Bob Iger’s Disney return was stunning. It was also totally predictable
Welcome to The Wide Shot, a newsletter about the business of entertainment. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
In retrospect, maybe we should have seen this coming.
Yes, Bob Iger’s return to the Walt Disney Co. is stunning, coming less than a year after his retirement and just a few months after Disney’s board rewarded his successor, Bob Chapek, with a new contract. Even Iger expressed “a bit of amazement” at this turn of events.
But it was also totally predictable. It’s what so many people thought would happen, and not just because of wish-casting from analysts, investors and Hollywood creatives. Both things can be true. Believing is different from knowing, though, and that’s why it’s still shocking. The speed of the decision caught everyone off guard, including the ousted Chapek.
It’s been clear for a while that Iger didn’t like the way his handpicked successor was running the business, according to vast amounts of reporting by folks, including my colleague Meg James. The compounding complaints from shareholders and others have been well-established. Bad decisions on talent relations. Overpromising on streaming numbers. A huge, unpopular reorganization. Moving Disney employees to Florida. And, of course, a disastrous earnings report this month. All of it contributed to the end of the Chapek era.
At times, Iger’s public comments seemed to make Chapek’s job harder. A quote Iger gave to the New York Times’ Ben Smith earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic suggested that he was coming back in to help Chapek manage through the crisis, which Chapek took as a slight of his abilities and a signal that his old boss wasn’t ready to let go. A tweet from Iger condemning Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, seen as anti-gay legislation, prompted questions about why Chapek wasn’t standing up to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Now Iger is back to try to show everyone how it’s done.
We wrote yesterday about what Iger’s return could mean for Disney. Forgive the fairy-tale reference, but fixing Disney’s problems is not like waving a magic wand. The issues with streaming’s flood of red ink are not unique to Disney, and it’s unclear what Iger will do to pare losses and turn Disney+ into a sustainable business. Or at least it’s not obvious how he’ll do that faster than Chapek would have.
Iger has already shown that he’s not messing around.
On Monday, he announced a restructuring of the company meant to put power back in the hands of creative executives, effectively looking to unwind Chapek’s notorious 2020 reorganization that was supposed to boost streaming but mainly caused headaches among executives, according to people who lived through it. As a result, Kareem Daniel, who led Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, is out.
Fans and investors hold plenty of theories and hopes for further changes at Disney. Maybe Iger will reorient Disney+ back to catering to super-fans and away from the more expansive “general entertainment” slate it has started to adopt lately. And what of the parks, where guests complain of being squeezed on pricing and additional fees for faster access to rides?
You could argue that some of the problems Iger faces upon his return are of his own making, stemming from strategies that he put in motion before the handoff to Chapek and the COVID-19 shutdowns. It’s not as if the pivot to streaming was Chapek’s idea, after all. And after a career of unrivaled deal making, it was Iger’s decision to buy Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox entertainment holdings, which saddled the company with serious debt.
But it was Chapek who set sky-high expectations for Disney+ during the pandemic when it seemed as if streaming was quickly becoming everything to everyone.
“There’s been a couple of different businesses, in our opinion, that have taken trends that happened during the pandemic and extrapolated them into consumer behavior that would be permanent,” said Brian Mulberry of Zacks Investment Management, which holds Disney stock. “And it’s just simply not how things have panned out so far.”
Perhaps, but Iger doesn’t think the fundamental shifts in the entertainment business are going anywhere. A couple of months ago, he effectively said traditional cable and satellite TV was going to fall off a cliff. What does that mean for ESPN and ABC? Again, Iger hasn’t said, but if this week is any indication, Iger is going to move fast.
- The drama behind the stunning shakeup.
- Does Iger have the magic touch to turn Disney around?
- The key players in the Disney leadership drama
- Chapek likely to leave with at least $23 million
- Iger announces plans for a sweeping overhaul
Stuff we wrote
— “We’re seeing a rollback on progress in the greater world, which of course is going to affect us as well,” said Maha Dakhil, co-head of Creative Artists Agency’s motion picture group, when I asked how studio budget cuts are hurting diversity and inclusion in film. My interview with Dakhil and fellow CAA film co-head Joel Lubin covers a lot of ground, including ideas about how to create the next generation of movie stars, whatever that means anymore.
— The great Hollywood downsizing of 2022 takes down a big name. Kelly Kahl, the respected head of the CBS television network for five turbulent years, will step down next month, clearing the way for veteran programmer Amy Reisenbach to succeed him. The shakeup comes as cost cutting looms over the Paramount Global-owned network.
— After Will Smith’s Oscar slap, Antoine Fuqua worried ‘Emancipation’ might ‘never be seen.’ The director opens up about the brutal process of depicting an enslaved man on the run — and the controversy that threatens to overshadow his movie.
— ICYMI. The $200-million “Walking Dead” profit sharing dispute lives again. Randall Emmett settles racial discrimination lawsuit. CNN ends ‘This Is Life With Lisa Ling.’ Tulsi Gabbard joins Fox News (what a shock).
Number(s) of the week
That’s what Universal’s “She Said” grossed in the U.S. and Canada during the journalism drama’s opening weekend in theaters. It’s not a good result.
That an awards contender with deadly serious subject matter underperformed is not surprising in the current box office climate. In a world where audiences desire escapism, it’s a good bet that even a well-reviewed retelling of the Weinstein sexual harassment investigation is going to struggle.
Meanwhile, Searchlight’s star-studded horror-comedy “The Menu” landed in second place behind “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” with $9 million, showing at least some life for original film.
The biggest surprise was the No. 3 finish of Fathom Events’ special screening of “The Chosen,” a TV show about the life of Jesus. Maybe that shouldn’t have been such a shock. More on that next week, perhaps.
Yes, we know Taylor Swift is popular.
But it appears that it was more than simple “unprecedented demand” that hobbled Ticketmaster’s Verified Fans concert ticket buying system, making life a living hell for Swifties everywhere. The company blamed bots and people without presale codes for disrupting its service. “[T]his time the staggering number of bot attacks as well as fans who didn’t have invite codes drove unprecedented traffic on our site, resulting in 3.5 billion total system requests — 4x our previous peak,” the company said.
Ticketmaster had planned to make tickets available for sale to the general public last Friday for Swift’s much-anticipated Eras tour. But after 48 hours of outcry from frustrated fans, those plans were canceled. Swift is not happy, telling fans she was assured that Ticketmaster could handle the demand. Apparently not.
The snafu revived calls from lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), to break up the 2010 merger of Ticketmaster and concert promoter Live Nation, which critics have long decried as wielding monopolistic power over the live music industry. Will Swift use her clout to change the industry? She’s one of the few artists who are even close to powerful enough to make something meaningful happen. Meanwhile, regulators have finally started to wield their clout, successfully suing to block a major publishing merger.
Best of not-Disney
— Those Golden Globes quotes... How Brendan Fraser made it all the way back. (GQ)
— Good luck with that... Sam Bankman-Fried tries to explain himself. (Vox)
— Fear for your megamergers: The Justice Dept. is (finally) taking action. (Hollywood Reporter)
Finally ... goodbye yellow brick road
Oh, who am I kidding, I have to catch up on the Elton John concert tonight. The show is over, but Craig Marks’ story on the original performance at Dodger Stadium is still very much worth your time.
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.