rick Ross
Rich Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide.
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

That said, it was almost an inevitability that Rich would wind up in charge of the Studios. After all, as head of Disney Channels Worldwide (with its “… 94 kid-driven, family inclusive entertainment channels and/or channel feeds available in 163 countries in 32 languages), Ross had risen as high as he realistically could go within that arm of the Mouse House. And given that – on the heels of the success of the “High School Musical,” “Hannah Montana” and “Camp Rock” franchises—other entertainment companies have come sniffing around, trying to lure Rich away from Disney with promises of higher salaries & bigger challenges at their studios … Mickey had to do something to keep Rich on the reservation. Which is why Dick got tossed under the bus.

On the upside, I have heard some awfully nice things about Ross. That he is just the sort of team player that Iger is looking for when it comes to the new head of Walt Disney Studios.

Case in point: Last year, as Disney Company officials were mapping out plans to maximize the profits that the Studio expected to make off of “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” the issue of ringtones came up. And it was determined that Disney could make several million dollars if they just sold off pieces of music from the “HSM3" soundtrack to a company like Verizon to use for ringtones.

High School Musical 3
Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But at that same time, The Walt Disney Company was targeting young cell phone users. The Mouse had set up a mobile storefront, an instant-messaging chat system as well as virtual world widgets. All with the hope that this new business initiative would then allow Mickey to tap into the super-lucrative mobile market for 9-to-14 year-olds.

And even though it meant taking a pass on that $3 - $4 million that a company like Verizon would have put on the table, Rich still said “No.” Opting to try & help a just-getting-started division of The Walt Disney Company instead.

A generous gesture like that does not go unnoticed by someone like Bob Iger. Who has his own long term strategy for The Walt Disney Company which involves a more diversified base of business (which is where things like the acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. come in). So that – in this era of expanded choice – the Mouse House would ultimately be the place that consumers circled back to. Thanks to the Company’s huge stable of characters as well as its long history of delivering quality content.

Bob Iger makes the Disney acquisition of Marvel announcement
Bob Iger discusses the value that will be added to The Walt Disney Company
by acquiring Marvel Entertainment, Inc.

Bob is looking for Rich to continue that tradition. Only this time around, Iger is looking for Ross to take his ability to select TV shows & movies that Disney Channel viewers really responded to and then applying that talent toward picking out winning projects for Walt Disney Studios.

I know, I know. It’s kind of weird to have The Walt Disney Company staging events like the D23 EXPO – which seem to celebrate the Mouse House’s heritage – while, at the same time, Bob Iger is making all of these decisions that appear to be radical departures from the way Mickey usually does business (i.e. the Marvel Entertainment acquisition, Disney Double Dare You, letting Dick Cook go, shutting down the 5th Avenue Disney Store, etc.).

All I can tell you is that – based on conversations that I’ve recently had with Mouse House insiders – that there is actually a plan in place. One that – over the next 10 years or so – will significantly change the way that consumers typically think of The Walt Disney Company. But in a good way.

Double You
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

To be honest, much of what is being done these days is so that – further on down the line – The Company will be better positioned for international expansion (i.e. a Disney theme park in Shanghai that features the Company’s classic characters as well as Marvel’s assortment of superheroes is sure to be twice as appealing to the Chinese populace). But – at the same time – projects like “Disney Double Dare You” will help expand audiences expectations. At least when it comes to the sorts of films that come out of Walt Disney Studios.

Look for Iger and Tom Staggs, Chief Financial Officer of The Walt Disney Company, to expand further on where the Mouse House is heading on Thursday, November 12th. Which is when Bob & Tom will be revealing the financial results of fiscal year 2009. And – after going into detail about how the Company performed in the last quarter as well as looking back over 2009 as a whole – Iger & Staggs will then talk a bit more about 2010 and beyond.

Which (at that point) should include some preliminary information about how Rich Ross is going to revise Walt Disney Studios’ production slate.

Your thoughts?

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  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/GeneralDisney/Jim_Hill_Monday_Mouse_Watch_What_to_make_of_Mickeys_mixed_signals

  • Regarding Blu-Ray; wether or not I buy a blu ray player will depend on the studios themselves. I want to buy UP! 3-D in Blu Ray but apparently it's not being released in 3-D. (According to the packaging photo on amazon.com) So is they aren't going to released it in 3-D, why should I even bother with the expense of buying an expensive high-def T.V? Yeah I know the picture quality is better. I don't care. Give me 3-D or I'll stick with regular DVD until they do.

  • I love the implied logic of throwing Dick Cook "under the bus" in order to satisfy the ambition of the guy behind High School Musical.  38 years of loyalty gone in the face of satisfying an ego.  I hope Dreamworks Animation hires Cook.  

    And who negotiated the deal with Del Toro to create Disney Double Dare You Jim?  I bet it wasn't Ross.

  • I read about these new developments and just shake my head.

    Just because Ross is good at coming up with plasticky schlockfests starring fashion-obsessed  girls and pretty young boys (which kind of figures, if you *really* think about it), how does that translate into greenlighting/developing films that appeal to both genders and all ages?

    Yeah, I agree, Tuckenie, Cook should definitely flee to Dreamworks. He'd find a good home there, and certainly a sympathetic ear in Jeffrey Katzenberg, under the circumstances.

    But I think it's time to drop the "Walt" from the Walt Disney Company. It's not Walt's company any longer. Iger has done nothing to undo the damage Eisner wrought. He's just as bad, if not worse.

  • Jim Hill, whats with the pop-ups. Im tired of getting pop-ups everytime that I visit this site.

  • 2000 Pixar employees, but a ramp with 1801 spots?  Are they counting on 10% daily absenteeism, or is there privileged parking elsewhere for 199 lucky employees?

  • Carpooling.

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