The entertainment conglomerate's Buena Vista Television Productions hasn't been doing enough to satisfy the programming needs of its big sister, the ABC Prime Time Division. In fact, since Home Improvement went off the air, the studio hasn't been giving the distributor much at all.
So, under orders from the Grand Mouse himself, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, Walt Disney Television Studio, which includes Buena Vista, is merging into the newly dubbed ABC Entertainment Television Group, it was announced Thursday.
"This organization move is a further step in recognizing the changing television landscape and completes the integration [of ABC and Buena Vista]," Eisner said in a statement. The move, he says, will "prepare the Walt Disney Company for the beginning of the next century."
The newly formed branch will be jointly headed by Lloyd Braun (former boss of Buena Vista) and Stu Bloomberg (who ran ABC's prime-time group), both of whom will report to ABC Television Network President Patricia Fili-Krushel. The much-embattled Jamie Tarses remains president of ABC Entertainment.
The move not only cuts costs (for reasons way too long-winded and boring to explain), but Disney hopes it will get it closer to the business model it envisioned when it purchased ABC for $19 billion in 1997. That model, of course, is the new "vertically oriented" paradigm of the network television world--an entertainment giant owning both production and distribution channels.
Right now, Disney wants the mojo Fox enjoys: Nine of the prime-time shows on Rupert Murdoch's broadcast network are produced by his very own TV arm, including Ally McBeal and The Simpsons. (For this coming season, Buena Vista is supplying ABC with only five shows.)
That rocks for Fox, which has the head of its studio and its network report to the same person. Such synergy means the network doesn't have to pay licensing fees to someone else to televise those programs, and Fox gets all of the immensely popular, and lucrative, syndication rights. Compare that to the situation NBC has with ER, in which the network and its parent have to pay $13 million to producer Warner Bros. just to show one episode of the doc drama.
You can see why Disney wants the new paradigm.
So far, though, Buena Vista and ABC haven't enjoyed that synergy. In fact, the production company and the network reputedly haven't got along too well since Disney put them under the same umbrella two years ago.
Disney hopes that making both its network and its television studio accountable to the same person will change that.