Five months after the Walt Disney Co. closed its acquisition of 20th Century Fox, the fabled film studio’s home entertainment division lumbers on in a protracted state of uncertainty.
New releases are marketed and promoted, often with publicity events to stir up consumer interest. Just last week, the DVD release of FX’s Mayans M.C.: The Complete First Season was celebrated with a party at Heroes Motors in Los Angeles.
And yet it’s hardly business as usual. No one seems to have any idea of how long their jobs will last — or whether they will be offered employment at Disney. Questions, too, remain about the fate of the division. Will it continue to operate as a standalone entity within the Walt Disney Co., or will it be integrated into Disney’s own home entertainment unit, which recently changed its name to Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International.
“No one knows anything,” said one staffer who asked not to be identified. “There have been no discussions, no contracts – we’re all just doing our jobs without knowing for how long we’re going to have jobs.”
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.
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.”
Emails sent to his Fox account receive this reply: “James Finn is no longer with Twentieth Century Fox. For immediate assistance please contact Keith Feldman (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you.”
Feldman had been Dunn’s top lieutenant, appointed as president of worldwide home entertainment in February 2017 in the wake of his boss’s promotion to president of product strategy and consumer business development.
Feldman did not respond to emails.
Finn’s departure was followed on July 16 by the sudden, and unexpected, departure of Marinelli, a 34-year Disney veteran.
Marinelli had been vetting 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment team members, insiders told Media Play News, and her exit only intensified their confusion over their fate.
A Disney publicist subsequently told Media Play News that Julia Howe, who had been co-head of marketing, with Finn, for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, was now sole head of marketing.
Two weeks later, it was revealed that Howe, too, would be leaving, with a departure date set for some time in November.
Howe had been considered one of Fox’s rising stars and one of the home entertainment sector’s top marketers.
Howe did not return calls or emails.
Word of Howe’s departure came just one day after Disney CEO Bob Iger on a quarterly earnings call expressed surprise, and dismay, at a fiscal downturn at Fox — specifically, a third-quarter operating loss of $170 million, the opposite of a projected $180 million operating profit.
“One of the biggest issues we faced in the quarter was the performance of the Fox film business,” Iger said on the call. “It was well below what it had been and well below what we thought it would be when we did the acquisition.”
This week, Media Play News received a press release from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for the Oct. 8 release, on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, of Vikings: Season 5 Vol. 2.
The boilerplate description of the studio has no mention of the Walt Disney Co. It reads exactly as it did before the acquisition: “Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC (TCFHE) is a recognized global industry leader and a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film.”