Disney movie studio chairman Rich Ross resigns

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Rich Ross

Rich Ross

Blame it all on an embarrassment of Rich’s.

After less than three years in the job, Rich Ross has quit as chairman of the Walt Disney Company’s movie studio.

Under his watch, the Mouse House released this spring’s partly animated John Carter, one of Hollywood’s biggest bombs in recent years. The big-budget science-fiction saga had been years in the development, with costs zooming to over $250 million.

In March, Disney announced that it anticipated about $200 million in losses for John Carter, causing the studio to have $80 million to $120 million in operating losses overall for the movie division.

Last year, another Mars-set movie, the animated Mars Needs Moms, lost $70 million.

Disney will not name a new studio head immediately, said a source familiar with the circumstances.

“The best people need to be in the right jobs, in roles they are passionate about, doing work that leverages the full range of their abilities,” Ross — named as chairman in October 2009 — told his staff in an e-mailed memo Friday. “I no longer believe the Chairman role is the right professional fit for me.”

“For more than a decade, Rich Ross’ creative instincts, business acumen and personal integrity have driven results in key businesses for Disney,” Bob Iger, CEO of the entertainment giant, said in a statement. “I appreciate his countless contributions throughout his entire career at Disney and expect he will have tremendous success in whatever he chooses to do next.”

Ross, 50, “was a superstar at the Disney Channel, and the results at the studio have not been exceptional,” said Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould. Nonetheless, he expressed surprise that Ross was leaving. Gould noted his success when president of the Disney Channel, where he created such blockbuster franchises as High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

One analyst blamed his exit on his inability to forestall major writedowns.

“At some level, he takes responsibility for not fixing them or shutting them down,” said Needham & Co. equity analyst Laura Martin. “They need to lower the risk of entry and build franchise films from that base. Not go all-in, hoping it works out.”

Ross joined Disney in 1996 as Disney Channel’s senior vice-president for programming and production. He was promoted to positions of increasing responsibility before being named Disney Channel president in April 2004. Due to his success at the Disney Channel, Iger chose him to succeed longtime chairman Dick Cook, whom Iger forced out, as head of the Disney Company’s film division.

Prior to his tenure at Disney, Ross was a member of the executive team that launched FX Networks. Ross also held several senior positions from 1986 to 1993 at Nickelodeon, where he oversaw talent booking, casting and program development, and was involved in the launch of the channel’s first successful syndicated show and its first international network.

Ross is a member of the board of directors for Hollywood Radio Television Society and Cable in the Classroom — an organization that represents the cable telecommunication industry’s commitment to education. A native of New York and a 1983 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International and English, Ross received his J.D. degree from New York’s Fordham University in 1986.

Analyst Gould expects that investors will be affected little by Ross quitting, as Disney’s much-larger theme-park and cable network businesses are much bigger influences on the company’s financial results.

Disney shares rose 34 cents (0.8%) to $42.42 in Friday afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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