Thursday, June 8, 2023
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Bob Iger Calms Disney Investors Down

It’s almost like he never left. 

Bob Iger was back in the CEO seat for Disney’s quarterly earnings call on Wednesday, his first since returning from retirement to lead the beleaguered entertainment giant once again. And you could practically hear investors breathe a sigh of relief as Iger joined the call, remarking on the “incredible privilege” of returning to his old job. 

Under Bob Chapek, who was tapped as Iger’s successor and then ousted after two years, Disney operated a bit like a misbehaving child while mom and dad were out for the night. Decision-making power was stripped from creative executives, prices at the company’s theme parks went up, and there was more than one public relations debacle. Needless to say, Iger returned to a pretty big mess. But he’s been here before. As he reminded the listeners on the call, he has transformed the company twice already, first in the early 2000s with the acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm and again more recently with the pivot to streaming. “Now it’s time for another transformation, one that rationalizes our enviable streaming business and puts it on a path of sustained growth and profitability,” he said. 

Iger’s clean-up plan involves a reorganization that re-centers the company’s creative teams and a series of cost-cutting measures that will include a sizable round of layoffs. Going forward, Disney will be split into three divisions: Disney Entertainment led by Alan Bergman and Dana Walden, ESPN led by Jimmy Pitaro, and Disney Parks, Experiences & Products led by Josh D’Amaro. Creative executives will be responsible for deciding what content they are making and how it’s distributed, monetized, and marketed. They will also be accountable for the financial success (or failure) of their movies and TV shows. 

In response to economic pressures—and provocations from activist investor Nelson Peltz—Disney is targeting $5.5 billion in cost savings across the company, including cutting 7,000 jobs. The company plans to save $3 billion alone by cutting back on future content spending, meaning that it will focus more on curating its entertainment output. “We are going to take a really hard look at the cost for everything that we make, both across television and film, because things in the very competitive world have simply gotten more expensive,” Iger said. Streaming will still be a top priority, but with losses of more than $1 billion and plans to make Disney+ profitable by the end of 2024, Disney will have to make changes there too. That could include evaluating the streamer’s performance in international markets and adjusting how much it charges for the service.

It wasn’t exactly the most celebratory return for Iger, but his tone suggested he knew what needed to get done. (Contrast that to Chapek’s final earnings call, in which some people felt he was a little too blithe about the challenges facing Disney.) More than a few analysts found time to cheer Iger’s return. BofA Securities’ Jessica Reif Ehrlich was clearly speaking for many when she got on the line. “Hi Bob,” she said, “it’s great to have you back.” 

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