The Television Critics Association’s winter press tour kicked off with a bang today. Fox’s network chiefs spoke publicly for the first time about their company’s uncertain future since last month, when Disney announced its acquisition of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion after spinning off some Fox assets—including Fox Broadcasting, Fox News and Fox Sports—into a company that will tentatively be called New Fox.
In an attempt to clarify the future of the Fox TV properties that will—and won’t—be bought by Disney, Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden reiterated that until the Disney/Fox deal closes in 12-18 months, it’s “business as usual” for them.
Newman and Walden find themselves in an unique position among Fox execs affected by the Disney deal in that they oversee both the television studio (which will be heading to Disney) and the Fox network (which will be part of New Fox).
Newman kicked off Fox’s executive session by addressing “the elephant in the room, or in our case, the mouse.” He joked that he and Walden enjoyed their holiday vacation, flashing a photo of their faces superimposed over two people posing with Mickey Mouse.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say there was anxiety the week the deal was announced among the company’s creative partners,” said Newman. “We assured them this is going to be business as usual.”
After all, “we have to operate at Fox as if this deal may not go through,” said Newman, who quickly added that “our expectation is that it will go through.”
To that end, Newman and Walden said they don’t expect to change how they’ll approach this year’s development season and upfront in light of the Disney news. Fox will order around the same number of pilots as usual, Newman said.
Both execs will “remain focused on managing the business at Fox” and “maintaining a brand that is meaningful to advertisers and distributors,” said Newman. He added that Fox offers advertisers an audience that is “younger, more gender-balanced and more diverse than the other networks,” making the brand extremely valuable to advertisers.
While Newman said the studio “has been my home for 28 years,” he explained that neither he nor Walden have decided what they will ultimately do: remain with the television studio, stick with the network, or leave to pursue other opportunities outside of both companies.
“We don’t have a timeline for our decision. We anticipate staying the course for this period of time to get to the resolution of this merger,” said Newman. For now, “we remain super-committed to the network and studio. … For the next 12-18 months, we’re very committed to Fox and all the people we’re in business with.”
Newman said the television studio has “long been home to the strongest roster of creative leaders into the industry,” while New Fox will be “a very robust and nimble company which will continue the tradition of disruption, which has always been core to the Fox brand.”
Walden added that New Fox will be “an extremely lucrative, domestically-focused business” which will have “a robust advertising business.” She said broadcast real estate will remain “very valuable” and pushed back against early speculation that Fox will abandon entertainment programming after the Disney deal goes through,. Instead, she insisted, Fox will continue to broadcast entertainment programming. There are also no plans to move any existing shows from Fox over to ABC as part of the deal.
As for what will happen to the 21st Century Fox content that heads over to Disney, Newman said that Disney execs have assured them they love Fox’s content and brand and have no plans to “Disney-fy” the Fox content or turn the edgy brand into a “PG company.”