Why Channing Dungey’s Leap to Netflix Is Making TV Folks ‘Queasy’

“Her decision makes everyone in traditional television queasy, jealous and self-loathing,” one TV exec says

Last Updated: April 29, 2019 @ 1:15 PM

ABC Entertainment head Channing Dungey’s leap to Netflix from Disney is a sign of the times, and it is making folks in traditional television uneasy.

How do you measure the slow-moving earthquake that is the television business in late 2018, as if we even know what “television” means anymore? The inexorable trend of cord-cutting driven by young people who may never know a cable box rides tandem with the stunning rise of Netflix and its position of dominance for at-home entertainment viewing.

This change has also led to an exodus of top talent from all over Hollywood, but especially from Disney, to the streaming giant. For a sought-after executive and rare woman of color at the presidency of an entertainment network to leave a top job at Disney, drop out of her contract and then show up at Netflix as a vice president three weeks later is a milestone that is making people “queasy,” according to one executive with whom I spoke.

Dungey’s move “speaks volumes about the future of network TV,” this executive said. “Channing could have done virtually anything she wanted — she is a very rare executive at her level — and she chose to leave Disney and join Netflix.”

Said this executive: “Her decision makes everyone in traditional television queasy, jealous and self-loathing.”

Dungey essentially took a demotion to place herself at the center of where she perceives the most exciting action to be. And, of course, where she can once again work with cherished creative partners like Kenya Barris and Shonda Rhimes, who had already been lured from Disney to Netflix earlier this year.

It’s a bellwether move, and a reminder to Disney CEO Bob Iger — who personally mentored Dungey — that he is battling historic forces in the sector.

There is also a tangible fear around Hollywood about the rise of Netflix. Every week brings a flurry of high- and low-profile poaches and hires involving creative executives. My in-box is full of emails with subject lines: “I’ve moved!” More often than not, that move is to Netflix.

I’m hearing from individuals inside the streaming giant that the hiring spree is starting to slow. But that comes after two to three years of Netflix doubling salaries in some cases, and doling out $100 million development deals in others.

The change that started a decade ago is well underway and accelerating.