A line of of Maker Studios workers were ushered out the gates of Walt Disney Studios yesterday, and it’s safe to bet that they weren’t singing “Heigh-ho” as they went.
In the nearly two and a half years since the entertainment giant acquired the multi-channel network in a $675 million deal, a string of execs and workaday employees have departed the Mouse House, an exodus that was capped by a round of layoffs on Thursday that affected “less than 30 people,” according to a Maker spokesperson.
“Maker Studios’ business is constantly evolving, and after careful thought, we have decided to make some strategic adjustments — reducing staff in some areas while still actively hiring in others — to best align with the go-forward strategy of the company,” said the company in a statement.
The thinning of the herd began back in June 2014, less than three months after Maker’s acquisition by Disney, when it laid off 10% of its workforce, then said to be 380 employees.
At the time, there were promises that Maker’s vast global network of digital creators (currently said to number 60,000) — including most-subscribed YouTube star Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a. PewDiePie) — would be given the opportunity to harness Disney’s massive vault of iconic IP, ranging from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to “Star Wars” and Marvel Comics. But only a trickle of synergistic efforts has emerged, most notably a global live stream unboxing of the new line of “Star Wars” merchandise last September, featuring a diverse lineup of Maker Studios talent.
Maker Studios’ first public event on the Disney lot in Burbank, Ca.
A few weeks prior to the “Star Wars” unboxing, Maker began shedding execs. The first casualties were chief content officer Erin McPherson (below, in video) and SVP of marketing Jeremy Welt, who were let go in August 2014. CEO Ynon Kreiz left in January following the close of Maker’s post-Disney acquisition earn-out period. He was followed by EVP of programming Bonnie Pan, who departed in March. EVP and GM of enterprise Sam Wick left to join United Talent Agency in April. Then, in May, Maker’s SVP of global strategic partnerships Todd Barrish left to join Endemol Shine Beyond USA as its EVP of creative partnerships, where he was reunited with Pan, who had taken the post of president.
In spite of all the turmoil, Peter Csathy, founder and chairman of tech and media investment and consulting firm Creatv Media, still believes that Maker was a good buy for Disney.
“It gave them DNA that they otherwise didn’t have, and they also sent a strong message to [Wall Street] and to the entire company that they needed to act on the digital-first forces around them and needed to play where millennials play,” Csathy told VideoInk. “That means mobile and short-form. And they did it before everybody else. They haven’t even begun to fully leverage Maker yet as a distribution platform for Disney IP. But they will.”
[Get more of Peter Csathy’s thoughts on the Maker Studios / Disney deal in Episode 3 of Digital Cabana, below]