Iger Effectively Back In Charge At Disney: Report

Disney executive chairman Bob Iger has effectively re-exerted control over the company, sidelining his own choice for a CEO successor who took over just six weeks ago, Bob Chapek, reports The New York Times’ Ben Smith.

Iger has “smoothly” reasserted control during management video calls in recent weeks — and is trying to shape a post-pandemic Disney by determining how to run crowd-driven entertainment experiences more safely, as well as how to change operations to reduce costs, according to the report.

Those changes might include “ending expensive old-school television practices like advertising upfronts and producing pilots for programs that may never air,” writes Smith, who was also told by two people that Iger is considering a smaller workforce. (Iger subsequently told Smith he has no recollection of saying that, adding that any staff reduction decisions would in any case be made by his successor, not him.)

The pandemic has been a veritable perfect storm for Disney, forcing the company to furlough large numbers of employees as of April 19. (A total number has not been released, but it includes at least 73,000 workers in the California and Florida theme parks/resorts businesses alone.)

All of Disney’s major business segments except the wildly successful new streamer Disney+ (which has hit 50 million users years in advance of that goal) and other direct-to-consumer channels are in limbo. That includes its largest business, parks/cruise lines and other experiences (which generated $26.2 billion in its last fiscal); its second-largest, media networks ($24.8 billion), which is driven in large part by advertising for ESPN sports events that are now indefinitely suspended; and studio entertainment/theatrical releases ($11 billion).

Iger — who had postponed stepping down from the CEO post four times since 2013 — pulled the trigger this year after having steered Disney to unprecedented levels of success during his 15-year run.

Iger told Smith that there were “no surprises… nothing hidden… nothing different or odd to speculate about” in his decision to shift to executive chairman as Chapek, who had run the parks/experiences/consumer products business successfully for years, became CEO on February 25.

People “close to” Iger and the Disney company “said in interviews that the real question wasn’t whether he saw the [coronavirus] crisis coming — but whether his focus on burnishing his own legacy and assuring a smooth succession left him distracted as the threats to the business grew,” Smith concluded.

“This is a moment where people first and foremost are looking to an example of leadership that has proved itself over an extended period of time — and Bob [Iger] personifies that,” Richard Pepler, the former HBO chief whose production company has an exclusive deal with Apple TV+.

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