After Bob Iger’s bold selection nearly three years ago to have cable TV executive Rich Ross run Walt Disney’s movie studio didn’t pan out, the Disney CEO is turning to a tried-and-true film-business veteran to serve as his new studio chief.
New studio chairman Alan Horn arrives at Disney’s Burbank, Calif. headquarters as well-regarded as film business executives get, coming off a less-than-a-year retirement from the top post at rival Warner Bros.
Under his watch, Warner was the top-ranked studio in global theatrical market share for three consecutive years from 2008-2011, while gestating a slew of multi-billion-dollar blockbuster film franchises that included Harry Potter and the Dark Knight.
For a studio coming off two of the biggest flops in history, with John Carter and Mars Needs Moms both losing around $200 million apiece, o
Iger’s selection of Horn certainly carries the aura of stability.
As for innovation, maybe not as much.
With DVD revenue drying up and the theatrical distribution business no longer growing in the U.S. and Canada, studios like Disney are under increasing pressure to drastically change how much they spend to produce and market their films, as well as how they strategize their release windows.
To a large extent, that’s what Iger and his constituents had in mind when Ross was hired in 2009. At the Disney Channel, Ross built low-cost TV hits like High School Musical into global properties that could be monetized across divisions ranging from home entertainment to consumer products.
And during his tenure, Ross replaced many of the old-guard film-business veterans working for Disney with underling choices who were equally — if not more — unorthodox than he was, such as short-tenured marketing chief MT Carney, a figure well known on Madison Avenue but a complete stranger to Hollywood.
Fair or unfair, Ross gained a reputation in the movie business as someone who cared less about the films than the marketing. The inevitable backlash in the creative community meant that he’ll be remembered more for the flops that were put into Disney’s production engine before he even arrived than for shepherding The Avengers, which became a massive hit in the weeks after his resignation in April.
As for Horn, he’s often described with what has become the gold-standard compliment in the movie business — “He has good taste,” is the oft-heard refrain.
Whether Horn can continue to parlay that accumen across a business that’s increasingly distributed digitally and marketed socially remains to be seen.