The Walt Disney Company has abruptly fired Peter Rice, its most senior television content executive, citing an ill fit with Disney’s corporate culture, according to three people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information.
Mr. Rice, chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, a division of the company that makes more than 300 shows annually for platforms like ABC, Disney Channel, Disney+, Hulu and FX, was ousted by Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, in a brief meeting on Wednesday, according to these people. Mr. Rice, who has also overseen ABC News, most recently renewed his contract at Disney in August. It ran until the end of 2024. Disney will pay him out, the people said.
Disney is expected to announce on Thursday that Mr. Rice will be replaced by his top lieutenant, Dana Walden, who has been chairwoman for entertainment for Walt Disney Television.
Mr. Rice declined to comment. Ms. Walden could not be reached for comment.
The ouster of Mr. Rice will go off like a sonic boom in Hollywood, where he is widely admired. Many people in the entertainment business — outside of Disney, at least — have even seen him as a possible candidate to succeed Mr. Chapek as Disney’s chief executive. Mr. Chapek’s decision is sure to generate questions about whether that chatter got a little too loud; Mr. Chapek has had a difficult few months, with Disney becoming a political punching bag, particularly for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Disney’s stock price has also fallen sharply amid industrywide concerns about the profitability of streaming services.
In April, Mr. Chapek fired the company’s most senior communications and government relations executive; the executive, Geoff Morrell, had only joined Disney in January.
Susan E. Arnold, chairwoman of Disney’s board, said in an emailed statement that Mr. Chapek had the board’s backing.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Mr. Rice started his entertainment career in 1987, when he was a summer intern at 20th Century Fox. Over the next three decades, he would become close to that company’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, and ultimately rise to become president of 21st Century Fox. Mr. Murdoch sold most of 21st Century Fox to Disney in 2017 in a deal valued at roughly $52 billion. Mr. Rice and Ms. Walden both came to Disney as part of the acquisition.