COMPANY TOWN

Disney's Bob Iger discusses Shanghai resort, 'Star Wars' and ESPN at media conference

Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger said that the $5.5-billion Shanghai Disney Resort is more than 90% complete and will open on schedule June 16.

"It makes a loud statement," Iger said Tuesday during an appearance at Deutsche Bank's annual Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. "We have done things big there."  

When it opens, the Shanghai project will be Disney's second-largest theme park, behind only its resort in Orlando, Fla.

Iger said the Shanghai Disney Resort will feature a mix of original and existing intellectual property and boasts the largest Enchanted Storybook Castle of any of the company's theme parks.

Guests will be able to reach the property via a subway line that stops at the park. Iger said it would be a Disney-"branded" subway station.

The subway stop is situated near the park's front gate and can deliver 20,000 people per hour to the property.

As part of the wide-ranging Deutsche Bank discussion, Iger also spoke about Burbank-based Disney's film and television businesses. 

He trumpeted the success of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which has grossed more than $2 billion worldwide and is the third-most-successful film of all time.

Iger also touted "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," a spinoff film scheduled for release Dec. 16. The events of the new movie take place just before those depicted in the original 1977 "Star Wars" film. "It fits ... into the continuum,” Iger said of “Rogue One,” which centers on an effort by spies to steal plans for the Death Star. “I really wouldn’t call it a prequel."

He also discussed the poorly performing drama "The Finest Hours," saying that it would result in a $75-million hit to the film studio's operating income in the current fiscal quarter.

The movie, which stars Chris Pine and was released Jan. 29, has grossed $40.5 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

A significant portion of the conversation centered on Disney-owned ESPN, which lost an undisclosed number of subscribers in the fiscal quarter that ended Jan. 2. During that quarter, Disney reported a 6% decline in operating income for its media networks unit, which includes ESPN.

Concerns about the effects of cord-cutting and other changes have roiled the TV business as a whole in recent months.

"I believe in the brand value of ESPN,” said Iger, noting that more than 200 million Americans accessed ESPN content via various platforms during a recent month.

Iger said that ESPN must improve its digital products, noting: "First of all, we think that we’ve got to crack mobile even more successfully than we have before."  

Among other ventures, ESPN currently offers a website and mobile application that gives subscribers of cable and satellite TV providers the ability to stream live content from the network's stable of channels.

Iger also said that "some form of direct-to-consumer" offering of ESPN is on the table.

"I don’t think it’s one size fits all,” he said of appealing to consumers' changing television-consumption habits and desires.

Follow @DanielNMiller on Twitter for film business news.

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