Bob Iger shared a pessimistic outlook on the future of movies and traditional TV in an interview Wednesday at the Code Conference in Los Angeles.
The former Disney CEO was, however, particularly bullish on the growing number of streaming services embracing Madison Avenue, including Disney+, but predicted that not all of the current market entrants would survive in the long term.
“Advertising will thrive in the streaming world,” Iger told moderator Kara Swisher from the stage at the Beverly Hilton. “I think what Netflix is going to do in advertising, what Disney announced, those are smart moves because it’s going to give consumers choice.”
Iger took a dim view of the movie business in theaters, making clear that he doesn’t think “movies ever return in terms of going to the level they were at pre-pandemic.”
He went so far as to say that the success of big streaming shows like “House of the Dragon” and “The Mandalorian” has led him to rethink some of the conventional wisdom he used to believe as true.
“The movie industry used to argue that you couldn’t create cultural impact without people going to the movie theater around the globe that same weekend,” he said. “I don’t agree anymore. I probably made that argument at some point.”
Another notion he was forced to rethink, he admitted, was the prospects for Apple TV+ to succeed as quickly as it has. “I was on the board of Apple when they decided to go into the streaming business of television and movies,” he said. “I thought it would take a long time. They’ve done better than I expected them to do because it wasn’t a business they were in at all.”
Iger said he was still bullish on Disney because the company had leaned hard into streaming and its dependence on the rapidly declining traditional media businesses was buffered by its success with theme parks. He was less sanguine about the fortunes of other unnamed conglomerates who weren’t as diversified. “If you’re just in the channels business, you have a world of hurt,” said Iger.
Iger was not asked, nor did he comment on, the reported tensions between himself and his successor, Bob Chapek.
Iger said he spends most of his time in retirement advising a series of startup companies in which he is invested and working on a sequel to his first book, which is due in 2024. He batted down any suggestion that he is interested in running for any political office or even sitting on the boards of any major companies.
Iger was pressed about the circumstances surrounding his ascendance to CEO at Disney in late 2004 and early 2005. He disputed the characterization that his predecessor — former Disney CEO Michael Eisner — “kneecapped” him on the way to the top job. He noted he currently has a good relationship with Eisner.
Iger recounted Disney’s flirtation with buying Twitter in 2017, a potential deal he characterized as coming very close to coming together until he had last-minute reservations about the incivility and hate speech he saw as rampant on that social platform. In a comment that echoed the current controversy surrounding billionaire Elon Musk’s pursuit of Twitter and the prevalence of bots on the platform, he noted that Disney’s assessment of the volume of users on Twitter concluded that a “substantial portion were not real,” he said, declining to specify any percentages but making clear it was short of being a majority.
When Swisher pressed him on his opinion about Musk’s actions toward Twitter, he replied, “Maybe he saw what I saw, he woke up and said, ‘I can’t handle this.’ But he doesn’t seem the type, and I mean that in a complimentary way.”