Disney Elevates Marketing Exec Oren Aviv to Head Production

Also See Video of Aviv's Entertainment Marketers Luncheon Speech

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Hollywood, recognizing its most successful movies often hinge on savvy marketing, has elevated another top studio marketer into an expanded position with oversight on the kinds of movies that will be released. Oren Aviv, who was president of marketing at the Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures and more recently its chief creative officer, has been named president of production.
In appointing Mr. Aviv, Disney dumped production president Nina Jacobson, an eight-year Disney veteran with two years left on a recently signed three-year deal. Mr. Aviv is the second high-profile marketing executive to rise in the studio ranks recently. Marc Shmuger, a longtime marketing executive at NBC Universal's Universal Pictures, was promoted to chairman this spring during a reorganization at the studio.

Steeped mostly in marketing, corporate partnerships and promotions, neither executive has had much hands-on production experience, though Mr. Aviv was an executive producer on the hit action drama "National Treasure." He also originated the idea and had a story credit on the film, pursuing his interest in the creative side of the business.

Solid year
Though Hollywood is having a solid year -- box office figures are up about 7% and attendance has increased about 4% from the previous year -- studio executives are evaluating their slates, pairing costs and paying more attention to what consumers want in their entertainment.

By promoting executives with strong marketing backgrounds, the studios are acknowledging that they need to respond to audiences that are increasingly distracted by other entertainment options.

"These are very bright people who have an understanding of what makes movies work in the marketplace," said Tom Sherak, a partner with former Disney chief Joe Roth at Revolution Studios. "They're the right people in the right place at the right time."

Some industry veterans say production and marketing executives work more closely together than they ever have before and the two sides understand each other even if they come from seemingly opposite sides of the fence.

Shouldn't be swayed
Still, marketing executives shouldn't be swayed just because they think a project is sellable, Mr. Sherak said.

"The business will always be about the idea and the written word," Mr. Sherak said. "Success will come because of passion."

But with marketing executives in key decision-making positions at Universal and Disney, it's not a stretch to see they'll value selling power alongside artistic merit.

Mr. Aviv declined to comment.

Disney, on the heels of the year's most successful film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," has said it will slim down its output from 18 movies a year to about a dozen live-action and animated movies under the Walt Disney and Touchstone banners. The studio is aiming for more "four-quadrant" films, which, like "Pirates," appeal across the broadest demographics. The majority of the releases, as many as 10, will be Disney-branded. Those movies, many of them family fare, are the most likely to spawn franchises that can fan out over Disney's various divisions, from theme parks and TV networks to music and home entertainment.

Smaller role for Touchstone
Touchstone, which has produced mainly adult-targeted dramas and action movies, will play a much smaller role going forward.

Disney executives also confirmed this week that they're cutting some 650 jobs worldwide, about 20% of the company's workforce. Hardest hit will be the home-entertainment division, distribution and international.

Disney also shuffled a number of other executives, naming Jim Gallagher president of Buena Vista Pictures Marketing. He had been senior VP-creative services. Other changes include the appointment of Mark Zoradi as president of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, overseeing worldwide distribution and marketing. Bob Chapek is the new president of Buena Vista Worldwide Home Entertainment.
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