As has been anticipated since his heir apparent, COO Thomas Staggs, resigned last April, Disney Co. leading man Robert Iger yesterday agreed to extend his run as chairman and CEO for yet another year, and then serve as a consultant for three more after that.
Citing Iger’s “outstanding leadership, his record of success in a changing media landscape, and his clear strategic vision for Disney’s future,” independent lead director Orin C. Smith said the board would “[conduct] the robust process of identifying a successor and ensuring a smooth transition,” which is now slated for July 2, 2019.
This will be the third time Iger’s contract has been extended. During his 11-year tenure, he “has created enormous value for shareholders, with total shareholder return of 448%, compared to 144% for the S&P 500, and a dramatic increase in the company’s market capitalization to $177 billion from $46 billion,” Smith pointed out in the statement announcing the news.
Since Iger took the helm, Disney has acquired Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm, the studio behind the Star Wars films. “Those acquisitions have helped make Disney’s movie studio the most successful in Hollywood, and have also provided material for its consumer products business and theme parks around the world,” Ben Fritz writes for the Wall Street Journal.
“Even among media conglomerates, Disney has a unique mix of businesses, some of which are healthier than others,” points out Brooks Barnes for the New York Times.
“The company’s movie studio is widely regarded as the strongest in Hollywood — ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ released last week, has already taken in more than $425 million worldwide — and the Disney theme parks are delivering record profits. But the company’s vast consumer products division has been in decline, and Disney’s television operation, which includes ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform, has been struggling with ratings weakness and a lack of breakout shows,” Barnes continues.
“Iger has also overseen the expansion of Disney's theme parks to Shanghai, China, which opened last year, and new park attractions devoted to ‘Frozen’ and new ones in the works for ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Avatar.’ He has also directed the company's advances into online streaming by acquiring a one-third stake of BAMTech, the digital streaming unit of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), and plans this year to launch a direct-to-consumer sports video service with some ESPN content,” reports Mike Snider for USA Today.
“Wall Street did not react strongly to Iger’s new pact — shares of Disney rose 16 cents to $112.24 — possibly because the extension was considered a fait accompli among investors. But analysts were nevertheless happy about the decision,” writes Thomas Miller for the Los Angeles Times.
“Investors will be pretty pleased with this,” Edward Jones Research analyst Robin Diedrich tells him. “Shareholders — and we — would agree that he is doing a pretty good job, so it is nice to see that this is confirmed that he will stay on.”
Meanwhile, “with few obvious internal candidates, the board seems increasingly likely to look outside Disney” for Iger’s successor, Miller tells us.
“The highest-profile outside candidates, such as producer and former News Corp. executive Peter Chernin, Steve Burke, CEO of Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, and Facebook Inc. COO and Disney board member Sheryl Sandberg, are unlikely to be offered or take the post, people with knowledge of the matter said,” WSJ’s Fritz reports.
Yesterday, speaking at a technology and entertainment conference at the University of Southern California, Iger said, “I'm serious this time around ... I promise,” in an interview conducted by his wife, journalist Willow Bay, who is the incoming dean of USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, reports Reuters’ Lisa Richwine.
When Iger, now 66, is finally catching up on his reading on the beach in Santa Monica, his “Star Wars” legacy will still be very much in evidence at Disney. He also “dropped not one, not two, but three huge spoilers about” the franchise at the conference, ABC.com’s Michael Rothman reports.
Carrie Fisher will not be digitized in Episode VIII: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” The untitled Han Solo spin-off that’s in production “will follow Solo from the ages of 18 to 24” and will reveal “how he got his name.” And, finally, Iger “teased the future of ‘Star Wars’ past ‘Episode IX,’ saying the creative minds at Lucasfilm are pondering ‘what could be another decade and a half of ‘Star Wars’ stories,’” Rothman writes.
That, on top of the $5 million cash bonus he’s getting for sticking around for another year, should keep Iger secure in his pension.