Near the end of an otherwise standard (read: boring) earnings call with investors this week, Disney chief Bob Iger was asked an interesting (albeit long-winded) question from an analyst:
"You’ve gotta love the irony between you and Steve Jobs. Here’s Steve Jobs, the largest shareholder of Disney, I think, as a result of the Pixar acquisition, and obviously incentivized [sic] to see Disney do well. At the same time, his iPad could be the killer app which gets folks to finally cut the cord, which threatens the lifeblood of ESPN, which relies heavily on cable affiliate fees. … What is your rebuttal?"
"Steve and I talk about a lot of things as it relates to digital media. While we don’t agree on everything, we certainly agree that devices like the iPad not only are game-changers, they probably offer us more opportunities than they threaten us. Our strategy for putting product on the iPad is to do so in a way that respects and values the obviously successful and profitable business that we’re in.
We need to do a few things. One – serve consumers with new ways to access our products, make ourselves more convenient while at the same time protecting – which is very, very important – a business that has enabled us to grow our company and shareholder value. Not just through ESPN, but the Disney Channel, ABC Family and soon — through retransmission — consent our broadcasting assets. And we feel there is a way to peaceful coexistence — or coexistence, I should say. I don’t know whether it will necessarily be peaceful.
What ABC has done with its iPad app, for instance, we think gives customers an ability to access ABC shows that they missed on network, or maybe they didn’t get a chance to DVR it. But we actually like the product because it gives us an opportunity to expand our eyeballs and monetize in a broader way. To what extent it cannibalizes that initial business, we’re not 100 percent certain, but our gut is that it’s relatively negligible."