Disney Execs Talk Quality Over Quantity, Plug Parks, Say ESPN Still Eyeing 2025 DTC Launch And More From Bob Iger’s Town Hall

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Bob Iger and top execs stressed a commitment to quality over quantity as the studio’s film slate has had a bumpy ride, talked up parks and ESPN and looked at the future of its television business at an anticipated all-hands-on-deck town hall today, one year after the Disney CEO returned to the helm.

“I spent the year with the team fixing a lot of things,” Iger said. “But I feel that we’ve just emerged from a period of a lot of fixing to one of building again and I can tell you building is a lot more fun than fixing.”

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“in assessing some of our performance, recently, one of the reasons I believe it’s fallen off a bit is that we were making too much,” Iger said. “I think when it comes to creativity, quality is critical, of course, and quantity in many ways can destroy quality. Storytelling, obviously, is the core of what we do as a company.”

No news on strategic partners for ESPN, but the sports juggernaut is still on track for a 2025 streaming launch, according to town hall attendees. Parks are a bright spot and were front and center.

Appearing on stage for a roughly hour town hall at New York City’s New Amsterdam theater, Iger, alongside ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro, Disney Theme Parks President Josh Damaro, and Disney Entertainment co-Chairs Dana Walden and Alan Bergman, continued to emphasize a similar narrative from the latest earnings earlier this month – all “grounds to be optimistic” is how one Disney attendee characterized the event.

“I knew that there were myriad challenges that I would face coming back,” Iger said. “I won’t say that it was easy, but I’ve never second guessed the decision to come back, and being back still feels great.”

“I talk about optimism being an extraordinarily important trait of a leader, because no one wants to follow a pessimist. But I also believe that hopeless optimism doesn’t do anybody any good. I have, I think, real reason—and we have real reason as Disney—to be optimists, and it starts with the fact that we’re Disney. And Disney, as you know, is a brand unto itself, but it’s also an umbrella company that houses many assets and many great brands. So, reason to be optimistic No. 1 is that.”

Attendees in person in NYC appreciated Iger’s sense of showmanship at the Broadway venue that is home to The Lion King. But one thing did not go over well – no Q&A, resulting in some grumbling as the lights came up and staffers filed out. A few told Deadline they felt the lack of direct feedback of wasn’t clearly communicated in advance.

On the ESPN side, Pitaro reaffirmed plans to go direct-to-consumer in 2025. “We are in market right now doing research,” looking at timing, pricing, product enhancements, he said. “Our mission is to serve the sports fan anytime, anywhere. So, if you want to continue to access ESPN in the traditional way through cable or satellite, you’ll be able to do that even once we take it over the top…but if you do want to buy it directly without subscribing to a cable or satellite package, you’ll be able to do that.”

Walden touted the combined Hulu and Disney+ one-app experience, which is set to start beta testing soon with a full rollout planned for March. She and Iger were both really upbeat about Disney’s general entertainment titles on the app alongside its branded content.

Pom poms were waving on Disney theme parks with D’Amaro noting a $60 billion investment at the division and underscoring how attendance has rebounded since Covid. The success of Frozen Land at Hong Kong Disneyland shows Disney’s still got the touch bringing its franchises to life.

“We stood up on the stage just several weeks back in front of an investor community and said we are going to invest $60 billion in the next 10 years into this business because we believe in it,” he said. “We’ve seen what it’s done. We see the impact that it has on our guests and fans around the world. We’ve got so much space to play with. Disneyland for example, Walt’s original theme park, we still have enough room to build another Disneyland there if we choose to do that. So many stories to continue to tell, so many new places to go. So, we’re, we’ve come a long way in the last few years but incredibly excited about the future,” said D’Amaro.

Bergman, as Iger did today and has in recent months, acknowledged a year of misfires with the latest, Wish following The Marvels, and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Great storytelling isn’t just a box office or ratings story but has ripple effects on parks and consumer products. But Bergman promised the studio will learned from its down year at the box office and move on with a slate that includes The Omen prequel, a new Planet of the Apes, Inside Out 2, a new Alien and Deadpool 3, which recently resumed filming post actors’ strike.

“We’re really excited that we were able to come to deals with our partners,” he said of the SAG-AFTRA settlement with the AMPTP.

“We obviously want to build our studio back to making not only great films consistently but [to] our preeminent status in the business,” added Iger on the film biz.

David Muir of ABC News moderated the anticipated all-hands meeting as the company faces a multitude of challenges that have grown and morphed in the year since Iger’s sudden, surprise return as chief executive. Things were tough then as well but Iger’s presence reassured investors and employees. The big news at last year’s town hall was no merger with Apple (addressing rumors) and no new acquisitions. All true so far, save for the upcoming multi-billion dollar purchase of Comcast’s stake in Hulu.

Iger got down to work, unwinding an unpopular corporate structure devised by (his anointed) predecessor Bob Chapek and going on to cut 7,000 jobs. He recently split ESPN off into its own division. And he jolted the media world earlier this year when he indicated he’d be open to alternatives for ABC and Disney’s cable networks and stations as linear television continues to decline.

ABC News got a shoutout as Iger told Muir he loves it and everything the ABC News team does.

Walden spoke about how Hulu and ABC audiences are complimentary and not duplicative and how meaningful it is to be able to meet audiences where they are across different platforms. She said that the median age of broadcast viewers is 60+ versus 30+ on Hulu/streaming — so having both means you can reach a massive audience of different ages.

An example — ABC’s new breakout reality hit The Golden Bachelor, which has been attracting large viewership on both the broadcast network and on Hulu. “It launches on ABC, and then goes straight to Hulu hours later,” she said, “still reaching almost 15 million viewers, but meeting our viewers where they are.”

The show became kind of a running theme at the town hall, as Muir joked that The Golden Bachelor and The Bear would be able to reside next to World News Tonight. And town hall audience members tried hard to get the scoop on who had won Gerry’s heart but were told to tune in on Thursday.

Disney’s priorities right now, according to Iger, are continuing to build out theme parks, turning ESPN into “the preeminent digital sports platform” and bringing ESPN direct to consumers. “We’ve been in the streaming business now for just four years and we accomplished a tremendous amount there. I’d like to build that streaming business into something even more significant than it is.”

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