Disney CEO Bob Iger closed out the entertainment giant’s third-quarter earnings call on Wednesday by addressing chatter on Wall Street that the entertainment giant could be sold to a larger tech company.
“I just am not going to speculate about the potential for Disney to be acquired by any company, whether they’re a technology company or not,” Iger told analysts. “Obviously anyone who wanted to speculate about such things would have to immediately consider the global regulatory environment. I’ll say no more than that. It’s just, it’s not something that we obsess about.”
Apple has been viewed as a leading potential suitor for Disney, a scenario Iger called “pure speculation” during an employee town hall in November.
“Even though [Disney] has a market cap of $182 billion, we believe this is too small to win the streaming wars as a standalone company,” Needham & Company analyst Laura Martin wrote in a June 30 research note to clients. She added that the “winners of the streaming wars will be the largest global aggregators of audiences,” citing Amazon, YouTube parent Alphabet and Apple’s trillion-dollar-plus market capitalizations.
Talk about a possible sale has ramped up following Iger’s comments to CNBC in July, where he said the company’s linear networks like ABC, FX, National Geographic and Freeform “may not be core” to the company, suggesting he would be open to offloading the assets. A slimmed-down Disney focused on growth properties and content brands might be more attractive to an acquirer than one laden down with shrinking linear assets.
He added at the time that Disney is looking and has already had “some conversations” with potential strategic partners for ESPN to help with distribution or content, with possible options on the table including a joint venture or an ownership stake. Iger emphasized during the interview that taking ESPN fully direct to consumer would be an “inevitability,” but did not offer a timeline for doing so.
Additionally, Iger reiterated plans to buy out Comcast’s minority stake in Hulu as early as January 2024 for a price tag of at least $9 billion. The company plans to combine Disney+ and Hulu into one combined app by the end of the year.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Disney was exploring strategic options, including a possible sale or joint venture, for its digital and TV business in India. That business, which was acquired in the $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets in 2019, includes Disney+ Hotstar and Star India. Hotstar lost 12.5 million subscribers in the third quarter as it faces a hotly competitive marketplace in the country.
Iger recently brought in former Disney executives and Candle Media co-CEOs Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs to consult on the company’s streaming strategy and linear TV business, with the pair set to work with ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro to analyze and develop strategic options for the sports network.
Staggs, who previously served as Disney’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer, departed the company in 2016 and went on to found Candle Media in 2021, which has a number of brands including Moonbug Entertainment and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. Mayer, who was the architect of Disney’s streaming strategy, left to run TikTok in 2020 and joined Candle Media in 2022 as Staggs’ co-CEO. For years, Mayer served as Iger’s top strategic M&A partner, helping steer the acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox.
Disney shares climbed 3% in-after hours trading on Wednesday.