WHEN: Today, Thursday, July 13, 2023
WHERE: CNBC’s “Squawk Box” – Live in Sun Valley, ID
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC exclusive interview with Disney CEO Bob Iger on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (M-F, 6AM-9AM ET) today, Thursday, July 13. Following are links to video on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2023/07/13/disney-ceo-bob-iger-on-linear-tv-disruptive-forces-are-greater-than-i-thought.html, https://www.cnbc.com/video/2023/07/13/disney-ceo-bob-iger-on-media-landscape-challenges-are-greater-than-i-had-anticipated.html, https://www.cnbc.com/video/2023/07/13/disney-ceo-bob-iger-on-espn-bullish-on-sports-but-open-to-finding-a-new-strategic-partner.html, https://www.cnbc.com/video/2023/07/13/disney-ceo-bob-iger-on-ron-desantis-the-attacks-on-disney-are-preposterous-and-inaccurate.html and https://www.cnbc.com/video/2023/07/13/disney-ceo-bob-iger-on-marvel-and-star-wars-pulling-back-to-find-focus-and-contain-costs.html.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
DAVID FABER: Yeah, probably not in some ways, a huge surprise Joe but certainly one that we can actually ask the gentleman who’s sitting across from me as we are joined by Bob Iger, of course, the CEO of Walt Disney, of Disney here in Sun Valley. Thank you for being here. Good morning. Alright, let’s start off with that news. Joe Kernen was asking a couple of questions about it as well. Why are you staying?
BOB IGER: Well let me start with the fact that I did like retirement. I highly recommended it by the way,
FABER: you’re never gonna get to it Bob. You did it for 11 months and that was it.
IGER: It was a good 11 months. And I came back to the company at the request of the board as a company that I started working at in 1974, 49 years ago when it was ABC and we became part of Disney. And I obviously have deep passion for the company and in the business. I care a lot about the people. And after coming back, realize that the company was facing a number of challenges some self inflicted, some caused by changes in the business, large scale disruption of certain parts of the business. And while a lot of work has been accomplished in the seven or so months that I’ve been back, the Board believes and I agree with him that there was a lot more work to do. And the timetable that we initially established, which was two years seemed like was putting undue pressure on us even though we’re getting at the work really quickly, but to accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish so part of it was designed for continued stability and continuity, and also to give a team of very talented executives that work with me, time not only to help me through what is a challenging period, but to develop themselves.
FABER: Yeah, you know, we sat down in February even back a couple of months. And I did ask you if two years was too short of time, and you said quote, you can get things done very quickly. Setting the company up for success is what you were talking about. So I wonder did something change in your calculation of how quickly you can get things done?
IGER: Well, we’ve gotten a lot done very quickly. significant cost reductions, a complete realignment of the company in terms of its structure, some major changes in terms of personnel, dealing head on with some of our biggest challenges and, and also looking for opportunities. I actually am quite pleased as is the board and the team with how much we’ve accomplished in a short period of time but there are a lot of challenges out there. And there’s just so fast you can go with certain things and in some cases the market has to cooperate. In many respects some of these businesses are still recovering from Covid for instance, dealing with some complexities in terms of continued disruptions as I mentioned, which we’ll talk about, but I’m pleased with how much we’ve gotten done, but I also know how much we have to get done.
FABER: Right. So is it a more challenging than you’d anticipated? Is the business sort of more challenged than when you returned late last year?
IGER: Yes. It doesn’t mean that I am any less enthusiastic about the opportunities and nor am I less enthusiastic about the company. In fact, the opposite. I’m extremely optimistic about the company and its assets and we should talk about them. But I would say it in some cases the challenges are greater than I had anticipated.
FABER: In what way?
IGER: I think the we talked a few times about over the years but the disruption of the traditional television business probably is the most notable. I predicted when I was out of the company I made a statement about the future of the multi-channel ecosystem and it because I described it being very pessimistic and I must say that prediction that I made is was actually accurate if anything, I’d say that the disruption of that business has happened to a greater extent than even I was aware of as a for instance, and that will be reflected in has been in some of our near term results. That said there are other elements of the business that I have huge optimism about, for instance, parks and resorts which is just a tremendous business for us. We’re invested significantly but the investments we’ve made over the years are really paying off today, Shanghai Disneyland a great example of that for instance the you were with me when we opened up the Star Wars Land in California some years back. I’ve really believed in the future of that business. We actually have opportunities there to turbocharge that growth, the studio business which has been incredibly successful as movie studios, and drive so much of our other business like parks and resorts, where their franchises are so omnipresent, and of course streaming but the studio obviously went through a difficult time with Covid is coming back as some creative challenges but a great set of franchises with Pixar and Marvel and of course, Lucasfilm and Star Wars. And then of course, they’re streaming and
FABER: Well you’re going through all the things that we want to talk about and the time that we have here, but I mean, just to sort of wrap up why you’re staying I mean, you said in a memo to employees, you’ve made important and sometimes difficult decisions your proud of what you you’ve accomplished but there’s more to accomplish before this transformative work is completed. So what again, what is transformative here and what is the work that is going to take another perhaps two years or even more even after you do leave, that needs to get done?
IGER: Well the transformative work of course is making sure that our cost structure reflects the economic realities of the business that includes disruption. transformative work is dealing with businesses that are no growth businesses and what to do about them and particularly the linear business, which we are expansive in our thinking about and we’re going to look expansively about opportunities there because clearly it’s a business that is going to continue to strive.
FABER: Well let’s stop there for a second and just let me ask you about it. We’re talking I guess ABC the network. the stations but then the cable networks as well.
IGER: Yes correct.
FABER: FX Nat Geo is it possible you would look to sell them?
IGER: We’re going to be expansive? I think if you can, you can interpret what that word means. You know, we’re just getting at that work. But we have to be open minded and objective about the future of those businesses
FABER: Meaning that they’re not core to Disney,
IGER: They may not be core to Disney. Yeah, there’s clearly creativity and content that they create that is core to Disney, but the distribution model, the business model that forms the underpinning of that business, and that is delivered great profits over the years is definitely broken. And we have to call it like it is and that’s part of the transformative work we’re doing.
FABER: Well we’ve been having this conversation for a very long time in terms of the erosion of the linear business, and now it’s kind of closer to obsolescence.
IGER: Well, I you know, as I said, when I came back, one of the things I discovered was that the disruptive forces that have been preying on that business for a while are greater than I thought, and so it you it’s eye opening, you know, there’s a reality to it that we have to come to grips with, and we have to come to grips with that now. And by the way, another business that is really has benefited from that business model is ESPN, but that we’re looking at very differently.
FABER: I want to get to ESPN, obviously but I just to understand so you don’t know what you’re going to do when it comes to these linear businesses but you would be open to ideas that would perhaps separate them or change the structure in some way as though
IGER: Well I’ll let you speculate. I’m I’m not gonna do any speculating now except to say they were very objective about their future as part of our asset base.
FABER: All right, well, then when we talk about the other major business, of course dealing with the cable ecosystem, it is ESPN. And so what are the expectations there? Since you’ve been back I assume you’ve been thinking a lot about it.
IGER: I have.
FABER: What is the conclusion in terms of the future of that a lot of people have been very much focused on when are you going to take it to a fully streaming opportunity and move it essentially away from the cable ecosystem. But is there more that you’re thinking about?
IGER: Well, let’s talk about sports first, which obviously that’s ESPN. If you look at today’s media landscape, sports stands very, very tall in terms of its ability to convene millions and millions of people all at once. There’s almost a guarantee that that occurs. It’s an advertiser’s dream. There’s a great demographic there and it lends itself to technology in many ways, both in terms of coverage, distribution, and consumption. And our position in that business is very unique. We have a great brand. We’ve had a great business, and we want to stay in that business. That said we’re going to be open minded there too. Not necessarily about spinning ESPN off, but about looking for strategic partners that could either help us with distribution or content, but we want to stay in the sports business.
FABER: What would a strategic partner look like with distribution or content then for ESPN?
IGER: Well, I think you could again, I’m not gonna get too detailed about it, but we’re bullish about sports in general as a media property. There is an inevitability by the way you raised it to taking ESPN direct to consumer. We haven’t said when but we do know that it will happen.
FABER: Is it sooner than you had thought? Let’s even say seven months ago.
IGER: No, I think I’m much more certain about when but not prepared to say when that is I won’t say whether it’s sooner or not. But I’m enthusiastic about it.
FABER: Why are you enthusiastic about it?
IGER: Because I think sports again, I think sports stands tall in a sea of tremendous choice, and is in many respects an advertisers dream and consumers dream. It’s a very, very attractive sports a very, very attractive medium. And we have a unique position and we feel that we should stay in it. But we’d like to.
FABER: You’re spending more and more money to do that. I mean, to keep the NBA to keep the NFL essentially renting the content that keeps this thing alive. I mean, is that the best use for your capital?
IGER: Well, I know a lot has been said about renting versus owning, and if you can rent it and continue to be profitable from renting it – which we have been and we believe we will continue to be – then there’s real value in staying in it. We’re – we have great relationships with Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and various college conferences, and of course, the NFL and the NBA. And it’s not just about the live sports coverage of those leagues, those teams, it’s also about all the shoulder programming that throws off on ESPN and what you can do with it in a streaming world. You know, as a direct to consumer proposition, I talked about it being technology friendly in a way. There’s so much more that can be done with it in terms of the way it’s distributed, the way it’s consumed. It’s interesting just thinking about the Apple announcement of a few weeks ago, and what the possibilities there – that device lends itself to in terms of sports. So I think it’s a business that, you know, we want to stay in, we’re realistic because it has been –
FABER: What would be the advantage of having a strategic partner then? What – I mean –
IGER: Well, it could be a variety of things.
FABER: Could it be a joint venture, could it be somebody taking an ownership stake? I mean –
IGER: Possibly, yeah. Everything’s on the table.
FABER: And why would you do that? I guess I’m trying to understand why you would – you already have a 20% owner in Hearst.
IGER: If they come to the table with value, whether it’s content value, whether it’s distribution value, whether it’s capital, whether it just helps derisk a business to some extent, but that’s wouldn’t be the primary driver. But if they come to the table with value that enables ESPN to make a transition to its direct to consumer offering, then we’re going to be very – we’re going to be very open minded about that.
FABER: All right. Well, you’ve told the world now I mean, but have you already been looking at that as an opportunity, perhaps even having conversations about it?
IGER: We have been looking at as an opportunity, we’ve had some conversations, but I don’t want to elaborate.
FABER: You know, our last interview we talked about Hulu, and you had a different view of it at that point, which has now gone back to I think what we’ve all expected which is you’re most likely going to buy the stake from Comcast.
IGER: Yes. Correct.
FABER: And I just wonder is this, I mean, is this something you’re thinking about but you’re not sure and you know, will we sit down six months from now and you go “Eh, we forgot. We’re not going to do that with ESPN.”?
IGER: No, no, no. Sure.
FABER: Or is it –
IGER: Part of the work I’ve been focused on over the last seven months is understanding all of these businesses, where they are today, and where they could go and which businesses are going to throw off the most shareholder value for this company and its shareholders over time. When I came back, I was open minded about Hulu because there is this agreement with Comcast that actually calls for a transaction of their stake to us right in sometime in 2024. And I didn’t want that to be an automatic. I wanted to look at that objectively. I spent a lot of time looking at that as part of the future of our streaming business, and ultimately concluded that we would be better off having Hulu than not having Hulu. And in fact, the plan is for Hulu to be available starting the end of this calendar year as part of the Disney+ offering. So in terms of the path to profitability of that business, which obviously has tremendous amount of focus on and a lot of attention, combining Hulu and Disney+ is a major step in that direction.
FABER: Right. We’re jumping around a lot as you’d imagine we would. Let’s quickly on Hulu, your expectation is then that you are going to come to an agreement with our – my parent company Comcast in terms of the purchase of the 33% you don’t own.
FABER: Comcast wants the valuation to be well above 27 billion. I think that’s the floor, correct?
IGER: There’s a mechanism to ultimately determine its fair market value and we’ll go through the process with them. The goal is to do it as quickly as possible. We are going to merge the apps though at the end of this year. The agreement with Comcast does not get in the way of us doing that and the combination of those apps is designed to obviously help the business become profitable. Obviously, Hulu –
FABER: A direct to consumer business, yeah.
IGER: Hulu is a diversified business in terms of its content offering. It’s done extremely well on the advertising front. It will help in terms of viewer engagement and advertising, meaning the combined app. And it’s the right thing for us to do as we prioritize turning that business not just into a profitable business, but a growth business which I’m confident we can do.
FABER: Alright, just to recap in the 10 minutes we’ve been sitting here, you’ve told me that you’re considering at least the idea of linear cable networks and ABC and the station’s perhaps not being a part of Disney in the longer term. You told me you’re thinking about looking for partners for ESPN, either joint venture or even some ownership. These are pretty significant decisions right there, Bob. So I mean, this is sort of where you’ve come in the last seven months of looking at the business or looking at it again from – with somewhat fresh eyes after having kind of stood aside for 11 months?
IGER: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it also speaks to your question about what is the transformative work that you’re doing. This is the transformative work. It’s looking very objectively at all of your assets, determining which ones are going to be the growth businesses. I’ve said parks and resorts, the movie studios and streaming. And we should talk about that because so much has been done there –
FABER: Oh don’t worry, we will.
IGER: And figuring out a path for ESPN to be a direct to consumer business and staying in the sports business because we have a very, very unique position and enviable position in that business. And I do believe it’s a business that can make the transition successfully from linear –
FABER: You do? Why?
IGER: Because –
FABER: Yeah tell me why because I’m looking at an NBA contract that could double for you and or others who choose to participate. I mean, sports rights continue to go up for the very reason you’re stating here in terms of because they have such appeal on a broad basis. But can you make it work economically in that model?
IGER: Well, one of the things that we’re trying to determine now, which is a factor in terms of the timing, is making sure that when we do it, you know, that it is economically viable. I believe it will be. But it’s a very, very – it’s a decision that has to be very carefully timed and carefully made, carefully considered. And that’s why I’ve talked about possible strategic partnerships, too.
FABER: The strategic partner – let me understand that better. Why would the timing or why – what would be helpful in terms of–
IGER: Well, we may want to go at it with partners.
FABER: When you do make that transition.
FABER: I see. Who would help you and make it a more robust offering in some way.
FABER: I mean, the economics though, there’s every bit – all the analysts come up with their price point at which you know, you get to a number per month, which can equal what ESPN does now. I’m sure you – do you know, in your mind when that day comes? When sort of the linear is here and you know that this can exceed what linear is? You’re smiling.
IGER: You’re asking me do I know the date? Is there a date?
FABER: No it’s like – do you have a general idea?
IGER: It’s a huge — yes, I have a general idea. It’s a huge decision. But again, it’s part of the transformative work that we’re doing. It’s a decision that has to be very carefully considered. I believe it’s one that is inevitable. And it’s not long term, but it’s not tomorrow, either. It’s not immediate.
FABER: No, these are big things you’re talking about. How could you even think it would – you would get it all done in two years when you came in when you’re talking about this kind of stuff?
IGER: Well, maybe I was unrealistic about that. That’s part of the reason that I’m staying – is there is a lot of work to do. These are great assets, a lot of these businesses that we’re talking about. And you know, the world is an interesting, changing world more dynamic – a more dynamic marketplace than I’ve ever seen in the almost 50 years I’ve been in the business. I like our hand a lot. And when you look at these brands and these franchises in this array of businesses, I think we are unique in the business, but I’m also extremely realistic about the challenges that we’re facing.
FABER: Yeah. Well, let’s talk a bit more. I mean you mentioned sort of near term challenges which and some of them seem to be at the box office, Bob. There’s those who say the content engine is not working as well as it had in the past. And they’ll point to what was it “Elemental,” for example, which I know during our last interview, you were very excited about this – I’m just trying to look here in terms of the numbers. I thought I had them. But it was not as – it didn’t do as well at the box office so far. I know it’s actually picked up a bit since it’s opening weekend. Is there a problem though, at Disney Animation? Has the loss of John Lasseter years ago, for example, been a blow that you haven’t been able to recover from?
IGER: Well first of all, there – the studio and its movie assets are number one at the global box office this year so far. That said, we’re extremely realistic and I’m very objective about that business and there have been some disappointments. We would have liked some of our more recent releases to have performed better. It’s reflective for – not as a problem from a personnel perspective, but I think in our zeal to basically grow our content significantly to serve mostly our streaming offerings, we ended up taxing our people way beyond in terms of their time and their focus way beyond where they had been. Marvel’s a great example of that. They had not been in the TV business at any significant level. Not only did they increase their movie output, but they ended up making a number of television series. And frankly, it diluted focus and attention. And I think you’re seeing that as I think more of the cause than anything else.
FABER: And Pixar? I mean, we’ve talked through the years. There was a time when a Pixar opening was a real event. Did it suffer as a result during Covid when you were going direct to consumer, for example, I think, it was “Red” or one of the fairly big movies.
IGER: Yeah, there were three Pixar releases in a row that went direct to streaming in part because mostly because of Covid. And I think that, you know, may have created an expectation in the audience that they’re going to eventually be on streaming and probably quickly, and there wasn’t an urgency. And then I think there was some – I think you’d have to agree that there was some creative misses, as well.
FABER: Well how do you change that –
IGER: I look at – the company’s 100 years old. Walt Disney went into the animation business, starting with you know, shorts in the 1920s. And obviously his big first feature with “Snow White” in 1937. If you look at his history, there were peaks and there are valleys. Every valley was followed by a peak. And I studied it very carefully. It is true in my predecessor, Michael Eisner’s days, too. The great halcyon days of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Little Mermaid” and “Lion King” and just this tremendous success. And then there’s a dip. I’m not suggesting we’re necessarily in that but I’m also not suggesting that we’re at a peak either. That we have some work to do there in terms of improving our creative output.
FABER: Did the loss of Lasseter – was it a blow to the company over time?
IGER: There’s a lot of talent at Pixar, there has been turnover as well. Not just John, but there’s been other turnover, too. And that may have had some impact.
FABER: But you’re confident that the production of Pixar Animation, for example, and the Disney Studio overall is going to continue to be strong.
FABER: Marvel and Star Wars too – I mean, you almost indicated kind of it’s been a little much. Do you pull back in a way?
FABER: You do.
IGER: Yeah. You pullback, not just to focus, but it was also part of our cost containment initiative. Spending less. Making – spending less on what we make and making less.
FABER: Now of course, it used to be that some of that stuff would then go to Netflix and you’d make a lot of money from selling to different distribution channels. Now it all just goes to Disney+. Do you ever think about how much money –
IGER: If we shouldn’t have done that?
FABER: Not that you shouldn’t have done that. There’s still — I mean, the old model worked pretty well.
IGER: It’s kind of interesting because I think if we did – well the old model worked when it was a blend of basically business models. It wasn’t the only model. The licensing model was part of a collection of models. I think if we hadn’t done it, everyone would be saying “Why isn’t Disney going into the streaming business?”. You know, and as it turns out, I think we made the right decision there to go into that business. It will be a growth business for us. We will turn it around, I’m confident of that. It will become profitable, and it will deliver growth for the company. And it will be an important business because that direct to consumer model where you have a relationship with your consumers – which we lacked, frankly as a company, except in our parks and resorts business – that will be of value to us long term.
FABER: Right. But there isn’t a model in which you can deliver most of your content into that but give some sort of an opportunity to sell it beyond that? And therefore monetize it in a bigger fashion?
IGER: Yes, there may be. There may be among the things we’re looking at just in terms of improving the bottom line of the company and basically managing the business to maximum results. One possibility is that we do some licensing. I’m not going to rule that out.
FABER: You won’t?
FABER: Because it doesn’t feel as though that’s the strategy any longer. I mean, the strategy, right, is to you know, obviously show the movies in movie theater again, which a lot of people are happy about, but then deliver them to the platform to obviously continue to get sub growth.
IGER: Yeah and some of them have been extremely successful. Our most recent one would be “Avatar.” The second “Avatar” film, which did over $2.2 billion in global box office. We then ended up putting it in the old video sell through window. We’re now digital sell through where it was extremely successful. It actually went a very traditional path, and then we put it on Disney+ to tremendous results. So the model I believe that has been created for us can still be very, very effective.
FABER: And you said you still believe it will be a growth business.
IGER: I do.
IGER: Well a number of reasons. First of all, the combination of assets that we have – the Disney+ and the Hulu, will increase engagement, will provide our consumers with a broader offering and more variety – not just the Disney and basically those brands, but general entertainment. Advertising will be a significant factor. About 40% of all subscribers right now – new subscribers to Disney+ — are opting for advertiser supported service, which is very interesting.
FABER: Is that higher than you thought it would be?
IGER: It is. About 40% of our advertising being sold now in the upfront is addressable or direct to consumer advertising. You see a huge migration there in terms of advertisers. Also technology will be a major factor, including technology’s impact on advertising where you can – and the use of AI, where you can tailor not only specific ads to specific people, you can make multiple ads and serve both the customer meaning in this case, the advertiser, and the consumer, much better. So that will have an impact. We’re being much more surgical about how we spend and what we spend it on. So all of these factors, advertising, the combination with Hulu, the use of technology in many different ways will contribute to a business that not only will become profitable, but will deliver growth for the company over the long term.
FABER: And is that a possibility come largely through continuing increased price I mean because last, the last couple of quarters domestically you haven’t grown subs.
IGER: We were a victim of our own success in that business in many ways in that we anticipated that we would sign up four to five million subscribers in the first year of operation. We signed up 10 million in the first 24 hours. We got to 100 million faster than anybody had ever done it by far. The business is not even four years old for us. It’s three, three plus years old. Netflix, which is a tremendous business and they’ve done a tremendous job, is 15 years old. So we’re still a baby here and what I mean by that is we’re still learning. Now pricing is a great example and this is one of the things that the new team that we have in place the new leadership team has gotten into deeply is that we were not great. We were—
FABER: At pricing, you still haven’t figured it out—
IGER: We were rookies.
IGER: We were, we were still new at it.
FABER: Although you’ve defended the $6.99 price you said that was, you’re happy you went with that low price initially.
IGER: The goal, it was my goal, I wanted it to be accessible. I wanted to put a little pressure on on competitors and I wanted because I knew at the time that we were going to be measured on subs and in fact we were, I wanted to sign up as many as we could as fast as we could and we did. But then at some point, you got to look at how what the levels of consumption are, what value you’re creating, and what’s the right price. So pricing is one thing, marketing is another. We were all over the place in terms of marketing programs versus marketing platforms. We have to get better at that. We have to get more selective about what markets we invest in. Some markets just are not going to deliver the value that we’d expect that they would and and what we spend in those markets has to reflect the business opportunity in those markets. And then I mentioned technology where our technology was strong enough to provide high quality video at scale, meaning you turn on Disney+, in the earliest days, you got a great picture and a great experience. But there was no recommendation engine, there were no algorithms. There was nothing that Netflix has already proven is part of their value equation, their value proposition. And because we’re so new, and we’re still just getting at this, I think, you know, we’ve, we set a level of expectation in terms of what we would deliver, by the way, to ourselves and to the street that I think, you know, might have been maybe perhaps a little too lofty in terms of our goals—
FABER: But also that subscriber growth then led to a big increase in the stock price because people got very excited at that point. It was all about subs.
IGER: Well, they should have gotten excited about it.
FABER: It wasn’t about cash flow. It wasn’t about ultimate profitability. We were in that moment.
IGER: Right. And what we ended up doing there because we signaled to the street we weren’t going to be profitable for a while.
FABER: Yeah until-
IGER: We then, we then leaned into or spent into that sub growth in a very, very aggressive way. And that spending level was well ahead of the other initiatives that we have to take which is the technology to provide the more engagement, it’s the pricing model, it’s the advertising model. It’s the marketing model, and it’s the technology that you need to deliver against almost all of those and that’s goes back I’ll keep throwing this word at you the transformative work that we’re doing.
FABER: I understand that but there’s still, we’re still not certain that you don’t have to continue to spend at an incredibly high level to to keep and grow that subscriber base.
IGER: You have to obviously you have to spend a certain amount to do that. You got to get your content right. You have to get all of these other things right. But you don’t necessarily have to spend the level that we were planning to spend and one of the we we mentioned the goal of $5 billion in cost reductions—
FABER: Yeah 5.5 billion. 3 billion in non-sports content—
IGER: Correct, which came in the form of content and also what we call SG&A and we eliminated a number of positions and we’ve gone through that very, very difficult work. That also is work that we’ve already gotten done. And now we have to look at everything else. The level of spending that we expected was not sustainable so what were we are reducing what we were expecting to spend in that business.
FABER: Speaking of content, we’re in the midst of a writer’s strike and very likely it would seem to have a actors’ strike. How is that going to impact things and what are your expectations there?
IGER: Well, I think it’s very disturbing to me. I, you know, we’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges that we’re facing and the recovery from Covid, which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption. I understand any labor organizations’ desire to work on the behalf behalf of its members to get, you know, the most compensation and to be compensated fairly based on the value that they deliver. We managed as an industry to negotiate a very good deal with the Directors Guild that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business. We wanted to do the same thing with the writers and we’d like to do the same thing with the actors. There’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic and they are adding to a set of challenges that this business is already facing that is quite frankly very disruptive and dangerous.
FABER: So they’re not being realistic?
IGER: No, they’re not.
FABER: Why not?
IGER: I can’t, I can’t answer that question. I, again, I respect their right and their desire to get as much as they possibly can in compensation for their people, You know, I completely respect that. I’ve been around long enough to understand that dynamic and to appreciate it. But you also have to be realistic about the business environment and what this business can deliver. It is and has been a great business for all of these people and it will continue to be even through disruptive times. But, you know, being realistic, is imperative here.
FABER: What do you do in the interim then? Does AI start to write a lot of scripts?
IGER: It will have, it will have a very, very damaging effect on the whole business and unfortunately—
FABER: The strike will.
IGER: There’s huge collateral damage in the industry to people who are, you know, who are support services. I can go on and on. It will affect the economy of, you know, different regions even because of the sheer size of the business. It’s a shame. It is really a shame.
FABER: Bob, amazingly enough, we don’t have that much time left and we haven’t gotten to parks which obviously is one of the key parts of the growth engine that you talk about and certainly has been the earnings engine. I want to talk about parks in the time that we have left if we can. Specific to attendance, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that seemed to indicate that people aren’t going to Disney World at the rate that they did certainly a year ago and your fight with the governor there or his fight with you. Is he having an impact do you think on attendance, his continuing into the company?
IGER: No, no, we see no sign of that at all. The article that you referred to was not accurate actually. It was measuring attendance at Disney World on July 4, which didn’t really factor in temperature, which is about 100 degrees and 99% humidity on that day. But there are other factors as well. One is and I think this is kind of complicated, but Florida opened up early during Covid and created huge demand and didn’t have competition because there were a number of other places, states that were not open yet. So if you look at the numbers in Florida in 2023, or just recently versus 2022, where not as much was open and Florida was the only thing, the only game in town. There’s a lot more competition today. So, against 2022, the state of Florida has been down. We actually track hotel tax revenue across the state, which is a matter of public record, and there are counties in Florida that had been down 6, 7% recently. We also know that our competitors are discounting in that state. So there are some near-term issues in Florida that I don’t think had anything to do with politics—
FABER: And not about pricing either because obviously when it comes to pricing in the parks, you have a great understanding there what that can do.
IGER: One of the things that we addressed as soon as I came back was whether our pricing was right or not and whether our pricing reflected value. I should, I should also say I don’t know when the last time you visited Disney World, I say it’s where the Disney brand lives in his most sublime form. I still believe that it’s an incredible experience. It’s a very, very popular business and product and it’s very successful and, you know, we’re not wringing our hands over it. There’s some near-term issues in Florida, as we’ve talked about, but—
FABER: Yeah, well, I want to talk about—
IGER: And pricing is not an issue. We addressed some of those issues—
FABER: So you’re not concerned.
IGER: I’m not.
FABER: Overall about some sort of a significant decline over time in the—
IGER: Not at all. No. I think you’re looking at, you’re looking at a comparison to last year, and it’s very, very different. And that’s, and we do not have long-term concerns about that business.
FABER: What about DeSantis who’s going to be on the hustings so to speak for the next year and he’s going, he’s made this a part of his campaign, attacking Disney, saying it’s a woke corporation. “We’ve put the company on a pedestal but they’ve really embraced the idea of getting the sexualized content in the program line that I’m not willing to cross.” I mean, that’s what he said. I quoted DeSantis there. How do you respond to that?
IGER: Well, so far what we’ve said publicly is that we are concerned that he has decided to retaliate against the company for a position the company took on pending legislation in that state. And frankly, the company was within its right, even though I’m not sure it was handled very well, it was within its right to speak up on an issue constitutionally protected right of free speech, and to retaliate against the company in a way that would be harmful to the business was not something that we could sit back and tolerate. And so, we have filed a lawsuit to protect our First Amendment rights there and to protect our business frankly. The other issues that you referenced, the last thing that I want for the company is for the company to be drawn into any culture wars. You know, we’ve operated for almost 100 years as a company making product that we actually are proud of in terms of its impact on the world. I joke every once in a while we’re there to manufacture fun—
FABER: You can’t—
IGER: We’re here to tell a great stories—
FABER: I know but you can’t be happy when there’s literally Nazis standing outside at the front gates of the park.
IGER: That was horrifying quite frankly and it’s concerning to me that anyone would encourage a, you know, a level of intolerance or even hate that, frankly, could even become, you know, dangerous action that could be turned into some dangerous act of some sort. So, it’s concerning to me, but I don’t I don’t really want to engage in the specifics except to say that it’s it’s not our goal to be involved in a culture war. Our goal is to continue to tell wonderful stories and have a positive, positive impact on the world. You know, we are a preeminent entertainer in the world. And we’re proud of our track record there. The notion that Disney is in any way sexualizing children quite frankly is preposterous and inaccurate.
FABER: Well, this is going to keep going on but you’re going to, I mean, do you ever feel like you need to engage in even a more strident way or sort of want to stay kind of where you are? The lawsuit will speak for itself?
IGER: We’re gonna keep doing what we’ve do what we do best and and be proud of what we are doing. And, you know, be mindful of the environment of course. I’ve said this, I’ve said this publicly, you know, we’re, we’re sensitive to the interests and the needs of the great audiences that we are seeking to attract globally. And we’ll continue to do that.
FABER: Yeah. And finally, given everything we’ve just discussed during the last 40 minutes and the challenges that you’ve outlined very bluntly, I just, why do you want to, you know, your window’s closing on life, I just want to let you know that. You’re gonna be 75, almost 76 when you wrap this up now. I mean, you always look great. But do you really want to continue to do this? I mean, what is motivating you? You said you liked retirement? I—
IGER: I did like retirement. I highly recommend it. I said that to you.
FABER: I’m not retiring anytime soon either. I mean, I’m going to use you as my—
IGER: I think it’s pretty obvious that you can’t do a job like this without having a real passion for the company, for the businesses, respect for its heritage, but also, sorry a little traffic here in Sun Valley, but also an optimism about its future and also a great team that works with me. I don’t, I’m not doing this alone. And frankly, you know, one of the things that really motivates me every day is the fact that I’m doing this with a team of talented people that are helping me through this. It’s not singular, it’s not a single—
FABER: No, I understand that although none of them are ready to step up to do the job that you do yet.
IGER: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I think we have a lot of work to do here and we’re all comfortable as a team that we’re getting at the right work at the right timetable, and I’m confident the board is, by the way, the succession process is not going to stop. It’s going to continue and it should. It takes the pressure off us and we’ve got some, we’ve talked about it. There’s so many things that we have to do and so much that we know we will do and can do and we’re optimists like, you know, I talk about optimism is a major quality of a great leader. No one wants to follow a pessimist. We’re optimists about the future of this company. We’ve gotten at the work already. We know what we have to do. There’s light at the end of the tunnel in in the most challenged businesses, and there’s an unbelievably bright future for the businesses that are less challenged.
FABER: Despite what are short term challenges some of which you outlined—
IGER: But we’re not in this for the short term. The company is going to be 100 years old in October. We’re not in this for the short term. I’ve never been in it for the short term.
FABER: Well, you certainly haven’t. You’ve been here since ’74. You’re almost half the company you’ve been here.
IGER: That’s actually, I never thought of it that way. Oh, dear. Well, I’m happy, through it all through all, through all the challenges, when you go to work every day and you’re working for the Walt Disney Company, what could be bad.
FABER: What could be bad. Well, Bob, I always appreciate your taking time and I look forward to sitting down given we’ve got quite a few more years to go.
IGER: Thanks David.
FABER: Thank you for joining.
IGER: Thank you.
FABER: Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company for quite some time to come. Joe, back to you.