Bob Iger was brought back to save Disney. Iger retired in 2020 and showed no inclination to return. Iger’s successor, Bob Chapek, crashed and burned after only two years so Iger signed a two-year contract at the age of 71 and is back. As expected, he is cleaning house and some of the big players during Chapek’s time at the helm are exiting.
The increasingly woke culture at Disney was creating harm to the company’s bottom line. Get woke, go broke. Disney primarily provides family entertainment. Iger’s time at the top was highly successful for him and for Disney. He was the chief executive who oversaw Disney’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. There was talk of a possible presidential run among Democrats when he retired, or maybe buying an NBA team. Now he is tasked with fixing what isn’t working and that includes finding a good replacement for him when his contract is over. The first time around with that decision didn’t work out so well for anyone.
Iger has gone right to work and some major shake-ups in personnel are underway. Iger is a liberal Democrat who is not afraid to voice a political opinion yet it seems that Chapek’s great downfall was in communication. Iger couched political opinions as speaking out in the name of right versus wrong, as opposed to simply delivering a political hot take, as happened when Chapek found himself caught up in the battle with Governor DeSantis over The Parental Rights in Education Act. Democrats falsely nicknamed the bill the Don’t Say Gay Bill, though the word ‘gay’ never appears in it. At the time, Chapek initially stayed out of the ruckus and Iger publicly chastised him for doing so. Then Chapek jumped into the battle and the rest is history. It turns out that parents don’t like to be dictated to by a special interests group like LGTBQ activists. Families are a big part of Disney’s business model. What could possibly go wrong with a CEO taking the side of cultural activists over the company’s prime audience?
As far as Chapek’s comments go, they apparently were mostly the doing of his chief of staff and speechwriter, Arthur Bochner. He was shown the exit door last week.
Bochner’s dismissal is unsurprising. Chapek was fired largely due to his public statements, which Bochner wrote. In her complaints to Bob Iger and, later, Disney’s Board of Directors, CFO Christine McCarthy cited Chapek’s remarks as a detriment to the company. A CEO needs to be able to win friends and influence people. With Bochner behind the keyboard, Chapek could do neither. McCarthy went so far as to say Chapek “irretrievably lost the room. ”
That is not to say Bochner is entirely to blame for the ouster of Chapek. The former CEO did have to approve all of the speeches he gave. He was, however, the man behind all of Chapek’s gaffs and ill-conceived commentary. When Chapek said adults don’t watch animated movies? That was Bochner. When he said the company was doing great despite record losses? Also Bochner. All of Chapek’s statements (and even lack thereof) regarding Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education Act” came from Bochner.
Chapek sounds weak and uncertain of his own opinions if he was allowing his chief of staff to determine what his public statements would be on cultural issues. It was certainly a lack of good judgement to allow himself to be pressured into a battle with the state’s governor. Bochner wasn’t some newbie from an executive recruiting agency, he was hired by Disney in 2013. He worked his way up to his position with Chapek. He once held the title of director of public affairs. He should have had a better read of what public reaction would be.
The chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, Kareem Daniel, is also exiting. Igor thanked him for his years of service as he showed him the door.
“I’ve asked Dana Walden, Alan Bergman, Jimmy Pitaro, and Christine McCarthy to work together on the design of a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs, and this will necessitate a reorganization of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution,” Iger wrote.
“Our goal is to have the new structure in place in the coming months,” he continued. “Without question, elements of DMED will remain, but I fundamentally believe that storytelling is what fuels this company, and it belongs at the center of how we organize our businesses.”
The dismissal of Daniel was not unexpected. He was considered one of Chapek’s top lieutenants. Like Bochner, he had been with Disney for many years.
Daniel was named to his most recent role within Disney in October 2020 when Chapek reorganized his executive ranks to place a greater emphasis on Disney’s streaming offerings by creating the Media and Entertainment Distribution group.
Daniel first joined Disney in 2006 and worked his way up the executive ranks, previously serving as president of consumer products, games, and publishing prior to his most recent role.
There are plenty of business decisions that Iger will have to make. He has to stop the bleeding in the streaming services. He has to make a decision on what will happen with ESPN. The theme parks are making money, thanks to decisions made by Chapek, but customers don’t like the increased prices. It’s reported that Iger was alarmed by the price increases.
Earlier this month, Disney’s fourth-quarter earnings report, which delivered weaker-than-expected revenue and profit, showed widening losses in streaming and unexpected warning signs from the parks.
Operating income from the parks division was $1.5 billion, or about 18% below the $1.85 billion JPMorgan Chase & Co. had predicted for the quarter, the investment bank wrote in a note to clients. Analysts noted that parks revenue rose, but profit fell compared with the fourth quarter of 2019, the last equivalent quarter before the pandemic hit.
On Nov. 16, Disney announced a fresh round of price increases at the parks—the second in two months—that brought the price for a one-day pass at Orlando’s Magic Kingdom park on a high-demand day to $189.
On top of the other issues, Disney’s latest woke movie is bombing at the box office. The animated adventure “Strange World” is being criticized for pushing woke ideology on its audience. It’s cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union and Lucy Liu, along with Daily Show contributor Jaboukie Young-White as the voice of what’s been described as Disney’s first openly gay character. The movie is on track to not even clear $20M at the Thanksgiving weekend box office. It’s budget was $120-130M. Yikes!
“Strange World” has a 73 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s only 60 percent with audiences and the film has a ‘B’ rating on CinemaScore from opening day audiences. It’s on track to be the first Disney animated film to get below an A-minus.
Parents don’t want Disney movies to sexualize everything, especially those with young children.
Many have used the box office numbers to cite this as an example of Disney’s attempt to ‘go woke, get broke.’
A Rotten Tomatoes reviewer wrote: ‘If I want to teach my children about sex and or sexual preferences at 7 and 8 I would do it in my home. I don’t need a Disney movie to help me out with it. STOP making everything sexual, its unbelievable.’
One Tweeter pointed out: ‘First Lightyear and now Strange World. Disney and Pixar releasing woke flops, one after the other. How many box office bombs before Disney learns?’
Is Bob Iger listening?