Two days after Media Play News reported head of marketing Julia Howe as the latest high-profile 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment departure, multiple sources Aug. 29 said the company — now owned by the Walt Disney Co. — has been racked by more layoffs, including division veterans Jennifer Chai and Kavita Smith.
Chai held the title of SVP of worldwide brand marketing for the home entertainment arm. She led worldwide brand marketing and strategy for the entire Fox new release theatrical slate and third-party titles for both the physical and digital business. She also was involved with the cross-studio Movies Anywhere service as well as other digital strategic initiatives. Chai has been at Fox since 2000, joining after three years as brand manager at what was then Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the Walt Disney Co.’s home entertainment arm.
Smith was VP, global marketing communications and publicity. According to her LinkedIn profile, she joined Fox as director of publicity in November 2005 and was elevated to executive director in September 2012. She was promoted to VP in August 2014. She will stay on through October, sources said.
Reports say the layoffs — nearly 60 — have occurred in both the home entertainment and TV distribution divisions, encompassing both Disney and Fox employees. 20th Century Fox TV Distribution EVP of worldwide marketing Greg Drebin also is exiting.
Fox president of worldwide home entertainment Keith Feldman is staying on with Disney, sources told Media Play News, although his contract has not been finalized.
Howe is said to be leaving the company in November.
The new departures come on the heels of previous high-profile exits in the wake of the Disney acquisition.
Mike Dunn, for years the top home entertainment executive at 20th Century Fox, was among a handful of high-ranking studio executives to leave the studio on March 21, a day after the acquisition closed.
A short time later, Janice Marinelli, head of home entertainment at Disney, set up an office at Fox, reportedly to acquaint herself with the studio’s home entertainment team and see how they operate. But July 16 the 34-year Disney veteran announced her exit.
Also in July, veteran division publicist James Finn, who recently had become co-head of marketing, quietly announced his departure in an email to friends and colleagues. “For nearly 20 years I’ve called Fox my home,” he wrote. “Thank you to my colleagues, my mentors, my family, my friends and my team for making it so much fun.”
After Fox’s sale to Disney closed in March, reports surfaced that as many as 4,000 people could ultimately lose their jobs.
The 20th Century Fox sci-fi actioner Alita: Battle Angel was No. 1 for a second consecutive week on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended Aug. 3.
The top three on both charts were unchanged from the previous week. Lionsgate’s Hellboy remake was No. 2 in its second week, followed by Warner’s Shazam! in its third.
The week’s top newcomer, the animated UglyDolls from Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment, debuted at No. 4 on both charts.
Another newcomer, the Lionsgate political romantic comedy Long Shot, entered the campaign at No. 5 on both charts.
The Sony Pictures thriller The Intruder bowed at No. 6 on the overall sales chart and No. 7 on the Blu-ray chart.
The 20th Century Fox sci-fi actioner Alita: Battle Angel debuted at No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended July 27.
Based on a 1990s Japanese manga series, Alita earned $85.7 million at the domestic box office.
Lionsgate’s remake of Hellboy bowed at No. 2 on both charts. The film earned $21.9 million in U.S. theaters.
The previous week’s top seller, Warner’s Shazam!, dropped to No. 3 on both charts.
Fox’s faith-based Breakthrough slid to No. 4 on both charts.
Disney’s Captain Marvel maintained the No. 5 spot on both charts.
The animated movie Missing Link, from Fox, debuted at No. 6 after a $16.6 million haul at the domestic box office.
Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 82% of first-week sales for Alita. The 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc combo pack, which also included a 3D version of the film, comprised a whopping 30% of total Alita unit sales.
Hellboy had 68% of its sales come from Blu-ray, with 17% of its total sales from 4K UHD Blu-ray. Missing Link had 56% of its sales come from Blu-ray.
On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended July 28, Shazam! held onto the top spot for a second consecutive week.
Alita bowed at No. 2, with Hellboy at No. 3.
Breakthrough dropped to No. 4, while Paramount’s Pet Sematary remake slid to No. 5.
To make room for its pending Disney+ subscription streaming video service and global expansion of Hulu, Disney — as expected — has begun informing subscribers that 20th Century Fox’s FX+ streaming service will shut down Aug. 21.
Launched in 2017 as a $6 monthly add-on to pay-TV subscribers, Disney says FX+ viewers can still access catalog programing and catch-up shows on the FXNow app or at FXNetworks.com.
With Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox, merger synergies are affecting more than Fox personnel. And Disney clearly is putting its resources behind Disney+ and Hulu, which it now owns outright.
That much was clear during Fox’s upfront presser in May.
“I think the possibilities of a platform like Hulu are much more exciting to us in the long run than trying to scale up a stand-alone version,” John Landgraf, CEO of FX, told the media. “It really expands the dimensions and what we can do.”
Live Planet, creator of systems for virtual reality and blockchain tracking of entertainment content, has appointed Hanno Basse, former chief technology officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp., president of its Decentralized Media Solutions division.
“Basse brings Live Planet his extensive expertise in driving the adoption of emerging technologies to catalyze new media experiences and services, expanding the company’s innovations in immersive and linear video production, distribution and monetization,” according to a Live Planet press release.
Basse will expand the company’s global footprint, building on its end-to-end virtual reality video streaming and publishing solution and its blockchain-based video infrastructure platform, the VideoCoin Network.
He will be based in Los Angeles, reporting to Live Planet founder and CEO Halsey Minor.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to mark the next stage of growth for Live Planet with the addition of Hanno to our world-class team of media and technology experts. Hanno brings a truly unique level of senior experience to Live Planet that will be extremely valuable to us as we help our customers meet the increasing demands of streaming video and next-generation on-demand services,” said Minor in a statement. “The addition of a technology pioneer of Hanno’s caliber is emblematic of Live Planet’s strategic direction and I look forward to an incredibly exciting journey ahead.”
“The media processing and distribution technologies Halsey and his team have built are among the most groundbreaking I’ve seen. They provide the basis for a new generation of solutions that media, telco and corporations will eagerly embrace as our world moves toward increased decentralization, higher-speed communication and edge-based compute,” said Basse in a statement. “I cannot wait to show the world what we will deliver next.”
Basse was appointed chief technology officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in 2012, At Fox, Basse was responsible for technology strategy for the film studio, covering production/post-production, theatrical distribution and home entertainment. He created partnerships with Samsung, Ericsson and Barco, among others, which led to the founding of the Fox Innovation Lab. While at Fox, he also served as the first chairman of the UHD Alliance where he helped launch the 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc format and, in partnership with Samsung, established High Dynamic Range technology as a consumer product. He also served as the Fox board member of Movielabs.
Prior to joining 20th Century Fox, Basse was with DirecTV, where he served as SVP of broadcast systems engineering. In that role, he was responsible for the design and implementation of DirecTV’s broadcast infrastructure and served as the technical lead for the introduction of many technologies to DirecTV’s platform, including HD, 3D and on-demand services.
Basse studied radio communications technology at the Engineering College of the Soviet Air Defense Forces in Kiev, Ukraine, and received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Officer’s College of the Air Force in Kamenz, Germany.
The Live Planet VR System is an end-to-end solution for easily creating and delivering live and recorded picture-perfect stereoscopic VR video programming and applications, according to the company.
The VideoCoin Network provides video infrastructure for the blockchain-enabled internet, delivering decentralized video encoding, storage and content distribution.
DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group on June 5 kicked off a new mentoring program, “4 Cups of Coffee,” at the “Cocktails & Coffee” event at Sony Studios in the Norman Lear Commissary. Under the program, the DEG’s Canon Club will match women in search of mentors with one of its advisors or other women executives for 30-minute career conversations, either in person or over the phone, up to four times per year. The Canon Club was established by DEG to provide women at all levels and in all sectors of digital media the opportunity to share knowledge and build their business networks. Last month, the DEG announced the appointment of 10 advisory board members to provide input on Canon Club event programming, rotate as host at speaker-driven salons and social/networking events, serve as founding mentors in the “4 Cups of Coffee” program, and judge the annual Hedy Lamarr Awards for Women in Entertainment and Technology, among other responsibilities. The advisory board is led by chair Robin Tarufelli of Deloitte, and vice chair Meri Hassouni of Giant Interactive. Other members are Loren Nielsen, DTS; Sofia Chang, HBO; Dametra Johnson-Marletti, Microsoft; Karin Gilford, Movies Anywhere; Andrea Downing, PBS Distribution; Cheryl Goodman, Sony Electronics; Nadia Haney, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment; and Darcy Antonellis, Vubiquity. Other Canon Club mentors include Beth Kearns, 20th Century Fox; Heathyr Jozel-Garcia, ABC Studios; Samara Winterfeld, DTS; Ken Williams, ETC@USC; Kejo Swingler, HBO; and Rachel Crang, Paramount Pictures.
Mike Dunn, for years the top home entertainment executive at 20th Century Fox, is among a handful of high-ranking studio executives to exit March 21 in the wake of Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of the celebrated film studio, which was completed March 20.
Insiders told Media Play News that Dunn’s departure was not unexpected and the executive already is eyeing several startup opportunities in the technology field — after a two-week vacation.
Other senior 20th Century Fox executives who lost their jobs at the company, as reported by Variety, include Fox Film head Stacey Snider, domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson, communications EVP Heather Phillips, chief data strategist Julie Rieger, worldwide theatrical marketing president Pam Levine, and chief content officer Tony Sella.
One insider told Media Play News that Disney appears to be sticking by reports that ultimately 4,000 people will lose their jobs. “This morning, it felt like 5,000,” the insider said, noting that the day brought a steady succession of HR meetings as Fox staffers learned their fate — although many already knew, but had been asked to remain silent until today.
Since December 2016, Dunn has been president of product strategy and consumer business development for the studio, with oversight of emerging media platforms, distribution models, partnerships with consumer electronics and technology companies, and overseas opportunities.
He remained the de facto worldwide head of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, a position he first landed in 2005 — making him the longest-serving head of a major studio home entertainment division.
Dunn was named worldwide president of the division after three years as president, domestic home entertainment, a position he assumed after the December 2002 departure of Pat Wyatt, who resigned to start up an independent film production and financing company specializing in Japanese-style animated programming for home audiences.
Dunn joined Fox in 1987 as manager of marketing and subsequently rose to director and then VP. In 1995, he promoted to SVP of international marketing; three years later, he was named SVP and GM for Fox home video operations in Europe.
He was promoted to EVP, domestic marketing and sales in 2000, three years after the launch of DVD but before the disc’s explosive growth. In that capacity Dunn was dealing primarily with video rental dealers, both big national chains like Blockbusters and a dwindling number of independents and regional chains serviced by a network of third-party distributors.
Veteran distributor Steve Scavelli, president of Flash Electronics, remembers Dunn from the annual National Association of Video Distributors (NAVD) conferences at the Hyatt Grand Champions in Palm Springs every spring.
“Mike is a tremendously talented and consummate professional who has always been a pleasure to work with and grow our mutual businesses,” Scavelli said. “He is a visionary who always treated his team with class and respect. We at Flash wish him all the best in his future endeavors. One of the good guys!”
Scavelli’s sentiments are shared by Dunn’s peers.
Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, said of Dunn, “I haven’t known Mike personally for as long as some, and more by his great reputation, before my move from London to Los Angeles some five years ago. I will always be grateful to Mike for how welcoming he was to me, both personally and professionally, as my family settled into life in a new country.
“He was a fierce competitor, a good partner where we worked together on distribution in some smaller territories, a strong leader and colleague on the DEG Board and someone who could light up any room with his ‘smarts’ and great sense of humor.
“I wish Mike well and can’t wait to hear about his next ‘chapter,’ which I’m sure will be as interesting as his previous ones.”
Ron Sanders, president of worldwide distribution of the Warner Picture Group and president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, said, “Over the more than 10 years we’ve been colleagues in the industry, Mike and I have transitioned from wary competitors to good friends. His casual, humble demeanor belies a sharp intellect with keen ideas on how to approach challenges. He has made Fox into a powerhouse with strong talent and enviable performance.”
Dunn also served as chairman of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group for two years, from 2016 to 2018. Amy Jo Smith, the DEG’s CEO, said of Dunn, “Mike is the rare executive who exhibits a vision for our business, a keen understanding of what consumers want, and fair leadership in equal parts. It’s been a privilege to have him share his expertise with DEG and I look forward to seeing what he does next.”
During Dunn’s tenure as head of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, the industry shifted from a rental to a purchase model thanks to the rapid rise of DVD. Dunn also oversaw the studio’s home entertainment business during the bruising format war between the proposed high-definition successors to DVD, Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. Blu-ray eventually won the battle.
But his legacy, observers say, is his early belief in digital distribution and embracing technology, which led to partnerships with tech giants such as Amazon and Google and the establishment of Fox Innovation Labs, a high-tech think tank launched in 2014 — under the auspices of Dunn; Danny Kaye, 20th Century Fox’s research and tech strategy EVP; and chief technology officer Hanno Basse — as a way to meld the often disparate worlds of technology and entertainment, of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
The Fox Innovation Labs will not continue under Disney ownership, insiders told Media Play News. As part of the reorganization, Fox Innovation Lab executive Danny Kaye also is exiting.
As far back as 2007, Dunn was thinking digital. In October of that year, 20th Century Fox became the first studio to include a digital copy of a movie on a physical disc. As the Hollywood Reporter noted at the time, “the special-edition DVD of Live Free or Die Hard will come with an electronic copy of the complete movie that can be played on a computer and select portable video players.” Dunn commented at the time, “This may be the killer app, where you have physical media that allows you to have a big-screen experience and at the same time move the file around to other devices and have a great experience there as well.”
Tom Campbell, company spokesman and chief technologist at Video and Audio Center, a high-end consumer electronics chain in Southern California, said about Dunn, “He gets it – he understands the content to our category.” Just as former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb is hailed as the father of DVD, Campbell said, “I call Mike Dunn the father of Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.”
When Video and Audio Center launched 4K Ultra HD with the Samsung player and 20th Century Fox’s The Martian, Campbell said, “it was Mike Dunn who was at our store. He truly is one of a kind, and I’m excited to see what he moves into next.”
Four British men have been sentenced a combined 4.5 years jail time for operating a website that afforded users illegal access to Hollywood movies, including Lionsgate U.K.’s The Expendables 3, before they were available in theatres.
Prosecutors say the group – which included Steven Pegram (40), Mark Rollin (37), Paul Taylor (54), and Alan Stephenson (42) — defrauded Lionsgate, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and other studios of more than $11 million in combined box office revenue, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Specifically, the group hacked Lionsgate’s U.K. server in 2014 through a third-party cloud-based content management service, accessing The Expendables 3 DVD screener and other content and then posting the title on their file-sharing website, TheFoundry.name.
Lionsgate estimates it lost about $2 million on the scheme. Other hacked titles included Warner Bros.’ Godzilla and 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past — the two movies suffering more than $5 million in lost revenue.
“These defendants set up and ran a site which allowed users to download films for free via BitTorrent, including the Expendables 3 before its release in the cinema,”Leigh Webber, with the specialist fraud division of the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement.“All of them had a clear knowledge of what the site was used for and were well aware they were breaching the copyright of the production companies.”
The Expendables 3, the last installment in Sylvester Stallone’s ensemble action franchise, resulted in numerous litigation settlements between Lionsgate and pirate sites, including Hulkfile, Played.to, LimeTorrents, Dotsemper and Swankshare.
Following the official completion of the Walt Disney Co.’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and related businesses at 12:02 a.m. ET March 20, Disney CEO Bob Iger sent out an internal memo to combined staff calling the deal “a historic day for our company.”
The histrionics of the merger are just beginning in what could reportedly result in the elimination of more than 4,000 positions.
“I wish I could tell you that the hardest part is behind us; that closing the deal was the finish line, rather than just the next milestone,” wrote Iger. “What lies ahead is the challenging work of uniting our businesses to create a dynamic, global entertainment company with the content, the platforms, and the reach to deliver industry-defying experiences that will engage consumers around the world for generations to come.”
Aside from the previously reported high-profile departure of 20th Century Fox Film chairman/CEO Stacey Snider, studio vice chairman Emma Watts, Elizabeth Gabler, head of Fox 2000, and Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, co-heads at Fox Searchlight, are transitioning to Disney.
Other senior executives making the move include Andrea Miloro and Robert Baird, co-presidents, Fox Animation, and Vanessa Morrison, president, Fox Family. All report to Alan Horn, chairman Walt Disney Studios, and Watts.
In his memo, Iger called for patience during the integration process, which he said would impact some businesses more than others.
“We may not have answers to all of your questions at this moment, but we understand how vital information is and we’re committed to moving as quickly as possible to provide clarity regarding how your role may be impacted,” he wrote.
The deal includes 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Family and Fox Animation; Fox’s television creative units, 20th Century Fox Television, FX Productions and Fox21; FX Networks; National Geographic Partners; Fox Networks Group International; Star India; and Fox’s interests in Hulu, Tata Sky and Endemol Shine Group.
As part of the deal, Disney has agreed to sell 21st Century Fox’s Regional Sports Networks.