When Michael Eisner made an exit ceremony as CEO of Disney in 2005, he acknowledged that succession plots had become “Shakespearean”. Rival business factions vied for power. Some insiders believed that Eisner would never leave.
Eisner himself escalated the drama by “forgetting” to introduce his announced successor, Bob Iger, to key roles. Iger stormed one of them.
Wall Street, too, was nervous about a transition. Under Eisner’s 20-year reign, Disney’s revenue had grown from $1.6 billion to $30 billion, and major investors doubted that Iger or anyone else could successfully rule a Disney. also politicized. The veteran employees openly yearned for a return to peace and the focus of the old Walt’s tenure.
They still do. Now, with Iger assuming the helm for a second time, some Disney locals are seeing similar Shakespearean subplots reappear in the script. Their question: Can anyone, even Iger, really rule Disney given its internal contradictions and intrigues?
The Iger mythology, they point out, was built on the acquisition of entities like Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and even Fox. These companies had a common thread: they were created by visionaries obsessed with a specific product. They weren’t conglomerators eager to hype quarterly results or appease shareholders with new synergies or structural overhauls.
Just as Eisner had recruited Iger, after repeatedly expressing his doubts, Iger had passed the torch to Bob Chapek amid similar concerns.
Eisner’s choice turned out to be inspired. Iger didn’t, but now it’s time for Iger’s Act II.
To many, the Magic Kingdom circa 2022 seems like a maze of tension as it attempts to mobilize its complex voters. A symbol is the new animated bomb titled strange world, which could lose a potential $145 million. It represents the second consecutive failure of an animation company whose animators feel siled and betrayed.
Disney is a vast empire, with its theme parks, cruise ships and sprawling real estate developments. These are entities that need to be nurtured by creatives mobilizing its films, streamers and TV shows, but also by DeSantis-leaning constituencies – witnessing the conflicts around Florida’s Never Say Gay hyperbole.
Similar tension is bubbling between those leading the streamer initiatives, which have lost $1.5 billion this year, and the remnants of the movie program whose proponents are seeking extended dates for theatrical distribution. Movie producers remember that time when Disney strategists, faced with difficult items in the Los Angeles Times on Disneyland, suddenly banned film reviews from future screenings.
The ban was quickly lifted, but for the media in general, dealing with Disney has often reflected these contradictions. In person, Iger is consistently carefree, but his long-term PR face belonged to Zenia Mucha, a company loyalist who wore a permanent scowl.
In his Monday town hall address to employees, Iger promised to focus more on profits rather than subscriber growth. He also said he would reverse Chapek’s strategy of separating content decisions from distribution strategy. He thus dismissed Kareem Daniel, head of the distribution group.
Iger has been happiest when positioning himself as the champion of the creative team, whether it’s imagining theme parks or Pixar creators of toy story. He would like to be the Louis B. Mayer who lifted MGM out of the depression doldrums with his magical musicals. He doesn’t see himself as the king of the conglomerators – a role taken on by Charles Bluhdorn, who entangled Paramount Pictures in an unstable array of companies that made car bumpers while conducting massive speculative forays into commodity markets .
At a famous press conference, Bluhdorn responded to a reporter who asked him about The Godfather yelling, “Why are you bothering me about movie budgets when I’m trying to price zinc?
Iger is much more subtle and controlled than the Austrian-born Bluhdorn, but he still faces a bewildering array of problems.
Should he side with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos or Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav on theatrical strategy? Should theme park prices continue to rise? As the temperature of political debate rises relentlessly, should Disney stay on the sidelines?
And finally, should Iger attempt to groom a successor again, as he has done in the past, only to falter as the doomsday draws near?
When Iger was first named chairman, he found the Disney establishment panicked that a potential Time Warner merger with AOL would freeze Disney proceeds. Disney was still trying to assimilate its merger with ABC-Cap Cities. Eisner advocated a warrior stance, both corporate and regulatory, but Iger assured his colleagues, “The world is changing. The players change. It will be more complicated and dangerous.
Those words might work well for him again.
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