THE FORMER CEO HAS RETURNED ONCE AGAIN! WILL THINGS AT DISNEY GET SORTED OUT?
Under Robert Iger’s leadership, Disney’s market capitalization had increased from $48 billion to $257 billion. During his 15-year tenure as CEO, Iger expanded Disney’s list of intellectual property assets and its share in international markets. On February 25, 2020, Bob Chapek was named Disney’s CEO as Iger’s successor. Iger continued to serve as the chief executive officer until December 31, 2020, when Susan Arnold finally replaced him.
Meanwhile, Disney faced a harsh reality for the first time in 2021. The cinema industry could not recover after COVID-19, and cable TV stations were losing viewers. Disney’s market value began to decline rapidly. However, at the same business, Apple and Amazon were gaining value . Then, Disney fired the new CEO, Bob Chapek, and appointed Robert Iger as CEO again 11 months later. Let’s see if things will work out.
First published in Turkish on August 6, 2023
Robert A. Iger, born 1951, is chairman and former CEO of The Walt Disney Company (2005-2020). He was chairman of ABC Television from 1994 to 1995 and chairman/COO of Capital Cities/ABC from 1995 until Disney acquired it in 1996. Iger replaced Michael Eisner as CEO in 2005 and, during his 15-year tenure, expanded Disney’s IP portfolio and international market share. He is recognized as the driving force behind its increased investment in direct-to-consumer businesses, including the revitalization of Walt Disney Animation Studios. On February 25, 2020, Bob Chapek was named CEO of Disney as his successor.
Bob Chapek (on the left), Robert Iger (on the right)
Meanwhile, Disney faced with reality in 2021. The cinema industry could not recover after COVID-19, and cable TV stations were losing viewers. Disney’s market value began to decline rapidly. Yet, Apple and Amazon were gaining in value in the same business. Eventually, Disney fired CEO Bob Chapek and reappointed Robert Iger as CEO 11 months later. (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-63711818.)
What compelled the CEO to return?
Disney is celebrating its centenary with a market value of $180 billion, making it the world’s largest entertainment company, still dominates the movie box office. While American theme parks took a hit during the COVID-19 outbreak, they are now on the path to recovery. Disney continues to earn billions of dollars annually from broadcasts and cable television networks. In the realm of internet platform broadcasting, seen as the future, Disney surpassed Netflix in 2021 and collected more subscriptions than any other competitor. During those 12 exciting months, the company’s share price doubled (1).In 2022, Wall Street realized that the traditional Hollywood formats were crashing faster than the growth of new ventures. The cinema industry struggled to recover fully from Covid19 and it’s evident it won’t bounce back entirely. Cable TV was rapidly declining. Meanwhile, Disney’s streaming division faced a loss over $1 billion in the first quarter, competing against tech giants like Apple and Amazon, who invested their earnings from other sectors into platform publishing. Disney’s market capitalization had halved since its peak in 2021, returning to levels that fell with the pandemic outbreak. And in November, the company removed CEO Bob Chapek from his position and reinstated his predecessor, the retired Bob Iger.Here is my question: We often wonder if our capabilities and accomplishments that have led to this success will suffice for what lies beyond?
Iger effectively steered Disney for fifteen years until 2020 and was granted two-year period to rectify the situation.. He was tasked with managing the decline of Disney’s former ventures, ensuring profitability for the new endeavors,, countering the threat from Silicon Valley, and identifying a new successor. However, Nelson Peltz of Trian Fund Management, an activist partner with a 0.5% stake valued at $900 million,and who sought a position on the board, began critiquing Iger’s performance from day one.If he succeeds, Iger is thought to keep Disney’s business going for another century and help reshape the entertainment industry. As soon as Iger arrived, he established a new organizational structure and shifted authority from bureaucracy to creative teams. It will cut costs by $2.5 billion and cut an additional $3 billion in content spending, equivalent to 8% of total expenses. He announced that he would cut 7,000 personnel. To curb Disney+’s financial losses, Iger increased Disney subscription prices in the United States by 38% in December. He gave the good news that he would start paying dividends again at the end of 2023.
Despite all this, Iger was criticized for failing to present a long-term plan. Iger said he wants to focus on core brands and franchise businesses. Hulu, a two-thirds-owned publisher, must be retained for the success of online platform brand Disney+. Cable TV giant Comcast, which owns the remaining one-third, said they could buy Disney’s stake. Iger will either sell Hulu or buy it all in the near future.
In my opinion, two years is a short period to transform a business, and if Iger isn’t found to be unsuccessful and fired at the end of this period, he will likely remain at Disney for many more years.The second unresolved issue for Disney relates toESPN, another division of its media empire. The ESPN sports network exhibits a completely incompatible feature; Iger plans to keep ESPN as a separate business unit. Iger says Disney has no intention of expanding ESPN. Selling ESPN might be a good option, given Disney’s $37 billion debt, if Disney decides to Acquire Hulu or, for example, enter the rapidly growing video games market.
Disney’s market cap, standing at around $200 billion, has increased by 19% since Iger’s return.This indicates that investors have confidence in him. However, the company is currently worth $60 billion less than when he retired in early 2020.
One sees that Iger still has tens of billions of dollars to earn. Focus and pay back the debt!
Disney’s business model, in place since 1950, has been shaking several of its arms simultaneously. Traditional TV and Cable TV are on the decline; Online Broadcasting, on the other hand, sells subscriptions at a lower cost due to competition, at a loss! Can Iger, under these circumstances, add another 50 million Disney+ subscribers by the end of 2024? This is risky endeavor! Meanwhile, smallercompetitors, are looking at consolidation as a solution. In Turkiye, Gain has been sold, Digiturk and Exxen are trying to respond to the competition by engaging in football and Blue TV is attemping to compete by generating new content. However, standing out in the midst of the competition by Netflix, Disney, and Apple TV seems to be challenging feat. Uncertainty persists for other segments of Disney. The power of cinema is diminshing in the West. Even before the pandemic, consumers were losing the habit of going to the movies often, except for the most spectacular screenings. An American went to the movies an average of five times in 2000 but only 3.5 times in 2019. During the same period, 1,600 cinemas were closed down in the country. Covid accelerated this decline sharply; many in Hollywood suspect that the box office will never return to former glory. The box office success of the Barbie and Oppenheimer films has provided temporary optimism, but doubts remain. The process in Türkiye is no different.I guess cinemas need to evolve; and so should our movie-watching habits! Imaginea movie theater; it is not dark while you are watching a movie; you are sitting with your friends in cozy armchairs around a table, and being hosted. In fact, the movie, the actors, and even behind-the-scenes reviews are offered upon your request. This is especially preferred for those who have time constraints like me. I remember when I first watched the Matrix movie, I couldn’t grasp it fully. I was enlightened the second time when I watched it with an IT-savy friend.
A permanently shrinking movie market will certainly reduce Disney’s earnings. In Hollywood, there has been a longstanding serious concern that the “small” screen would replace traditional cinema.Many note that despite Netflix maintaining its 223 million subscribers thanks to excellent content, it has struggled to find enduring franchises of the kind that Disney has produced.
Similar challenges are also exist at Disney amusement parks. However, things are back to normal after the pandemic. Last year, it generated an operating profit of $7.9 billion, 16% more than before the pandemic, which has been the company’s main source of growth. Disney introduced airline-style pricing during times of peak demand. For a family of four, a one-day visit to Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure Park during high season costs $1,000. However, it is believed that activity in amusement parks linked to cinema characters will be affected as creating new characters for the cinema becomes challenging.The amusement park business is easier because there are always new characters and stories. Required investment is the expansion of these parks to other geographies of the world. Of course, “greenhouses” that eliminate bad weather conditions such as winter should be considered. There will definitely be mobile versions of these amusement parks for you in the future. Even today, digital virtual technology is capable of this.
Until other parts of the business recover, Iger will need to milk Disney’s Amusement Parks. Meanwhile, Disney’s parks are also facing political pressure. Former CEO Chapek has angered Republicans by criticizing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts discussion of LGBT issues in elementary and middle school grades 4-12. In retaliation, Republicans passed a law that abolished the tax exemption in Florida’s special business district, where Disney World has operated under favorable terms for more than 50 years. The law, which took effect in June, imposes numerous controversial and uncertain financial obligations. Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced his Republican nomination for President on May 24, and he is unlikely to forgive socially active CEOs (woke CEOs). If Ron DeSantis is elected President, challenging days await Disney and Iger (3).Yes, our job is to follow the trends, and it’s getting increasingly challenging. The customer is always right;that’s our company’s principle Of course the opinions within the intellectual circles we belong to can vary. But how/where will you articulate it, or will you be able to? This is where it becomes crucial.
Disney’s greatest strength lies in utilizing its intellectual property rights (brands and characters) in both cinemas and theme parks; This gives it an edge over its Silicon Valley competitors. But Enders Analysis’s offers an intriguing perspective: “If the intellectual property creation hub shifts from the cinema to the TV or online space… Disney will be more disadvantaged than the big tech companies that want to invest in their industry and expand through acquisitions.” As new formats for storytelling continue to evolve, Disney may need to broaden its creative horizons. “Disney needs to understand how broad of a business it is. It’s not just movies. It’s about creating worlds and characters,” said one former executive. In 2021, Deloitte reported that while Americans named television as their favorite type of home entertainment, Generation Z—roughly those under 25—ranked television last. Currently, the primary interest for the Gen Z revolves around video games, although this may vary up to a certain age.The gaming industry is Disney’s blind spot. Disney licenses its brands to developers like Electronic Arts,who create games based on, among others, Star Wars and Marvel games. While Netflix, Amazon, and Apple now offer game subscriptions alongside video, Disney is still undecisive about this.Prior to launching Disney+, Iger acquired a majority stake in BamTech, an online streaming technology company. A former colleague of Iger’s, who thinks he could also make another acquisition to inject some gaming DNA into the company, says the goal is to get “engineering DNA” into Disney. Disney could enter the gaming metaverse as a major player with one major purchase.
The blind spot, as it turns out, is an issue that must be resolved!
Disney has $37 billion in net debt, some of which is from the recent shopping spree that resulted in Iger’s acquisition of the 21st Century Fox studio for $71 billion. Activist investor Peltz complains about the distressing balance sheet and favors selling some assets.
People in Iger’s circle affirm his return is unplanned and unlikely to extend the second act. That makes the search for a successor urgent, but… If you recall, Apple and Starbucks also encountered similar challenges in finding new CEO. Meanwhile, at Disney, the challenges are mounting. The Online TV Platform business has transformed Disney into a massive international direct-to-consumer business. The CEO now has to manage political relations with everyone from Florida’s Republicans to the Chinese Communist Party. And as technology puts Hollywood in competition with Silicon Valley, Disney will have to find new ways to use its intellectual property in an environment that its wealthier rivals have yet to find a way to top it off; but how?In times of crisis, companies look for the solution to hiring ex-managers. Swiss UBS reinstated its former CEO, Sergio Ermotti, during the critical integration process with Credit Suisse. There are also those who call CEOs “Boomerang CEOs” who return after leaving a company. There are benefits as well as harms associated with this solution.
Apple’s board of directors fired co-founder Steve Jobs in the spring of 1985. During the ten years following this decision, Apple faced all kinds of difficulties and lost its PC market share and superiority. In 1996, Jobs was back in the chair, and you know his next success story. Dell, Google, Twitter, Snapchat, Best Buy, Starbucks, Yahoo, DuPont, Procter & Gamble, J.C. Penney, Reddit, Bloomberg, Urban Outfitters, and Charles Schwab are some of the companies where former CEOS have returned.Examples of failed Boomerang CEOs include Paul Allaire at Xerox and Kenneth Lay at Enron. However, despite these negative examples, it is thought that Boomerang CEOs can contribute to providing peace and stability to companies, especially in times of chaos, as they are not unfamiliar with the culture (5).Returning to Bob Iger, there is a rumor that Disney+ has removed domestic productions all over the world due to cost-cutting policies. In fact, there are rumors of conspiracy as he made this move not to broadcast the Atatürk documentary, which was supposed to be broadcast on October 29 due to the Armenian lobby. Disney in Türkiye denied this rumor on its social media account (6). Last week, they made a statement stating that the Atatürk documentary will only be aired on Fox TV and in cinemas (7).Will the remarkable CEO Iger succeed? Will he be able to turn the nose of the Disney plane that went upside down again? Difficult but not impossible, but how, I wonder. So, what is the CEO management approach that makes Iger so famous? I’ve prepared the summary of his book, “The Ride of a Lifetime”, where he shares his memories and management approach, to answer this question in the next article, “How Dreams Came True?”.
(2) In 2023, the basic plan for Netflix Turkey (1 person) is 63.99 TL. The standard plan (two people) is 97.99 TL. The special plan (four people) is 130.99 TL. Disney Plus is 63.99 TL.
(5) Yıldırım, S. (2023) Boomerang CEOs, ( https://www.milliyet.com.tr/milliyet-executive/bumerang-ceolar-6975907).
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