Disney studio head Rich Ross seen as team player
* Ross oversaw "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical"
* Known for working in collaboration with Disney divisions
By Alex Dobuzinskis and Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co's new studio chief Rich Ross has done a pitch-perfect job of putting corporate goals set in 2005 by incoming CEO Bob Iger in motion -- think global, embrace new technology and invest only in products Disney can sell across all its business divisions.
As the head of Disney Channel Worldwide since 2004, Ross oversaw a slate of pre-teen TV fare that rose to a ratings crescendo with sitcom "Hannah Montana" and made-for-TV movie "High School Musical".
Both became multi-billion-dollar franchises that sold toys, clothes, video games, music, and movie, stage show and theme park tickets for Disney and spawned a new crop of tween TV hits with earnest teeny-bop stars like the Jonas Brothers boy band.
Using Web- and music-based promotions to lure kids to new shows, the Disney Channel under Ross soared to No. 1 among kids 9-14 for nine years running on shows like "Sonny With a Chance," "Wizards of Waverly", "Suite Life of Zach and Cody" and animated fare "Kim Possible" and "Phineas and Ferb" rounding out its schedule.
Ross's formula for TV-with-a-lesson translated well -- into 32 languages and 94 channels and programming streams reaching 163 countries.
But Ross, who was promoted on Monday to chairman of Walt Disney Studios to replace longtime studios chief Dick Cook, has little experience making films for theatrical release.
Ross, 47, also is seen as less well-versed in the complex social rules of Hollywood than the jovial Cook, who convinced powerhouse directors Jerry Bruckheimer, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and Tim Burton to join Disney's movie stable.
Pointing out that Cook had "strong personal ties" to actors in Disney's biggest hits, Cowen & Co analyst Doug Creutz recently expressed concern "that Cook's exit could have a meaningful impact on the future" of those key franchises.
More important to Iger, however, is Ross's knack for getting Disney divisions to creatively work together to maximize profits.
"With his success in building the Disney brand across many of our businesses, his astute marketing sensibility, his proven ability in working effectively with talent and his skill at navigating complex global markets, I'm confident he's the perfect leader for our studio group," Iger said in a statement on Monday.
The Los Angeles Times described Ross as "the ultimate team player," and the New York Times said he is a Disney executive who gets behind the brand, "donning plastic Mickey Mouse ears and clapping along with the parade when necessary."
"I guess I'm lucky I work at a company that has all the assets, so everybody can figure out what makes the most sense," Ross told TV Week last year.
Ross joined the Disney Channel in 1996, after previously working as an executive at cable channel FX Networks, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (NWSA.O).
He was a member of the executive team that launched FX in 1994, and prior to that he worked at childrens' cable network Nickelodeon. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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