Bob Iger: Embattled keeper of the House of Mouse

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Bob Iger
Bob Iger, photographed at the premiere of FX’s “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Jan. 23.
(Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images)

Imagine an alternate universe where Bob Iger got his magical storybook ending after departing from the Walt Disney Co. more than two years ago.

It was one of the best-orchestrated exits you could dream up. After 15 years building Disney into an entertainment behemoth with the purchases of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Fox, he’d handed the reins to a hand-picked successor.

But the fairy tale soon fractured.


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Less than a year after Iger’s “retirement,” his heir, Bob Chapek, was ousted and the one true Bob was back on the throne, welcomed like a returning king.

“Iger: The Sequel” has been far less cheery than the original so far. The House of Mouse to which Iger returned was beset by problems, some stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and Chapek’s unforced errors, such as the feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over LGBTQ+ issues that made Disney into a culture war punching bag.

Other challenges were of Iger’s own making, including an all-in streaming strategy that sacrificed box office and TV revenue to grow Disney+ and Hulu. The quality of Disney’s movies suffered from demands on studios, especially Marvel, to crank out television shows for money-losing Disney+. Meanwhile, original animated properties, such as “Wish,” struggled to take off.

Iger, 73, acknowledged these problems while weathering one negative news story after another.

He cut 8,000 Disney jobs in pursuit of $7.5 billion in cost savings. Cord-cutting continued to erode TV profits. He fought off a proxy fight from billionaire Nelson Peltz, only for the hedge funder to return months later demanding multiple seats on Disney’s board. In a much-needed victory for Iger, Disney shareholders resoundingly rejected Peltz’s bid at the company’s investor meeting in April.

Oh, and don’t forget the writers’ and actors’ strikes. Or the Charter blackout. Or the fact that Iger had barely stepped back onto the Burbank lot before questions resurfaced about succession plans. (A typical headline ran in the Wall Street Journal: “Bob Iger Isn’t Having Much Fun.”)

Bob Iger
Bob Iger attends the Governors Ball after the 95th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 12, 2023.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Year One of Iger’s second tenure was all about repairing the damage and forging Disney’s future. Today, though, there are signs that Disney is playing offense again.

Iger has walked back comments that suggested he was willing to sell TV businesses, including ABC. At the same time, he is charging ahead with a plan to launch a full-blown ESPN streaming service, while also participating in a sports streaming venture with Fox Corp. and Warner Bros. Discovery. He has allowed film studio deputies to pump the brakes and focus on quality. He has slashed streaming losses significantly.

In February, he announced a $1.5-billion deal with “Fortnite” maker Epic Games to create a digital universe featuring the company’s franchises. He brought Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” movie to Disney+. Disney’s stock soared, helping Iger vanquish Peltz. The DeSantis feud is, for all practical purposes, over, with the company solidifying a $17-billion expansion and investment plan for its Florida parks.

And promisingly, Disney has had a strong run at the box office this year, with a solid performance from “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” gangbusters sales from “Inside Out 2” and an upcoming likely summer hit in “Deadpool & Wolverine.”

Apart from Disney, Iger and his wife, Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, are said to be near a deal to invest $250 million in soccer team Angel City FC for a majority stake.


Difficulties remain at the Mouse House, however. Disney shares fell 10% after its most recent quarterly earnings report, in which the company forecast weakening demand at its all-important theme parks.

So is Iger — who just celebrated 50 years since starting his career with ABC — enjoying himself again? At a company town hall in November he said: “I can tell you that building is a lot more fun than fixing.”