Disney CEO Bob Iger had to know that he’d face the ESPN question this morning at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference. The Wall Street firm has led the pack in warning that sports programming contributes to rising pay TV prices — and that could become a big turn-off for consumers in a stagnant economy. ESPN is seen as a culprit because the network and its offshoot channels account for more than 26% of pay TV programming fees, but just 5% of the ratings. But Iger stood firm, taking a page from Franklin Roosevelt by saying in effect that the industry has little to fear but fear itself. Pay TV subscribers “generally are pleased with the variety of programming that they get.” He attributed the growing complaints about sports costs to the fact that “it has been a rough economy over the last few years.” He adds that ESPN has been careful about its price increases to compensate for its aggressive investments in programming including rights for major sports matches. “We’re not trying to kill the golden goose.” Indeed, the pay TV providers who criticize ESPN may be doing more to upset the status quo when they complain about costs instead of “selling the value to the consumers.” If they want to complain about sports costs, they should train their fire on regional sports networks. “If you look at the cost of those channels vs the ratings they deliver, it’s not even close ” to ESPN, he says. But at the end of the day he isn’t concerned that ESPN — Disney’s cash cow — will be whacked as pay TV providers begin to offer low priced services without sports. In a few cases where it’s been tried (for example, Time Warner Cable offers a $40 a month package without sports) “adoption is not particularly high.”
Broadcasters are seeing red about the new ad-zapping Auto Hop feature on Dish Network’s Hopper DVRs. But Disney CEO Bob Iger didn’t want to address it directly in an interview today on Fox Business Network. ”I’m in the hands of our great legal counsel,” he says. Still he says, in …
BREAKING… SHOCKER! RICH ROSS OUT AT DISNEY
“It was a very difficult decision. Very. But his team lost faith in him. The town, as you know, never wanted him to succeed. And it was just the wrong fit,” a Disney insider tells me, explaining Walt Disney President/CEO Bob Iger’s decision announced today to fire Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross. Iger began discussions several weeks ago with Ross to end his tenure. But, after 2 1/2 years in the job, Ross’ own slate of movies had not even bowed: Peter Hedge’s The Odd Life Of Timothy Green (August 15th), Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (October 5th), Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful (March 8th, 2013), Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp under the Jerry Bruckheimer banner (May 31st, 2013), Maleficent (March 14th, 2014) starring Angelina Jolie. The rest of Disney’s release slate consist of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation, Marvel, and DreamWorks pics. Disney strenuously denies there are any problems with Ross’ upcoming films. Instead, insiders strenuously complain about Ross’ personality:
“He had an ‘awareness’ issue,” a Disney source explains to me. “Sometimes people, when they’re put in a different place, they manage it well. And sometimes they don’t. It has nothing to do with the slate of his upcoming films. They’re fine. It’s just about leadership and management. Rich didn’t make the transition. He got caught up in the trappings of the job rather than the specifics. What it became about was we saw him making stupid mistakes. Focusing on things that were not important like parties and celebrities. People that were doing business with us in the film business not only internally but externally were complaining that they were having a hard time doing business with him.”
Rare indeed is the movie mogul who isn’t arrogant. But as much as Ross’ style and substance were the problems, and of his own making, so was his situation, which wasn’t. Because the Walt Disney Studios has become unmanageable. Among Ross’ most vocal detractors were Disney’s mega-shareholder Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer and mega-exec John Lasseter, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and DreamWorks mega-filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider. The fact is that these powerful personalities — oh, hell, let’s call them what they are: major-league pricks — have come together in one place making so many demands on the parent studio that it’s hard for anyone who finds himself nominally in charge able to keep them all satisfied. Interestingly, Ross’ predecessor, the famously people-pleasing Dick Cook, did for a time and maybe could have continued well into the future. But Iger fired him, too.
Ross arrived at a watershed time for the studio: shortly after Iger entered into the 2009 deal with Marvel. The comic book, TV, and film entertainment company’s Israeli owner Ike Perlmutter is not just a notoriously tough custumer but a budget-obsessed megalomaniac besides a recluse. He has taken control of Disney’s consumer products division already (firing here, fixing there), and my sources tell me he is making Iger’s life miserable with back-seat managing of everything, especially Walt Disney Studios. (“Iger has real problems with Ike. That’s the real story,” one of my insiders tells me. ”Bob thought he could handle him. But Ike is uncharmable.”) Lasseter had the full force of then mega-stockholder Steve Jobs behind him, and singlehandedly caused the film studio to back the loser live action picture John Carter. DreamWorks, of course, drove two Universal and Paramount crazy with their constant complaining before it started to give Disney the same mistreatment beginning in 2009 and continuing through War Horse. Meanwhile, Jerry Bruckheimer’s films were falling out of favor at the box office. Now Bruckheimer is pissed that, after all the hits he’s delivered in the past, under The Lone Ranger‘s ‘favored nation’ deal negotiated with the studio to deflate a bloated budget, he (+ Depp + Verbinski) get paid big bucks only when Disney recoups.
And then there is Iger himself, infamous for firing top executives just when they’re about to turn their divisions around.
The campaign to block CEO Bob Iger from also becoming Disney‘s chairman has gained a new supporter. The Nutmeg state’s treasurer, Denise Nappier, says she will use the votes from the 642,000 Disney shares in Connecticut’s retirement funds to oppose the board members on the Nominating And Governance Committee who drove the effort to give Iger the top two jobs this year, when John Pepper steps down as chairman. Nappier’s announcement follows a similar recomendation last week from investor advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services. “It is quite disturbing that Disney has chosen to embrace a regressive policy that could impair the board’s role to oversee executive management on behalf of shareholders,” Nappier said in a statement cited by Bloomberg. Nappier has also opposed
The entertainment giant today christened its fourth cruise ship: Disney Fantasy. The 130,000-ton vessel with 1,250 staterooms is the company’s largest. Iger tells CNBC that the ship, which makes its first voyage at the end of the month, should take …
Disney sounds spitting mad about a new report from Institutional Shareholder Services that urges stockholders to vote against some of the company’s board candidates — and, in an advisory vote, to oppose the compensation agreement for CEO Bob Iger. ISS “has substituted its opinion for the studied analysis and judgment reached by the Board” based on a view of the company that’s “both deeply flawed and out of touch with shareholder interests,” Disney said today in an SEC filing. Yesterday’s ISS report charged that Disney’s agreement to make Iger the company’s chairman as well as CEO gives him too much power and is “an about-face” from the corporate governance reforms it made in 2004. At the time, Disney was fighting the widely held view that it had a weak board that merely rubber-stamped decisions from then-CEO Michael Eisner. ISS adds that Iger’s compensation “has risen sharply over the past five years despite lackluster shareholder returns.” When he becomes chairman, as well as CEO, Iger’s pay package will rise to $30M from $26M. That makes the chairman position “little more than a bargaining chip” for independent directors when they look for a successor to Iger when he steps down in 2016. ISS urged investors to vote against the members of the Governance and Nominating Committee who approved the change: Judith Estrin, Aylwin Lewis, Robert Matschullat, and Sheryl Sandberg. It also called for a “no” vote when shareholders are asked to give their opinion about the compensation arrangement.
CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple® today named Arthur D. Levinson, Ph. D. as the Company’s non-executive Chairman of the Board. Levinson has been a co-lead director of Apple’s board since 2005, has served on all three board committees—audit and finance, nominating and corporate governance, and compensation—and will continue to serve on the audit committee. Apple also announced that Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, will join Apple’s board and will serve on the audit committee.
Big Media 3Q Corporate Earnings Roundup: Are CEOs Really Worried About Recession? Or Just Looking For Convenient Excuse?
Three months ago, when Big Media CEOs wrapped up their 2Q earnings, they were still relentlessly upbeat about the business. Any worries about the economy? Not then. But the messages they delivered over the past few weeks, as they discussed 3Q, were different. Although they’re still optimistic — remember, they’re paid to be salesmen — now and then you could hear expressions of concern about where things are headed. It stood out when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman noted that “ad sales growth will face some headwinds.” Other CEOs who are known for speaking bluntly warned that other shocks may bedevil the business. For example, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said that his satellite company — and others in pay TV — have to fight harder against rising programming costs because “there’s a limit to the price increases that could be passed on to consumers.” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt warned that premium channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz “are clearly impacted by the economy as consumers try to cut back.” Either they’re genuinely worried, or they want a scapegoat to blame for things that are going bad, or may soon do so. Whatever the case, we can expect to hear a lot more about the economy when it’s time for the post-mortem on the all-important 4Q earnings.
As for industry performance matters, parents of movie studios had their usual mixed results to brag about or explain away: Time Warner benefitted from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2. Viacom was up on Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. And News Corp beat its chest about Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and X-Men: First Class. But Disney’s Cars 2 was no match for last year’s Toy Story 3. Comcast’s Universal Pictures had nothing to compare to last year’s Despicable Me. Lionsgate suffered from Conan The Barbarian and Warrior. And DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 didn’t contribute as much in the quarter as Shrek Forever After did in the same period last year.
Over at the TV networks, Comcast’s NBC underperformed the Street’s already modest expectations. Execs at almost all the companies were eager to talk about the cash they expect to collect soon from political ads — as well as their favorite new ATM machines: retransmission consent deals and digital streamers including Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Speaking of Netflix, CEO Reed Hastings once again tried to reassure investors that he’s focused on “building back our reputation and brand strength” after his decision in July to slap a 60% price increase on customers who wanted to continue to rent DVDs and stream videos. In 3Q Netflix lost 57.7% of its market value and 800,000 subscribers. And since that customer loss was bigger than projected, Netflix shares continued to fall — they’re now down 67.3% since July 1.
Here are some other themes from the latest earnings reports:
Ad sales: They’s good, but for how long? Most television networks report that scatter prices are comfortably above the upfront market from this past summer. CBS chief Les Moonves says prices in 4Q are up by “mid-teens” on a percentage basis, while Discovery says it sees least high single digit percentages. But Disney’s Bob Iger noted that scatter prices have “slowed slightly these last few weeks.” Kurt Hall of National CineMedia — the leading seller of ads in movie theaters — was far more direct when he spoke to analysts after ratcheting down his company’s financial forecasts. “I’m sure that the broadcast and cable guys are sitting there now counting their lucky stars they got their upfront done before August,” he told analysts. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Disney Sets Succession: Board Re-Ups CEO Bob Iger Through 2016 And Adds Chairman Title In 2012; New CEO To Be Named In 2015
BURBANK, Calif. – The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) Board of Directors announced today it has agreed to extend Robert A. Iger’s contract through June 2016 as part of the Company’s ongoing succession planning. Under the new agreement, effective Oct. 1, Iger will assume the role of chairman in addition to chief executive officer following Chairman John E. Pepper’s retirement from the board at Disney’s 2012 annual shareholder meeting in March. Until then, Iger will remain president and chief executive officer.
Iger will hold the positions of chairman and chief executive officer through March 31, 2015, at which time a new CEO would be named; Iger will thereafter serve as executive chairman for 15 months through June 30, 2016. Iger’s current contract was set to expire on Jan. 31, 2013.
The Disney board took action at this time to secure the benefit of Iger’s leadership through 2016, provide for an effective, seamless succession and management transition and a continuity of the company’s corporate strategy to create long-term value for shareholders.
As provided in the company’s corporate governance guidelines, the board will also select an independent lead director when Iger assumes the role of Chair immediately following the meeting in March.
Disney has licensed exclusive global rights to the Avatar franchise from Fox and James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment — and the director will help to develop the attractions, CEO Bob Iger says. The first will be at Animal Kingdom in Orlando. The goal, he says, is to enable visitors to “enter the Avatar universe and explore it first-hand.” Cameron adds that “to bring that to life at Animal Kingdom is fantastic because it’s so thematically aligned. … We want to do things that maybe they haven’t even thought of.” Tom Staggs, who runs Disney’s theme parks, says the company is “just beginning the development phase” for a complex that will begin construction in 2013 and include Avatar-themed shops and food destinations to “bring that world to life.” Although he wouldn’t say how much the company has budgeted, he compared the scope of the first project to the 12-acre Cars Land site at Disney California Adventure Park. Cameron is working on two Avatar sequels that he plans to release around Christmas 2014 and 2015. ”That seems to correspond well” with the park plans, he says — noting that the destination will include environmental features that don’t appear in the movie. Iger says the attraction will open after the movies, although “we’re in the ballpark.” Avatar will add jobs in the ”low single digit thousands,” Staggs says. Here’s the release:
BURBANK, Calif. — Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide is joining forces with visionary filmmaker James Cameron and Fox Filmed Entertainment to bring the world of AVATAR to life at Disney parks. Through an exclusive agreement announced today by Disney, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox, Disney will partner with Cameron and producing partner Jon Landau to create themed lands that will give theme park guests the opportunity to explore the mysterious universe of AVATAR first hand. Disney plans to build the first AVATAR themed land at Walt Disney World, within the Animal Kingdom park. With its emphasis on living in harmony with nature, Animal Kingdom is a natural fit for the AVATAR stories, which share the same philosophy. Construction is expected to begin by 2013.