Ron Howard’s production company picks up print vet Rich Battista

Director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer hired former Time Inc. Chief Executive Rich Battista to head their production powerhouse, Imagine Entertainment — despite his stormy tenure in the world of magazine publishing.

In announcing Battista’s new CEO role, the production company behind such hit movies as “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13” lauded his days running the Time Inc. empire.

“During his tenure, the company transformed from a mostly print business into a leading multi-media enterprise and a top ten digital property in the US with over 140 million monthly unique users, over 1 billion monthly video views, over 280 million social followers and a premier live events business,” Imagine Entertainment said.

But not everyone in the publishing world remembers it quite that way.

“He presided over the demise of a great American publishing empire,” said one disapproving former top editor.

Indeed, shortly after Time Inc.’s $2.8 billion sale to Meredith in January 2018, the new owner began laying off people and selling off Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated to new owners. It shuttered Money magazine and only kept the women-focused titles such as People and InStyle — which it blended into the company’s other female-focused pubs.

Battista, who took the helm of Time in 2016, walked away with a $15.8 million severance package.

There are, of course, Battista supporters, who say he was given a tough row to hoe.

“He came with a bucketful of ideas but, because of a weak board and a poor predecessor, he could not fulfill them,” said one former colleague.

Battista, who had landed first at Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated after two years running Mandalay Sports in Hollywood, was catapulted to the CEO job after Joe Ripp suddenly stepped down in September 2016 for health reasons.

“It’s hard to blame a person who was really CEO for just a little over a year,” said the Battista supporter of the treacherous seas he had to navigate.

Time Inc. had been spun off as an independent public company from Time Warner in 2014 under Ripp, but Time Warner’s CEO at the time, Jeff Bewkes, had saddled Time Inc. with $1.3 billion in debt. The money was primarily used to pay for a disastrous $1.6 billion acquisition of the British publisher IPC Media in pre-recession 2001 — which the parent company had funded. It was sold in 2018 for about $167 million.

Before Mandalay Sports, Battista had spent four years running Gemstar-TV Guide, which was sold in 2008 for $2.3 billion. Before that, he had a long career at Fox, including serving as president of national cable networks.

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