One day after hosting a company town hall in New York City, Disney CEO Bob Iger participated in a Q&A panel at the 2023 The New York Times’ DealBook conference, where he talked more about where The Walt Disney Company is and where he’d like it to go.
One of the main topics he spoke on was the transfer of power to Bob Chapek when he first retired from Disney, and his future retirement from Disney a second time.
“I was disappointed in what I was seeing in the transition period and while I was out,” Iger said during the panel. “I worked hard at distancing myself from it.”
Since returning to Disney, Iger said he has been “fixing a lot of problems that the company has had, and dealing with a lot of challenges.”
Some of those “were brought on by decisions that were made by my predecessor,” he said, while others “are just basically the result of a tremendous amount of disruption in the world and in our business.”
When Iger returned as CEO in November 2022, one of his first moves was to dismantle the Chapek-instituted Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution (DMED) division, which had put oversight of content distribution and monetization under a separate group from its production units.
In a memo to employees at the time, Iger wrote that the restructuring “puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs.”
Iger also instituted a cost-cutting plan at Disney, which included the elimination of more than 8,000 jobs this year, as the company sought to reduce $5.5 billion in spending.
At the Disney town hall on November 28th, Iger said, “I knew that there were myriad challenges that I would face coming back. 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.”
He also said Disney’s current CEO succession planning process “is robust right now,” and added that he will “definitely” exit as chief executive when his recently extended contract is up at the end of 2026.
TV and Streaming
During the panel, Iger once again reiterated that while Disney’s linear TV networks, like ABC, may not be core to the current strategy, they are definitely not for sale, as many assumed from things Iger said during a July 2023 interview with CNBC.
“Sometimes, when I am looking for a reaction to my own thought process, I like to test that process in public, particularly in ways that I might be able to get a reaction from the investment community,” he said. “So, my thought was at the time that I would essentially be public with that thought process.”
Floating the scenario “was a means of my saying to Wall Street or the investment community that our heads were not in the sand about the challenges those businesses were having,” Iger explained. “I did not want to get accused of being kind of an old media executive. Our company had already shown the ability to basically adapt to new circumstances. So, 1) I wanted to convey that and 2) see what the reaction would be. .. I did not say they were for sale. The coverage of what I said said they were for sale.”
Moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin then asked the Disney chief whether he still thinks linear TV is a good business.
Iger said an internal evaluation of linear “has been unbelievably rigorous at the company and involves a number of executives who are managing those businesses We’ve determined a few things — 1) that they can be run more efficiently, with some difficult choices. … Second, they can be run in partnership with [streaming].” Which is something Disney Entertainment co-Chair Dana Walden touched upon in yesterday’s Disney town hall.
During the panel, Iger admitted Disney has had a rough time at the box office this year, but also said the company’s had great theatrical runs unrivaled by other studios.
He also said, “I think I don’t want to apologize for making sequels,” going on to say, “Some of them have done extraordinarily well. And they’ve been good films too. I think there has to be a reason to make it, beyond commerce. You have to have a good story. And we have made too many. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to make them.”
Interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin then read aloud a letter to shareholders written by Walt Disney in 1966, in which he expressed a distaste for sequels:
“I’m a born experimenter. To this day, I don’t believe in sequels. I can’t follow popular cycles, I have to move on to new things. There are many new worlds to conquer. As a matter of fact, people have been asking us to make sequels ever since Mickey Mouse first became a star,” the letter said.
“Right now we’re not thinking about making another ‘Mary Poppins,’ we never will. Perhaps there’ll be other ventures with equal critical and financial success. But we know we cannot hit a home run with the bases loaded every time we go into play. We also know the only way we can even get to first base is by constantly going back and continuing to swing.”
In response, Iger said he sometimes wanders into Walt’s office, which has been preserved as it was.
“I go into his office, just to just to sort of feel the presence. I know that sounds a little weird, but it’s kind of a nice way to relax and appreciate the legacy of the company. And the first thing you really realize when you study Walt is that Walt was unbelievable at adapting to change. Firstly, he loved technology, he loved to use technology. And he also knew that the world was not a static place.”
He also further defended the studio’s track record, saying, “I’m not sure another studio will ever achieve some of the numbers that we achieved. I mean, we got to the point where if a film didn’t do a billion dollars in global box office, we were disappointed. That’s an unbelievably high standard.”
Iger also addressed Disney’s recent decision to pull its ads from X after Elon Musk endorsed antisemitic statements on the social media platform.
The company was one of several brands to do so amid concerns that X wasn’t doing enough to police hate speech, especially after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
“I have a lot of respect for Elon and what he has accomplished,” Iger said. “We know that Elon is larger than life in many respects, and that his name is very much connected to the companies he founded or owns. By him taking the position he took in a public manner, we felt that the association was not necessarily a positive one for us.”
Musk, who was on a Q&A panel at the same event later in the day responded: “Don’t advertise. If someone is going to try and blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go f–k yourself, is that clear? Hey Bob, if you’re in the audience. That’s how I feel”