Disney CEO Bob Iger focused on instilling employees with renewed optimism about the Mouse House’s “blessed” and “fortunate” state during a virtual company-wide town hall Tuesday, rather than making any proclamations about the company’s future.
The event, moderated by ABC News’ David Muir, was held just over a week after the one-year anniversary of Iger’s return to the helm at Disney (Iger hosted a similar town hall exactly a year ago to the day, upon resuming his post last November) following the surprise ousting of Bob Chapek, and on the heels of Disney reporting its most recent quarterly and full-fiscal-year earnings and taking a stumble at the Thanksgiving holiday box office with new animated film “Wish.”
When asked by Muir 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 knew that there were myriad challenges that I would face coming back,” Iger said. “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.”
Iger added: “I talk about optimism being an extraordinarily important trait of a leader, because no one wants to follow a pessimist. But I also believe that hopeless optimism doesn’t do anybody any good. I have, I think, real reason—and we have real reason as Disney—to be optimists, and it starts with the fact that we’re Disney. And Disney, as you know, is a brand unto itself, but it’s also an umbrella company that houses many assets and many great brands. So, reason to be optimistic No. 1 is that.”
Joining Iger at the hourlong town hall, which began at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT, were his division chiefs: Alan Bergman and Dana Walden (heads of entertainment, including TV, film and streaming), Jimmy Pitaro (ESPN) and Josh D’Amaro (parks).
Pitaro touched on the upcoming direct-to-consumer offering from EPSN, saying the brand is “in market right now doing research.” “We’re looking at things like timing, things like price point,” Pitaro said. “Our mission is to serve the sports fan anytime, anywhere. 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.”
Regarding where linear assets stand within the Disney portfolio at the moment, following his remarks that those “may not be core” to the company moving forward back in July, Iger said, “[Dana Walden and Jimmy Pitaro] have been looking really hard at their businesses to make them more efficient, which we’ve done, and I believe that is obviously imperative to the future health of the business.”
Some Disney staffers had been expecting top brass to provide some concrete updates on company strategy at the event, which was lacking in announcements.
“I feel shocked at the lack of news value,” one Disney employee told Variety following the town hall.
In response to the recent weak box office for Disney titles, Iger said: “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.”
However, other employees had gone into this knowing it was more likely to be a pep-talk-type occasion with the bosses.
“I thought it was very optimistic and it meant a lot for him to be [in New York], and not just in LA,” another source said. “People really admired him and for him to be candid and speak freely and talk about the business. Everybody knew this wasn’t meant to break any news, it was just him talking to employees on the heels of our hundredth anniversary, his anniversary one year back in. He sees the people in LA all the time but he doesn’t really have time with the people in New York and to be in the New Amsterdam Theatre — an historic theater — just meant a lot. And hearing from the chairmen; it was really optimism for the future at the end of a hard year. The biggest takeaway was moving on from the fixing phase and to the building phase, which was a huge part of the conversation.”
This staffer is referring to these remarks from Iger from the town hall: “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.”
Iger was among the top Hollywood CEOs who entered the negotiation room this summer during the now-ended Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike to try to help along the process of inking a deal between the writers and the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). His participation in the meetings came after he was widely criticized for his July 13 remarks, a day ahead of the also-now-ended SAG-AFTRA strike began, that the writers and actors were not being “realistic” in their demands.