Why Bob Iger’s Ultimate Power Move May Be Selling Disney to Apple

“This is the pinnacle deal for the ultimate dealmaker,” one studio insider says

disney apple bob iger
Photo illustration by TheWrap (Disney; Getty Images)

Now that Disney CEO Bob Iger has regained the keys to the Magic Kingdom — less than three years after his chosen successor, Bob Chapek, took over — insiders suspect they know how the beloved executive will find a new way to go out on top during his final two-year stint.

“He’s going to sell the company,” one Disney insider who has worked for Iger predicted. “This is the pinnacle deal for the ultimate dealmaker.”

Landing a deal with Apple (or some other megabuyer) would also cement Iger’s legacy. “I think he’d welcome it — he’d be the last CEO of Disney,” a former top Disney executive told TheWrap, noting that the two companies have “similar brand identities” and could benefit from a merger.

Acquisitions are in Iger’s DNA. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney went on a nearly $100 billion shopping spree to buy animation giant Pixar in 2006, superhero juggernaut Marvel in 2009, “Star Wars”-powered Lucasfilm in 2012 and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox in 2019. But there was one acquisition he’s publicly lamented as a transformational deal that got away — a combination with the tech powerhouse Apple.

In Iger’s 2019 autobiography “The Ride of a Lifetime,” the executive wrote chapters about his friendship with Steve Jobs. He and his wife, Willow Bay, were close friends with Steve and Laurene Powell Jobs, even spending holidays together and vacationing in Hawaii. He even writes about standing in front of Steve Jobs’ grave when the tech visionary’s wife uttered: “I asked him if we could trust you. And Steve said, ‘I love that guy.’ ”

Iger responds: “The feeling was mutual.”

Yes, there are caveats — chief among them that Jobs died in 2011. And Disney is a big pill to swallow, with a $180 billion market valuation that would easily soar to a $200 billion premium if the studio were to be acquired.

A deal of that size is likely to draw stiff antitrust resistance at a moment when regulators have stepped up efforts to block other recently proposed media megadeals. Paramount Global this week scrapped the $2 billion sale of its Simon & Schuster division to book publishing giant Penguin Random House after a federal judge blocked the deal, while European regulators have launched a probe of Microsoft’s $69 million offer to purchase gaming giant Activision Blizzard.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, known to be a safe player with relatively few acquisitions under his leadership, might have given Wall Street a big hint in April. During a call with investors, Cook said he would not rule out acquiring a large company, and that the main drive was to secure strong intellectual property and big names.

Hello, Disney?

“We are always looking at companies to buy, we acquire a lot of smaller companies and we’ll continue to do that for IP and to incorporate talent,” Cook said. “We don’t discount something larger if the opportunity presents itself. I’m not going to go through my list with you on this call, but we’re always looking.”

Apple, which has been tinkering with a grab in the streaming space with hits like “Ted Lasso,” certainly has the financial firepower to pull off an acquisition of this size. Even as borrowing costs get more expensive with rising interest rates, the Cupertino-based company is sitting on top of a $48.3 billion cash stockpile. Fleshing that out to both cash and investments, the total surges to about $200 billion. That’s 7.4% of all the mad money held by every member of the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

Not to mention that Apple shares have skyrocketed since Iger and Jobs first did business together. Disney bought the Jobs-run Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion, which put the animation studio’s CEO on the entertainment company’s 10-member board. On the day the deal was announced, Apple was trading at about $3 a share and Disney at $25.

Apple is now trading at $150, up 238% in the past five years. Disney, at $96, is down 6% during that same period.

A rep for Disney had no comment; an Apple rep did not respond to requests for comment.