30 seconds of Bob Iger’s Time

Welcome to the New Year everyone. Rather than looking backward, let’s look forward and see what prospects lie ahead. It’s already stacking up to be a challenge for the Walt Disney Company and others in the entertainment business.

  • The writer’s strike and pending actor’s strike threaten to put the kibosh on big profits for movies and television. Disney, at least, stands okay in that area with two animated films scheduled for next year and at least one (Wall-E) with mega-hit written all over it. Look for The Disney Channel properties to continue their dominance.
  • The threat of a recession has America’s consumers keeping their belts tight which means that spending at Disney’s theme parks will likely be down. However, a weak dollar means that more foreign tourists will be lining up at the gates. So that could be a wash.
  • The International destinations of Hong Kong Disneyland and Paris Disneyland continue to struggle. There is light on the horizon for DLP, but it’s still red ink and debt payoffs. Increased competition probably means Disney shouldn’t expect tremendous growth here.
  • The Walt Disney company appears to be strongly positioned in the interactive and online arena with a growing team of online games, video games, and a renewed interest in venture capital and small acquisitions.
  • There doesn’t appear to be much on the horizon that will threaten ESPN’s dominance in cable sports television.

I’m leaving quite a bit out, but that appears to be Disney’s fortune for the next 12 months. 

In the spirit of the New Year it’s time to make a few resolutions. If you had 30 seconds of CEO Bob Iger’s time to pitch him one resolution for 2008 what would it be? Consider well. Perhaps it’s some movie or television property that you feel Disney has neglected recently. Some change at the theme parks you think would bring in the crowds. Got your idea? Good. Now share it with us in the comments!

5 thoughts on “30 seconds of Bob Iger’s Time”

  1. I’ll start it off:

    Bob. First off, great job so far. Don’t lose the focus on new media, but don’t forget the traditional. Like Feature Animation. Make sure it gets the love and attention it needs. All of Disney is built on Animation. The other area where Disney gets original content is Imagineering. Take the shackles off, bring back some old talent and foster the new. Finally, bring back the writers now. They world is changing so fast, you need the writers to script it for you.

  2. I agree with all the things John said and think Bob’s eye is on all those balls, so I doubt you will be disappointed. I really believe that everything that can be done is being done to build the Disney brand on all fronts.

    I have two ideas. One related to the Disney brand and one not.

    The first, buy back the Disney Stores. The Children’s Place is a disaster. Their management is in chaos and they are not meeting their commitments to refurbish the stores. And the merchandise is crap. You can find better Disney kit at Wal-Mart. The Disney Stores need to be like the Apple Stores. High quality product. Interactive environment. A place you WANT to go and feel the magic.

    The second takes a little more explanation. Disney really needs more growth engines to drive the stock because right now, Wall Street is not seeing it. The focus back on the Disney brand has been great, but it also increases the risk. Disney probably needs to diversify more, but it has to be done in the right way. Where Eisner’s vision of Disney as an entertainment conglomerate went wrong was in trying to “keep up with the Joneses” through ventures like Miramax and Touchstone that had little commonality with the Disney brand. Contrary to the intention of these labels, people knew these were Disney companies and it hurt the brand when the company came out with things like Pulp Fiction even though those were great movies that made money. People saw it as a betrayal of the principles that are expected of Disney.

    One of the areas that has been talked about for a long time is education and learning and I think that is an area that is highly consistent with the Disney brand and a huge opportunity.

    So my idea is – buy Discovery Communications. Their assets are highly compatible with Disney. Disney needs to bolster its content offering on cable to offset the inevitable decline of ABC. This does that and if Disney can improve the ratings and distribution of Discovery’s secondary stations, it could be a compelling package when combined with ESPN and the Disney Channel. But more than that, make Discovery into the Disney of learning. Take on Sylvan. Build internationally. Be the go to brand for math, science, and learning about the world. There are other synergies. The Travel Channel is a great platform to broaden Disney’s reach into the travel pie, a stated goal of the resorts business. Make branded Discovery IMAX movies a la March of the Penguins. I know there is the True-Life venture out of France, but Discovery let’s you do it in a big way. There are lots of tie-ups with Epcot and gives Epcot another angle than just Disney characters. How about an Epcot Channel?

    But the real growth could be online. Discovery has already bought the excellent HowStuffWorks, but it could go further. All that video content can and should be online and could be a tremendous asset.

  3. Excellent points (although you went over 30 second )!

    I can’t believe I forgot about the mess that is The Disney Stores. It’s almost worth it to close them all and start again. I wouldn’t focus on the clothes, you can get that at Target or Wal-Mart, as you point out. But I would focus on bringing access to The Disney Brand to the top 200-300 malls across the US. Unique and affordable toys, collectibles, holiday merch, and then tie in the studios, parks, cruise lines, and Adventures by Disney. That The Children’s Place has imploded was not unforeseen by Disney. They put in tons of escape clauses and could take advantage of any of them to reclaim the stores.

    What a brilliant idea about the Discovery Channel too. The Disney Company has turned to Nature and Science more than once when it needed some growth (WWII films and True Life Adventure films) and could easily do so again. From your fingers to Iger’s ears.

  4. We just returned from the resorts and the parks in Orlando. We go at least once a year and this year we were very disappointed. The “Disney touch” was not evident. We heard more times than necessary that the resorts were overbooked by 110% and therefore we were lucky to have our accommodations. Generally Disney employees are very solicitous, this time they were very grouchy and not as helpful as we would have liked. We left feeling that you are not paying attention to the resorts and the parks as you did in the past. Since we consider ourselves real “Disney people” we tried to get this message to someone in upper management. We were unable to accomplish this. They give you an email address, you get a computer generated response and then nothing. Because we have been going to the resorts and parks for more than 25+ years we know the drill and we can see immediately if something is “off”. This time, quite a few things were “off”. We began to think that maybe we shouldn’t go back next year and we also began to wonder about the impression made on a guest who was there for their first visit. You do only have one chance to make a first impression and if that impression is not favorable, then the tourism dollars will go elsewhere. The parks and resorts are your daily physical presence to the world. This is where you literally grab someone’s attention. If you fail to grab that attention then you have lost a future customer for the Disney channel or the cruise line or anything else with the Disney brand. Worse yet, if you succeed in alienating people like us who are repeat guests as well as stockholders and then we decide not to go back the following year then you are creating possible problems in the future. We are members of the Disney Vacation Club and one of the most disturbing incidents occurred when an employee at the front desk of our hotel, not a vacation club venue, told us that the vacation club is a mistake. I challenged him as the members of the Vacation Club are probably responsible for many people visiting Disney parks and resorts because we are so gung ho Disney. Essentially, we are a built in cheering section which is a valuable sales tool. If the employees at the front desk feel we are not worth their time and effort and that the other guests are “worth more” then we will begin to feel this change in attitude and ultimately it will most definitely be reflected in the bottom line. I would like to see the members of the Vacation Club utilized to bring more first time visitors to the parks and resorts.

    I would also like to see the Disney Business School at a well known university. The Disney Brand is well known and the wealth of information that you could bring to educate future business leaders is inconceivable and invaluable. This would also enable you to attract the best and the brightest and keep them.

    We miss the animation studio in Orlando. It was always wonderful to see the next project that you were working on. Perhaps you should consider bringing this back and also as mentioned by someone else producing more animation.

    There was a time when there was at least one new ride or attraction each year. This made you want to come back to experience said ride or attraction. We were disappointed this year as there was nothing new and exciting and no promise of something new and exciting. When the employees tell you flat out that management isn’t really interested in the resorts or the parks and is mroe interested in producing movies and television you know that there is a disconnect somewhere. Also, when employees openly tell you they are not happy and there is no communication with management ti then puts you, the vacation club member, the guest, the stockholder in an uncomfortable position. After a while I began to wonder if communication was not valued as one too many employee complained.

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