April 17, 2024

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After a year of “fixing things”, Bob Iger tells Disney employees about his plans to reshape the company for the future

After a year of “fixing things”, Bob Iger tells Disney employees about his plans to reshape the company for the future

Editor’s noteH: A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. Sign up for our daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.


Bob Iger, dressed in a gray suit and white pressed shirt, sans tie, took the stage Tuesday afternoon at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City, greeting an anxious crowd of Disney employees who had gathered for his highly anticipated appearance.

The CEO, now a year into his second stint at the media group, was due to address his troops at the company’s annual town hall – and Tuesday’s meeting was of particular interest to company members. Residents of the Magic Kingdom, given the number of blunt comments Iger made about the state of the company’s affairs.

Iger was accompanied by “News of the World” anchor David Muir, who joked at the start of the event that, according to a video he obtained of key parts of the discussion, he thought it was a “very good sign” for the future of the news department. He was asked to fill the role of event moderator. The joke and the nervous laughter that followed were a not-so-subtle reference to the uncertainty sweeping the world. ABC News and the company in general over the past few months after Iger went public to sell some of Disney’s linear assets.

Of course, it’s not just ABC’s future that was up in the air. Eger has only had a full plate since regaining the throne Magic Kingdom last year. He’s tasked with repositioning ESPN for a direct-to-consumer future, reversing the company’s faltering creative engine (i.e., Marvel Studios’ general stumble), navigating a difficult advertising climate, bringing the Hulu streaming service entirely under the Disney umbrella, and cutting billions of dollars. dollars in costs.

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Traversing such difficult terrain is difficult enough on its own. But it’s much more difficult at a time when we’re also facing two historic work stoppages, where industry-defining issues like artificial intelligence have been on the table during tortuous, marathon negotiations with Hollywood screenwriters and actors.

In short, it’s been a tough 12 months for the legendary Disney chief — something Iger has not been ashamed of. As Iger put it, while admitting that 2023 was more difficult than he expected, it was just “one of those years.”

“I knew there were countless challenges I would face upon returning,” Iger said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I never wavered in the decision to come back, and it’s still great to come back.”

Iger told Disney employees that he spent a significant amount of time “fixing things” over the past year. But now, Iger said, he wants to spend the next year building a modern version of the Walt Disney Company: one that can continue into the future. “Building is more fun than repairing,” he noted.

This is undoubtedly true. But it’s still unclear what Iger would like to do with some of the company’s declining television assets, specifically ABC. Is selling such assets still on the table? Iger downplayed this possibility but wouldn’t rule it out, suggesting that if the right offer came along, he might be willing to part with parts of the portfolio on the downside.

But after surprising employees at the Disney-owned networks earlier this year by saying out loud that the port “may not be essential” to the company moving forward, it’s notable that Iger’s public comments have changed a bit. Recently, he’s been talking about the importance of one particular linear asset, ABC, perhaps indicating that he wants to keep the terrestrial giant in the Disney fold.
That trend continued on ABC Talk on Tuesday.

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However, Iger wasn’t shy about saying that Disney is “trying to carry this stuff over [linear] companies on the new business model.” He admitted that Disney’s leadership is looking at the “future” of its entire portfolio, studying whether various assets can grow. “Will they remain the same or will their value decrease?” Iger asked. “And if so, what Should we do about it?

However, Iger spoke very positively about ABC News in his discussion with Muir. He noted that this had been “in one way or another” part of his “executive life since 1993.” He stressed that he “believes in the future of news.” He praised ABC News for its coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas.

When Iger later handed the floor to Dana Walden, the Disney Entertainment co-president who oversees the network’s business, she spoke more broadly about the benefits of having a network like ABC within the Disney portfolio.

“What we’ve discovered is that our linear channels are deeply ingrained in our broadcast strategy,” Walden said. “They want to watch live shows, sports, live events – they want to watch it in a time slot, and the place you can do that, for the most part, is linear channels… The idea of ​​a community event is still very much on linear.”

On the ESPN front, network president Jimmy Pitaro has laid out a carefully planned transition that the sports mammoth is preparing to make via streaming. ESPN, which prints large sums of money for Mickey Mouse, continues to do research on its shows, “looking at things like timing” and “price point,” he said. Pitaro confirmed that customers will still be able to access ESPN through traditional cable or satellite packages.

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Pitaro said ESPN is “talking with potential partners,” though he did not identify any. But he said they look for partnerships “through lenses like technology, marketing and then content as well,” explaining that on launch day he wants “maximum distribution” and “the best possible mix of content.”

The on-stage discussion between Iger and his executive team covered a lot of ground, and oscillated between a number of topics, including Disney’s recent challenges at the box office and the company’s streaming plans, which include content from Hulu and Disney+ under one roof.

But through it all, Iger did his best to strike an upbeat tone and inspire hope in a workforce that may have seen morale in a better place than it is today.

“We’ve been through some tough times and faced a lot of adversity as a company, and I know that every time we get through it,” Iger told Disney employees.