Bob Iger Says Going to Movie Theaters Isn’t a ‘Dead Business’ But Won’t Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels

The former Disney CEO says it’s just “smaller”

Bob Iger CODE Conference
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Bob Iger on Wednesday reiterated that the movie theater business likely will never return to pre-pandemic levels.

But that doesn’t mean movie theaters are a “dead business,” he said. It’s just “smaller.”

The former Disney CEO in a conversation with Kara Swisher at the Code Conference explained that theaters suffered a “permanent scar” that was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.

“Consumers have learned as they got more comfortable with the user interface and the subscription and basically app-based television, they’ve learned to find it, find shows that they like and they’ve learned to enjoy them. They love the flexibility it gives them from a time perspective,” Iger said. “It replaces movie going. It doesn’t mean movie going goes away. I’m a big believer in movies. I love big movies. I like going to theaters and watching was basically a communal experience with a lot of other people going out of that house. That won’t go away, but it doesn’t come back to where it was.”

Iger recalled that at one point in the past he likely argued that it would not be possible to create a feeling of real cultural impact without the shared experience of a movie theater or a live moment on television, something that many in the entertainment business shared. But not only does he disagree with that statement now, “it was an old-world argument, and it wasn’t rooted in reality.”

Iger also praised Disney+ and Netflix for introducing ads into their streaming offerings and predicted that such models could “thrive,” with audiences willing to tolerate commercial interruption in exchange for cheaper fees.

And while Iger championed the rise of streaming and its potential, he made another bold prediction by saying that he thinks it’s unlikely that all the streaming services active today will survive.

“I don’t think all streamers are created equal. I do not believe all streamers that are in it today will survive. There are going to be haves and have nots,” Iger said, stopping short of naming any particular names he thought would fail. “I’m not going to make any predictions about the others but I think they’ve got some tough hands, and it takes a lot of capital to be in that business. So I don’t think they’ll all make it.”