“I knew that there were myriad challenges that I would face coming back,” Iger said to those in attendance. “I won’t say that it was easy, but I’ve never second guessed the decision to come back, and being back still feels great.”
When asked by moderator David Muir of ABC News if coming back to the position of CEO has been more challenging than he had anticipated, Iger, who originally ran Disney for 15 years from 2005-2020, said yes.
“I had spent the year with the team fixing a lot of things … but I feel that we’ve just emerged from a period of a lot of fixing to one of building again, and I can tell you building is a lot more fun than fixing.”
Appearing on stage for roughly an hour during the town hall at New York City’s New Amsterdam theater, normally home to the Disney Broadway production of “The Lion King,” Iger, alongside ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro, Disney Theme Parks President Josh D’Amaro, and Disney Entertainment co-Chairs Dana Walden and Alan Bergman, stressed a commitment to quality over quantity with the studio’s upcoming film slate, talked up the parks division and ESPN, and looked at the future of the company’s television business.
Alan Bergman spoke on the bumpy year Disney-backed films have had at the box office, most recently, “Wish” following “The Marvels,” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”
Bergman promised the studio will learn from its down year at the box office and move on with a slate that includes “The Omen” prequel, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” “Inside Out 2,” a new “Alien” film, and Marvel’s “Deadpool 3,” which recently resumed filming following the end of the actors’ strike.
On the subject, Iger added, “I’ve talked about that a lot recently, because in assessing some of our performance, recently, one of the reasons I believe it’s fallen off a bit is that we were making too much. I think when it comes to creativity, quality is critical, of course, and quantity in many ways can destroy quality. Storytelling, obviously, is the core of what we do as a company.”
TV and Streaming
Iger clarified that no decisions had been made on the future of the company’s linear entertainment assets, but added that “we’re trying to migrate these businesses onto the new business model.”
Dana Walden also added that increasingly the company is leaning into programming and strategy that sees the linear networks complementing the company’s streaming portfolio.
“What we’ve discovered is that our linear channels are very deeply embedded in our streaming strategy,” Walden said. “They want to watch live shows, sports, live events — they want to watch them in time period, and the place you can do that, for the most part, is on linear channels … The notion of a communal event still exists largely on linear.”
Walden also spoke about how Hulu and ABC audiences are complimentary and not duplicative, and how meaningful it is to be able to meet audiences where they are across different platforms.
Citing ABC’s reality show “The Golden Bachelor” as an example, she said, “It launches on ABC, and then goes straight to Hulu hours later, still reaching almost 15 million viewers, but meeting our viewers where they are.”
Iger then jumped back in to state one of Disney’s priorities right now was turning ESPN into “the preeminent digital sports platform” and bringing ESPN direct to consumers.
“We’ve been in the streaming business now for just four years and we accomplished a tremendous amount there. I’d like to build that streaming business into something even more significant than it is.”
“Our mission is to serve the sports fan anytime, anywhere,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro added. “So, if you want to continue to access ESPN in the traditional way through cable or satellite, you’ll be able to do that even once we take it over the top.”
Iger and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro talked about the recently announced $60 billion parks investment, highlighting the recent opening of “World of Frozen” at Hong Kong Disneyland as proof Disney’s still got the touch in bringing its franchises to life.
“We stood up on the stage just several weeks back in front of an investor community and said we are going to invest $60 billion in the next 10 years into this business because we believe in it,” D’Amaro said.
“We’ve seen what it’s done. We see the impact that it has on our guests and fans around the world. We’ve got so much space to play with. Disneyland for example, Walt’s original theme park, we still have enough room to build another Disneyland there if we choose to do that. So many stories to continue to tell, so many new places to go. So, we’ve come a long way in the last few years but incredibly excited about the future.”
One thing that made this event more of a conference than a town hall is none of the cast members in attendance were allowed to ask questions of Iger and the other executives. At a similar event held last year, questions were allowed.
There were also no big news reveals during this talk. More of an overall update on the company during the year Iger has been back. However, following the event, Disney Parks announced the opening date for Dreamers Point at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT.