Iger’s More Sober Tone Reflects Entertainment’s Existential Crisis — The Information


Disney CEO Bob Iger must be wishing he was at Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park (“a land where fantasy reigns”) in Florida right now. His tone on Wednesday afternoon’s June-quarter earnings conference call was noticeably more sober than in the past, perhaps reflecting the existential crisis facing the entertainment industry. Not only are the writers’ and actors’ strikes freezing TV and film production, but cord cutting and the decline of network TV advertising is slamming the industry’s profits. Disney, befitting its status as the industry leader, seems to be getting the worst of things. Its media and entertainment profits fell 18% in the quarter and for the first three quarters of the fiscal year are down a stunning 46%. Only the theme parks operation, which reported higher profits, saved it from a drop in overall profits in the latest quarter. Iger claimed he is still bullish, but his formula for fixing Disney sounded more defensive than offensive. 

Disney is sharply jacking up pricing on its Hulu and Disney+ streaming services, hoping to turn the streaming business profitable by next year. The price hikes, less than 12 months after the last round of increases, are structured so customers will get a big break if they sign up for both Hulu and Disney+. That’s a smart, if somewhat illusory, way to juice the individual services’ subscriber numbers, for which growth was negligible in the quarter. Meanwhile, Iger doubled down on his recent CNBC statements that Disney is considering strategic options for its old TV networks—such as ABC and FX—which is code for trying to sell them. Disney is also contemplating “strategic partnerships” for ESPN in areas such as distribution, but Iger made it clear he would retain control of the sports behemoth, something he didn’t say about the other networks.

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