Disney CEO Bob Iger denies 'everything is being sold' during town hall with employees: 'Not the case'
Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger, speaking to thousands of frazzled employees at a town hall meeting, scrambled to downplay speculation that the company is planning to sell a slew of key media properties including ABC and ESPN.
“I did not think everyone would run with a story that everything is being sold, which is not the case,” Iger told Disney employees at a virtual town hall in New York on Tuesday afternoon.
Iger appeared to be referring to an interview he gave CNBC in July, in which he revealed that the company was mulling a sale of its TV assets while seeking a strategic partner for sports cable empire ESPN.
At the town hall on Tuesday, Iger said that his comments were indicative of his tendency to “run things up flagpoles to see how they will fly” and to “think out loud,” according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Disney’s stock price fell further in the wake of Iger’s comments on Tuesday. The stock closed at $92.50, down 2.8%.
Iger was joined on stage at the town hall by Jimmy Pitaro, the head of ESPN; Disney Entertainment co-chairs Dana Walden and Alan Bergman; and Josh D’Amaro, who heads the company’s parks and resorts division.
The CEO said that Walden and Pitaro were examining the businesses that they oversee, including ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel and FX, so as to make them more efficient.
Iger insisted that the linear television properties were still “pretty significant” to the company.
ABC News anchor David Muir, who moderated the town hall, quizzed Iger and Pitaro over whether Disney has lined up a strategic partner for ESPN.
The two men replied that they were in discussions with sports leagues and tech companies, but would not elaborate further.
Iger said that Disney could “go it alone” and not seek partners for ESPN.
“We are fully prepared to do that,” the Disney boss said, though he added it “would be a little more challenging if we did.”
ESPN took the rare step of disclosing its financials — a move that observers say could be a precursor to Disney wooing a potential investor.
The sports network, which is said to have an enterprise value of $24 billion, revealed declining sales and profit — a byproduct of the cord-cutting trend that has seen an ever-increasing number of viewers migrating away from cable TV.
Iger has said in recent months that Disney wants to keep ESPN and will try to create a direct-to-consumer streaming app for it by either forming a joint venture or finding a buyer for a minority stake in the network.
Disney intends to roll out the new ESPN service by no later than 2025.
According to Disney’s most recent earnings report, the company’s “experience” division, which includes its theme parks, generated 13% more revenue in the fourth quarter of this past fiscal year compared to last year.
Iger told employees at Tuesday’s town hall that the profitability of the parks division was behind the company’s decision to invest an addition $60 billion.
“This is a business where you spend to succeed,” Iger told employees of the Mouse House on Tuesday.
The company has been hamstrung by steep losses in its streaming division as well as underwhelming box office returns on big-budget pictures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.
Iger has been quoted in recent months as being exasperated by the task of turning the company’s fortunes around.
The longtime executive also insisted that he “never second guessed” his decision to reassume the CEO position after the ouster of his handpicked successor, Bob Chapek.
I knew that there were myriad challenges that I would face coming back, Iger said on Tuesday.
I wont say that it was easy, but Ive never second guessed the decision to come back, and being back still feels great.