Disney’s Bob Iger throws tough questions to digital bigwigs, who give evasive answers


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Bob Iger, the normally stiff Walt Disney Co. chief executive, showed that he could indeed work a crowd as moderator of the Hollywood Radio & TV Society’s newsmaker luncheon today at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel. Despite the old media moniker, the ‘newsmakers’ were all digital dudes, including YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, Hulu chief Jason Kilar, News Corp. Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Miller and Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson -- suggesting what’s on Hollywood’s collective mind.

Iger, who’s usually the one getting grilled on panels instead of the one doing the grilling, showed a light touch and a quick wit and wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself in front of a room full of industry executives. After a glowing introduction by Lionsgate Television President Kevin Beggs, who cited the Disney chief’s deal-making acumen (Pixar, Marvel), Iger quickly reminded attendees that he’s also the guy who put Steven Bochco’s ill-fated musical drama ‘Cop Rock’ on the air (almost 20 years later, ‘Cop Rock’ jokes are still comedy gold).


One of the themes of the luncheon was one that seems to dominate every time media hotshots get together for an industry panel: making money from online content. Iger wryly noted that Hurley ‘monetized YouTube by selling it to Google for $1.7 billion,’ which drew big laughs from the crowd. Iger also cracked that he was ‘mildly encouraged’ by Anderson’s assessment that media companies will make money online by selling convenience versus content, which is what he said has made Apple Inc.’s iTunes a success. There seemed to be a general agreement on the panel that there would eventually be a pay model for some content online.

At the same time, Miller warned that the rising cost of programming is on a collision course with the digital world. ‘The cost structure of creating content has to be less in the environment,’ he said.

Although he was on a dias of industry peers, Iger didn’t lob too many softballs. In questioning Miller, who oversees MySpace, Iger said the ‘monetizing of social networks is a big question mark’ and prodded Miller on why that site, once the hottest thing on the Internet, is now an also-ran behind Facebook. Miller, who joined News Corp. a few months ago, said MySpace ‘forgot that there is continual need for reinvention’ when it comes to social networking. Iger, however, didn’t press Hurley on YouTube’s talks with movie studios about offering recent releases on the site for a fee.

Iger wasn’t the only one who could get chuckles out of the room. When he asked if attendees would pay to read the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column (few hands went up) and followed that with who would pay to watch stuff on Hulu or MySpace (again, few hands went up), Miller rightly observed, ‘I don’t think this room pays for anything.’

-- Joe Flint

. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images