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Friday, June 10, 2022

What’s Going on at Disney? Rice Fired and Walden Promoted

 by Ray Keating



June 10, 2022


Shake-ups happen in business all of the time. Sometimes they make sense, and others amount to head-scratchers. On occasion, the real reasons don’t get revealed for a bit of time. It’s unclear which will be the case with Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s firing of Peter Rice as the head of the company’s television content.


The move was referred to as “shocking” and “head-spinning” by Variety, for example. News reports were filled with statements of outrage for those who support Rice and/or dislike Chapek.  And as is clear from widespread reports, the firing came out of nowhere for Rice, and it could not be tied to his performance, as his division was performing well.

In a company announcement, it was noted that Dana Walden would be Rice’s replacement as chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content. As a result, she “will have oversight of ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content, and Onyx Collective. Walden previously served as Chairman, Entertainment, Walt Disney Television and succeeds Peter Rice, who is leaving the Company.”


Rice and Walden came to Disney via the Fox acquisition, with Walden reporting to Rice.


So, what’s the deal with the Rice firing? Speculation swirls, with additional, resulting controversy coming Chapek’s way. The Hollywood Reporter relayed the following: “Industry insiders believe Rice was perceived as angling to replace the embattled Chapek… It is notable that the board issued a statement in support of Chapek, who has only a few months left on his contract. The move comes as a shocker considering Chapek re-upped Rice to a new long-term deal last summer.”


Along those lines, The New York Times pointed out, “Mr. Rice, who has also overseen ABC News, most recently renewed his contract at Disney in August. It ran until the end of 2024. Disney will pay him out, the people said… In April, Mr. Chapek fired the company’s most senior communications and government relations executive; the executive, Geoff Morrell, had joined Disney in January under a multiyear contract. Disney also paid him out.” 


Is this a strange trend developing, or just coincidence?


Meanwhile, CNBC reported: “While generally well liked personally, Rice has irritated some co-workers at Disney for monopolizing information rather than sharing it with co-workers — a style that may have worked at Fox but was ill-fitting at Disney, according to a person familiar with the matter.”


Finally, as for Walden, DisneyBizJournal highlighted in a piece titled “Disney on How NOT To Do Diversity” a rather bizarre comment she made in early 2021:


The statement kind of hits like a cold bucket of water over the head: “I will tell you for the first time we received some incredibly well-written scripts that did not satisfy our standards in terms of inclusion, and we passed on them.”


As noted by the Hollywood Reporter, Walt Disney Television chairman of entertainment Dana Walden made this declaration recently during a panel discussion. And it’s the direct result of a set of inclusion standards – i.e., actual percentage breakdowns of “groups” populating on-screen presentation, creative teams and behind the scenes – set up in the fall 2020 by ABC/Disney…


Diversity as an objective for a business is not new and can be beneficial, such as by bringing various viewpoints and perspectives to decision-making. When done thoughtfully and constructively, it can send positive messages beyond the firm as well. 


At its best, corporate efforts to improve diversity and inclusion mean opening more doors, and expanding the number of chairs at the table. The point is that business is not a zero-sum game. The right decisions mean growth and expanding opportunities, hopefully, for all.


But that is not the message behind Walden’s comment. That drips of zero-sum, us-vs.-them thinking, with diversity and inclusion efforts resulting in the exclusion of certain people. How tragically ironic…


With assorted controversies cropping up seemingly on a regular basis, it’s understandable that observers might wonder what’s going on at the House of Mouse these days. Questions are further fueled by the fact that Chapek’s contract expires at the end of February. Just as the Disney board issued a statement of support regarding Chapek’s decision regarding Rice and Walden, the ultimate support would come with an announced contract extension for the company’s CEO.




Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels and assorted nonfiction books. Have Ray Keating speak your group, business, school, church, or organization. Email him at raykeating@keatingreports.com.


The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?


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