Bob Iger Can Go Home Laughing

“I’m jealous beyond belief,” said one rival executive. “I think it’s a brilliant move on Disney’s part.”

They laughed at Bob Iger, and said he wasn’t big enough to fill Michael Eisner’s shoes.

Who’s laughing now?

Around Hollywood on Monday, Iger’s colleagues were openly envious at his stealth move in buying Marvel, a company that provides exactly the kind of content that a 21st century media conglomerate craves.

Characters and stories – thousands of them, with fan bases to match.

Jeff Bewkes over at Time Warner must be kicking his desk.

“I’m jealous beyond belief,” said one unexpectedly candid executive who runs a rival company. “I think it’s a brilliant move on Disney’s part.”

Not long ago, Bob Iger was considered by his own boss Eisner to be less-than-equal to the task of leading Disney. ("He is not an enlightened or brilliantly creative man, but with a strong board, he absolutely could do the job," Eisner once said of Iger, according to James Stewart’s DisneyWar.)

Surprise, surprise.

Let’s start with the fact that Marvel wasn’t for sale.

Starting in June, Iger went to work convincing the never-easy Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter that his company would be better owned by Disney. Perlmutter gets rich off this deal, to be sure, but he’s no corporate type.

Iger convinced him that his baby would not be turned into a Hulked-out version of the Mouse House, but would remain the company that Perlmutter built. (In fact, Iger visited the Marvel offices in Manhattan Beach on Monday to affirm the same, that he wasn’t going to meddle with their culture.)

This was reinforced by the fact that Iger successfully acquired Pixar in a $7.4 billion deal in 2006 that allowed that company to preserve its unique culture while bringing in-house its ability to create blockbuster content.

“Bob has been acquired twice in his career,” said one Disney executive. “He knows how it feels.” (Those were the acquisitions of ABC by Disney, and Cap Cities took over ABC in 1996.)

Earlier this year Iger did another stealth move – nabbing the DreamWorks distribution deal away from Universal.

Around town, rival studios were looking closely at their deals with Marvel. Sony stepped up to remind everyone that they have the rights to the ‘Spider-Man’ franchise. Marvel Island will stay at Universal Studios in Orlando. Paramount made clear that they will distribute Marvel’s next five films.

All that is true. But Disney has parks in Europe and Japan where Marvel characters can rule. And once the Paramount deal expires, Disney will undoubtedly put Marvel films through their production and global distribution pipeline .

And there’s merchandizing: Disney does reportedly billions of dollars in merchandizing business with Wal-Mart. They can now add Marvel characters like Iron Man, Spidey and the Hulk to that existing relationship.

Down on Wall Street, a number of analysts were complaining that the acquisition cost too much — $4 billion in a cash and stock deal. Disney paid the equivalent of $50 per share – a 29% premium over Marvel’s closing price last Friday. They noted that CFO Tom Staggs said the acquisition will dilute Disney earnings for the next two and a half years, not adding true value until 2012.

I say stop whining. These days, media conglomerates either find a way to grow their core, or they will wither in the digital age.

 

We keep hearing the gospel preached about ‘content.’ Disney got its hands on some rarified material that, properly developed, represents content that can keep giving back for decades to come.

He ‘absolutely could do the job?’

Bob Iger can go home tonight, laughing.