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Disney Fires TV Content Chief Peter Rice in Abrupt Shake-Up as Board Backs CEO Bob Chapek

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  • Disney has abruptly fired Peter Rice, its most senior television content executive, sources told CNBC.
  • Rice didn't know the firing was coming, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
  • Disney elevated Dana Walden to take over for Rice, while the company's board expressed its support for CEO Bob Chapek.
  • Chapek told Rice in a short meeting Wednesday he wasn't a cultural fit at Disney, a source told CNBC.

LOS ANGELES — Disney has abruptly fired Peter Rice, its most senior television content executive, multiple sources told CNBC on Thursday, while the company's board expressed support for CEO Bob Chapek.

Rice, who came to Disney in 2019, after the company finalized its deal to buy 21st Century Fox, didn't know the firing was coming, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. He will be succeeded by Dana Walden, Rice's top lieutenant, effective immediately.

Chapek told Rice he wasn't a cultural fit at Disney in a short meeting on Wednesday, one of the people said. Based on feedback from other Disney employees, the CEO made the decision Rice didn't work collaboratively with others and was more interested in controlling his own fiefdom, the person said. Chapek also felt Walden excelled in working with others, the person said.

"Dana is a dynamic, collaborative leader and cultural force who in just three years has transformed our television business into a content powerhouse that consistently delivers the entertainment audiences crave," Chapek said in a statement.

While generally well liked personally, Rice has irritated some co-workers at Disney for monopolizing information rather than sharing it with co-workers — a style that may have worked at Fox but was ill-fitting at Disney, according to a person familiar with the matter. He clashed with former Disney head of streaming Kevin Mayer over who should have greenlight powers over choosing content for Disney+.

Still, Rice supported Chapek's organizational changes, which gave him back the power to have direct conversations with Hollywood talent about whether Disney would choose their work, another person said. Rice was given an undisclosed payout, a person familiar with the matter said.

Rice also interviewed with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav last year for a top content executive role, according to people familiar with the matter. Zaslav ultimately decided he didn't want the extra layer between him and division heads, the people said. Disney eventually renewed Rice's contract in August 2021, which was set to run through 2024.

Chapek's future

Rice was seen as a possible candidate to succeed Chapek as Disney's chief executive, though that's not why he was fired, two of the people said. Rice is respected in Hollywood, and his ouster is "unheard of" and "sizeable," one of the people said. A Disney spokesperson declined to comment. Rice couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

"The strength of the Walt Disney Company's businesses coming out of the pandemic is a testament to Bob's leadership and vision for the company's future," Susan Arnold, chair of Disney's board, said in a statement. "In this important time of business growth and transformation, we are committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob and his leadership team have the support and confidence of the board."

Arnold's statement is the first public comment Disney's board has made about Chapek since he's dealt with several controversies this year, including a falling out with former CEO Bob Iger and his handling of communications around Florida's "Don't Say Gay" legislation. Chapek's contract is up in February.

Rice's firing comes as Disney is aggressively working to expand its streaming audience, a major priority of Chapek's. Rice oversaw 20th Television, ABC Entertainment, ABC News and FX, among other brands.

— CNBC's Julia Boorstin contributed to this report.

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