Iger Lays Out Vision for Disney’s Future
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Iger Lays Out Vision for Disney’s Future

CEO says streaming, parks, studios and ESPN are the building blocks of the company

By Robbie Whelan
Thu, Nov 9, 2023 11:43amGrey Clock 4 min

Nearly a year after returning to Disney as chief executive, Bob Iger laid out his vision of the company’s future, putting streaming and live entertainment at the centre, fed by a studio business that he plans to personally help reinvent.

Iger told investors in a fourth-quarter earnings call that Disney will focus on four “building blocks” that provide the foundation for future growth: streaming, theme parks and cruises, studios and the ESPN sports network.

Disney said Wednesday it would slash $2 billion more in costs than previously planned as the company sharply narrowed losses in its streaming business.

There are still major challenges to overcome. Disney’s streaming business has lost nearly $11 billion since the launch of Disney+ in late 2019. Its movie studio is in the midst of a box-office slump that has been exacerbated by delays caused by Hollywood strikes, and ESPN is looking for strategic partners as it plans to eventually transform into a streaming-only business by 2025.

“A lot of time and effort was spent on fixing in the last year,” Iger said during a conference call Wednesday. The company’s progress means Disney can “move beyond this period of fixing and begin building our businesses again,” he said.

Iger said the studio would focus more on quality than quantity and that it lost some of its focus during and after the pandemic. “We’re all rolling up our sleeves, including myself, to do just that,” he said.

Some of Disney’s core franchises, including its Marvel superhero movies and series, have struggled to attract big audiences to theaters in recent years.

Lucasfilm, the Disney-owned studio behind the lucrative and popular “Star Wars” movies, hasn’t released a feature film since 2019 and doesn’t have one in production currently, meaning it will likely be several years before the next one comes out. And Pixar, the marquee computer animation studio that has dominated the box office for the last several decades, has had a series of box-office flops.

The common thread underlying Disney’s recent challenges and potential opportunities is the transition from traditional media like film and legacy TV to streaming, which has upended Hollywood’s business model and roiled nearly every entertainment company.

In his comments Wednesday, Iger stressed the importance of getting streaming right. The company’s main streaming service, Disney+, added 6.9 million “core” subscribers—those in North America and other markets such as Europe and Asia, excluding India, where it is able to charge higher subscription prices—in the most recent quarter, about twice what Wall Street analysts polled by FactSet predicted. Disney+ added 500,000 domestic subscribers.

The company highlighted the popularity on Disney+ of recent movies including “Elemental,” the Marvel superhero film “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and the recent live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.”

“One thing that we have recently really come to appreciate is the performance of our big title films,” Iger said. The strength of its films on streaming means Disney can spend less on TV series, which is a differentiator for the company, Iger said.

The entertainment giant said Wednesday it is seeking $7.5 billion in cost cuts, up from the $5.5 billion it targeted at the beginning of this year.

Disney reported that its streaming business is making progress in narrowing its losses. The business, which also includes Hulu and ESPN+, lost $387 million in the most recent quarter, down from $1.47 billion a year earlier. The company reiterated that it believes streaming will break even by next September.

Disney has begun reporting more detailed results from its ESPN sports network as it seeks strategic partners to invest in the flagship sports network’s future.

ESPN’s operating income for fiscal 2023 fell 1.7% to $2.8 billion, while revenue rose 2% to $16.4 billion. Disney owns 80% of ESPN through a joint venture with Hearst, and Iger has said the company is working to transform the network into a fully direct-to-consumer platform, with live sports and other sports content streamed to consumers outside the cable bundle.

Excluding ESPN, Disney’s traditional TV networks saw revenue fall 9.1% for the quarter to $2.62 billion. Operating income from the networks was flat at $805 million.

During a CNBC interview Wednesday, Iger said the company has been considering strategic options for each of its TV networks, though “not necessarily all of them,” and has been reviewing its TV operations for opportunities to reduce costs and improve the business. This past summer, he said the legacy networks may not be core to Disney, suggesting it could sell them.

Other bright spots in Wednesday’s quarterly earnings included Disney’s experiences segment, which includes theme parks, cruise ships, a family-adventure travel-guide business and merchandise licensing. The unit’s operating income rose 31% from the year-earlier quarter to $1.76 billion. Disney has raised prices at its theme parks and announced major investments in its cruise ship business in the hopes of capitalising on rising demand for in-person entertainment experiences.

The entertainment giant, which just passed its 100th birthday, generated sales of $21.2 billion for the quarter, up 5% from a year earlier. Revenue for the period was slightly below the $21.4 billion predicted by analysts polled by FactSet.

Disney’s net income rose to $264 million in the September quarter, from $162 million a year earlier. Disney’s earnings per share, excluding certain items, were 82 cents, beating Wall Street’s projections by 11 cents.

Disney shares rose nearly 3% in after-hours trading. Before the earnings report, the stock had fallen 2.7% in 2023.

Overall, Disney+ ended the quarter with 150.2 million global subscribers, including those signed up to its Hotstar service in India. That service has shed millions of customers over the last year after Disney lost a bidding war for the rights to stream matches from a popular cricket league, and Disney is exploring a sale of its India unit, The Journal has reported.

Although the company fended off an activist campaign by Nelson Peltz earlier this year, Iger now faces the specter of another battle.

The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Peltz’s Trian Fund Management is planning a fresh push for board seats. Billionaire and former Marvel executive Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter has said he has entrusted his stake in Disney to Trian for that effort, giving the investment fund control over a stake worth upward of $2.5 billion.

Iger said in the CNBC interview that he had spoken recently with Peltz but he doesn’t “know what Nelson is really after.”



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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