Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger at a Tuesday town hall for staff appeared to downplay his earlier comments suggesting he’d be willing to sell off Disney’s linear TV assets, adding that the company’s traditional networks’ “strategic value” remains “pretty significant,” according to people who attended the meeting.
Last summer, Iger told CNBC that the company’s TV networks — which include ABC, FX and Freeform — “may not be core” to Disney’s business, resulting in a flurry of interest from potential buyers. But during the town hall, Iger said he was simply testing the waters with investors.
“Maybe this is a fault of mine, I don’t know, but I often give people the benefit of my own thinking in public, meaning I run things up flag poles to see how they’re going to fly,” Iger said. “It’s just sometimes when I speak out loud or think out loud, I get a reaction right away. In most cases when I do it, I’m trying to get a reaction from the investment community, just to see.”
“When I said that, I meant it, but I did not necessarily believe everybody would run with a story that everything was being sold, which is not the case,” he continued.
Since his comments over the summer, Iger said his time spent reevaluating the company’s business has demonstrated the value of Disney’s trove of networks, particularly for its streaming services.
“The fact that I can either watch a show on ABC in prime time or see it on Hulu the next morning, or four or five or six hours later and serve maybe a completely different audience, that has real strategic value to the company. And there’s a lot of it,” he said. “So no decisions have been made. Really that should not in any way indicate anything that is negative or, or should be of concern.”
Still, Iger remained relatively vague about future plans for the company, even as he was joined by his top brass — parks and consumer products chief Josh D’Amaro, studios head Alan Bergman, TV boss Dana Waldman, and sports chair Jimmy Pitaro — to discuss their respective businesses.
No major announcements were shared and Iger did not field questions from employees, though both Pitaro and Iger reiterated that Disney was in talks with potential partners for an over-the-top flagship ESPN offering with more product enhancements. Both demurred when questioned by ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir, who moderated the streamed event for employees, to identify those possible partners.
As for his second go at CEO, Iger appeared more humbled, having spent the past year grappling with streaming losses, an underperforming film slate, and low stock price. Iger acknowledged the “myriad challenges” he faced when returning to the company. The company has undergone 8,000 job cuts in an effort to achieve $7.5 billion in cost savings.
“I can tell you that building is a lot more fun than fixing,” Iger said, echoing comments he made during the company’s most recent earnings call with analysts.
When asked about the WGA and SAG-AFTRA contract negotiations, Iger said both unions succeeded in going on strike and had “legitimate” concerns about the impact of artificial intelligence on their careers. WGA ratified its new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers last month. SAG-AFTRA members are currently voting on their tentative deal with the studios.
“I think both the writers and the actors got very good deals,” Iger said. “And I actually believe that the deals that they ended up negotiating with the studios and the producers are better than what they would have gotten had they not gone on strike.”