Bob Iger achieved a lot during his 15-year tenure as the CEO of Disney. He bought Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel, which expanded the company’s portfolio of IP considerably. He also launched Disney+, the company’s streaming service, which has racked up a staggering 50 million subscribers since its launch last November. With all that under his belt, Iger was ready to step down as CEO and leave the day-to-day running of Disney to someone else, which is exactly what he did in February.
You may remember that in February, we were hearing a lot about this coronavirus thing and how it was disrupting the lives of people in Wuhan, China. Bibbidi bobbidi boo, and suddenly we’re all shut up in our homes while we wait out the spread, with millions of people out of work and businesses hurting. That includes Disney, which is feeling the pressure in a big way, what with big movies delayed, Disney parks shut down and Disney cruise lines going nowhere. In light of all that, Iger is back in the driver’s seat and helping the company fight for its life.
And it is a fight. Media industry analyst Hal Vogel estimates that the company is losing as much as $30 million a day. The company borrowed $6 billion in March. Disney+ is a success, true, but it’s still a while away from making a profit. It makes sense investors and employees would want someone experienced leading the team. “This is a moment where people first and foremost are looking to an example of leadership that has proved itself over an extended period of time — and Bob personifies that,” said Richard Plepler, the former head of HBO.
Technically, Iger is now the “executive chairman” while successor Bob Chapek remains the CEO, but according to The New York Times, Iger is fully back in control. “A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!” Iger wrote in an email.
And how does Iger plan to lead during this crisis? Well, he’s put freezes on development budgets and payments to contractors, and announced waves of furloughs. We don’t know exactly how many employees are furloughed, but it’s a lot: over 70,000 in the California and Florida resort businesses alone. And their last paychecks are coming on April 19. One person who works with the company said the mood was “dire” at Disney. “They’re covering the mirrors and ripping clothes.”
Iger is also interested in remaking Disney so it can survive and thrive as a company once the pandemic is over. That includes doing away with advertising upfronts and producing pilots for shows that may not go forward. (Remember that Lizzie McGuire reboot that went nowhere?) According to NYT, he’s also told two people he sees Disney having fewer employees when it comes out of this crisis, although he claimed he didn’t remember telling anyone that in an email. “Regardless, any decision about staff reductions will be made by my successor and not me,” he added.)
Disney is the most powerful entertainment company in the world. Somehow I doubt the coronavirus will change that, but it might change the entertainment industry as a whole. Bob Iger will have an important role in shaping what it looks like going forward.
h/t The A.V. Club