Bob Iger was brought back to fix Disney. No one said it would be easy

Meg James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

During his first 15 years running Walt Disney Co., Bob Iger had a magical touch.

Acquisitions of Pixar Animation, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm turbocharged the company's creative engines. Movies minted billions of dollars, sports king ESPN spawned staggering profits, and Disney's theme parks teemed with delighted guests. Iger embraced the role of celebrity chief executive, flirting briefly with a bid for president. As the industry's senior statesman, he was treated with reverence.

As media analyst Michael Nathanson noted during an earnings call earlier this month, Iger, during his first CEO stint, had presided over "one of the most amazing content cycles in film we've ever seen."

But no longer.

"What are you doing ... to fix the film slate?" Nathanson asked.

In the year since Iger returned to Disney to replace his beleaguered successor, Bob Chapek, he has been trying to fix one problem after another in nearly every corner of the Burbank behemoth. Disney's organizational structure was broken. Expenses had soared. Disney's faithful fans were furious about a series of price hikes at the vaunted theme parks, and Florida's governor, presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, was taking swipes, saying the company was too "woke." Then, in May, 11,500 screenwriters went on strike, joined later by 160,000 actors.


The film business that Nathanson referred to, which powers Disney's multifaceted business, has been of mounting concern. This month, Disney's "The Marvels" opened in theaters to a tepid $46 million in ticket sales — a disappointing start for a film that cost more than $200 million, and the weakest yet for a Marvel Studios picture.

The uneven performance of Lucasfilm and Disney's animation and live-action releases have also raised worries.

All that has made Iger's second tenure a rough ride so far. Since the beginning of the year, Disney has eliminated 8,000 jobs as part of a company-wide effort to cut $7.5 billion in costs. Amid the decline of traditional TV, the company is considering selling ABC and its eight owned stations in addition to taking on a financial partner or two for the company's ESPN sports empire.

Disney's stock is trading at about half its value of nearly three years ago. Earlier this year, Iger vanquished a proxy fight challenge by activist investor Nelson Peltz. But now Peltz and former Marvel chairman Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter are circling again.


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