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.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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The Embarrassment of Having to Explain Your ‘Monster’ Diamond Ring

Couples find that lab-grown diamonds make it cheaper to get engaged or upgrade to a bigger ring. But there are rocky moments.

Mon, Dec 11, 2023 4 min

Wedding planner Sterling Boulet has some advice for brides-to-be regarding lab-grown diamonds, which cost a fraction of the natural ones.

“If you’re trying to get your man to propose, they’ll propose faster if you offer this as an option,” says Boulet, of Raleigh, N.C. Recently, she adds, a friend’s fiancé “thanked me the next three times I saw him” for telling him about the cheaper lab-made option.

Man-made diamonds are catching on, despite some lingering stigma. This year was the first time that sales of lab-made and natural mined loose diamonds, primarily used as center stones in engagement rings, were split evenly, according to data from Tenoris, a jewellery and diamond trend-analytics company.

The rise of lab-made stones, however, is bringing up quirks alongside the perks. Now that blingier engagement rings—above two or three carats—are more affordable, more people are dealing with the peculiarities of wearing rather large rocks.

An engagement ring made with a lab-grown diamond at Ada Diamonds in New York City. PHOTO: CAM POLLACK/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Esther Hare, a 5-foot-11-inch former triathlete, sought out a 4.5-carat lab-made oval-shaped diamond to fit her larger hands as a part of her vow renewal in Hawaii last year. It was a far cry from the half-carat ring her husband proposed with more than 25 years ago and the 1.5-carat upgrade they purchased 10 years ago. Hare, 50, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and works in high tech, chose a $40,000 lab-made diamond because “it’s nuts” to have to spend $100,000 on a natural stone. “It had to be big—that was my vision,” she says.

But the size of the ring has made it less practical at times. She doesn’t wear it for athletic training and swaps in her wedding band instead. And she is careful to leave it at home when traveling. “A lot of times I won’t take it on vacation because it’s just a monster,” she says.

The average retail price for a one-carat lab-made loose diamond decreased to $1,426 this year from $3,039 in 2020, according to the Tenoris data. Similar-sized loose natural diamonds cost $5,426 this year, compared with $4,943 in 2020.

Lab-made diamonds have essentially the same chemical makeup as natural ones, and look the same, unless viewed through sophisticated equipment that gauges the characteristics of emitted light.

At Ritani, an online jewellery retailer, lab-made diamond sales make up about 70% of the diamonds sold, up from roughly 30% two years ago, says Juliet Gomes, head of customer service at the company, based in White Plains, N.Y.

Ritani sometimes records videos of the lab-diamonds pinging when exposed to a “diamond tester,” a tool that judges authenticity, to show customers that the man-made rocks behave the same as natural ones. We definitely have some deep conversations with them,” Gomes says.

Not all gem dealers are rolling with these stones.

Philadelphia jeweller Steven Singer only stocks the natural stuff in his store and is planning a February campaign to give about 1,000 one-carat lab-made diamonds away free to prove they are “worthless.” Anyone can sign up online and get one in the mail; even shipping is free. “I’m not selling Frankensteins that were built in a lab,” Singer says.

Some brides are turned off by the larger bling now allowed by the lower prices.When her now-husband proposed with a two-carat lab-grown engagement ring, Tiffany Buchert, 40, was excited about the prospect of marriage—but not about the size of the diamond, which she says struck her as “costume jewellery-ish.”

“I said yes in the moment, of course, I didn’t want it to be weird,” says the physician assistant from West Chester, Pa.

But within weeks, she says, she fessed up, telling her fiancé: “I think I hate this ring.”

The couple returned it and then bought a one-carat natural diamond for more than double the price.

Couples find that lab-grown diamonds have made it more affordable to get engaged. PHOTO: CAM POLLACK/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When Boulet, the wedding planner in Raleigh, got engaged herself, she was over the moon when her fiancé proposed with a 2.3 carat lab-made diamond ring. “It’s very shiny, we were almost worried it was too shiny and was going to look fake,” she says.

It doesn’t, which presents another issue—looking like someone who really shelled out for jewellery. Boulet will occasionally volunteer that her diamond ring came from a lab.

“I don’t want people to think I’m putting on airs, or trying to be flashier than I am,” she says.

For Daniel Teoh, a 36-year-old software engineer outside of Detroit, buying a cheaper lab-made diamond for his fiancée meant extra room in his $30,000 ring budget.

Instead of a bigger ring, he got her something they could both enjoy. During a walk while on an annual ski trip to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Teoh popped the question and handed his now-wife a handmade wooden box that included a 2.5-carat lab-made diamond ring—and a car key.

She put on the ring, celebrated with both of their sisters and a friend, who was the unofficial photographer of the happy event, and then they drove back to the house. There, she saw a 1965 Mustang GT coupe in Wimbledon white with red stripes and a bow on top.

Looking back, Teoh says, it was still the diamond that made the big first impression.

“It wasn’t until like 15 minutes later she was like ‘so, what’s with this key?’” he adds.


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