Disney CEO Bob Iger told the New York Times’ DealBook Summit on Wednesday he will “definitely step down” once his contract expires at the end of 2026.
The executive returned to the entertainment giant in November 2022 following the ouster of his successor-turned-predecessor Bob Chapek.
“I was disappointed in what I was seeing in the transition period and while I was out,” he said, but noted that he “worked hard at distancing myself from it.” He added that a “robust” process is currently underway to identify a new successor.
Following Iger’s return to Disney, the company has embarked on a plan to cut $5.5 billion in costs, which has included 7,000 layoffs, removing select content from its streaming services and producing a lower volume of content. Iger proceeded to up that target by another $2 billion during Disney’s fourth quarter earnings call earlier this month.
Despite the cost-cutting efforts, activist investor and Trian Fund Management founder Nelson Peltz, who called off a proxy fight in February, has launched a renewed push for a board seat at the House of Mouse, in which he’s expected to ask for multiple board seats to increase accountability, an individual familiar with the matter told TheWrap.
The effort is backed by former Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, who was let go from Disney during its layoffs and has granted Trian sole voting power over his shares in the entertainment giant. According to a 13D filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, Trian has upped its Disney stake to 7.3 million shares during the third quarter of 2023, compared to 6.42 million shares during the second quarter. The filing also discloses another 25.57 million Disney shares listed as an “other investment discretion.”
Meanwhile, activist investor ValueAct Capital is reportedly building a “significant stake” in Disney. CNBC’s Activist Spotlight reported that the San Francisco-based firm began buying Disney stock during the Writers’ Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes and that the company is one of its largest positions. It values Disney’s theme parks and consumer products division alone in the low 80s per share. The report adds that ValueAct has been in a dialogue with Disney’s management and is still growing its position.
Iger said that the board “has an obligation to listen to investors” and that he is “certain” the board will hear Peltz out as to what his plans are.
“We have to obviously contend with them in some form, but don’t force me to take my eye off the ball [in managing the company],” he added.
In July, Iger told CNBC that Disney’s linear TV assets “may not be core” to the company, suggesting that he would be willing to potentially offload them to the right buyer. On Wednesday, he said those assets are “not for sale,” but acknowledged that he and his team are “constantly evaluating” their value to the company.
“Sometimes, when I am looking for a reaction to my own thought process, I like to test that process in public, particularly in ways that I might be able to get a reaction from the investment community,” Iger said. “So, my thought was at the time that I would essentially be public with that thought process.”
“That was a means of me saying to Wall Street that my head was not in the sand,” he added. “I did not want to get accused of being kind of an old media executive. Our company had already shown the ability to basically adapt to new circumstances. So, one, I wanted to convey that, and two, see what the reaction would be … I did not say they were for sale. The coverage of what I said said they were for sale.”
He added that Disney’s internal evaluation of its linear business has been ” unbelievably rigorous” and has determined that the assets can be “run more, efficiently, with some difficult choices,” and can be run in partnership with streaming.
“They’re a means of aggregating audience and amortizing costs, of basically reaching more and different people,” he said.
Iger also addressed Disney’s recent decision to suspend advertising on X following Elon Musk’s engagement with antisemitic content on the platform.
“I have a lot of respect for Elon and what he’s accomplished. Not just you know, one business, but a few businesses. And we know Elon is larger than life in many respects, and that his name is very much tied to the companies he either founded or he owns, whether it’s Tesla or SpaceX, or now X. And by him taking the position that he took in quite a public manner, we just felt that the association with that position and Elon Musk and X was not necessarily a positive one for us. And we decided we would pull our advertising,” Iger said.
He added that he hasn’t decided how long the advertising ban would last, but noted that Disney entities including ABC News and ESPN could still use the platform to communicate.
In addition, he emphasized that Disney would only greenlight movie sequels going forward “if we think the story that the creators want to tell is worth telling.”
“I don’t want to apologize for making sequels,” Iger said. But he noted that there ” has to be an artistic reason” to make them.
Upcoming sequels include Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” and Walt Disney Animation’s “Frozen 3.”