Bob Iger Talks Disney Hiring Freeze, Streaming Spending and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ in First Town Hall Back as CEO

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Bob Iger officially returned to his post as CEO of the Walt Disney Company on Monday — sealing it with a tweet and addressing a rapt audience of employees at a company-wide meeting.

“Filled with gratitude and excitement to be back,” Iger wrote on his personal Twitter account, attaching a photo of the studio lot’s Disney Legends Plaza, a building on which the seven dwarves from “Snow White” serve as pillars.

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It’s been just over a week since Disney’s board of directors shocked Hollywood and global markets with news that Iger would replace Bob Chapek as chief executive. Iger’s first town hall before in-person and virtual employees saw him touch on several hot topics: a planned hiring freeze implemented by Chapek following Disney’s recent lackluster quarterly earnings report, the profitability of Disney’s streaming portfolio and the corporate giant’s stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion.

The latter was an Achilles heel for Chapek in his roughly two-year run as CEO. After floating the message that Disney should not be involved in politics, employees and content creators led a full-on social media rebellion decrying his silence on issues like Florida’s incendiary policies on trans children and classroom policies in acknowledging queer people.

When asked Monday during an employee Q&A about where the studio would now fall on the matter, Iger said “one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion, and acceptance and tolerance. And we can’t lose that, we just can’t lose that… how we actually change the world through the good must continue. We’re not going to make everyone happy all the time, and we’re not [going to] try to. We’re certainly not going to lessen our core values in order to make everyone happy all the time.”

The remarks were tweeted by numerous employees at the content studios, as well as parks and stores. One staffer noted that Iger’s answer came with “no hesitation.” Two sources familiar with the meeting confirmed his comments.

Iger said he would uphold Chapek’s hiring freeze for the time being. He also said Disney’s streaming businesses — which includes Disney+ and Hulu — should look toward profitability instead of chasing subscriber growth, according to employees at the meeting.

Since Chapek’s firing, many on Wall Street and in media circles have been entertaining ideas of a significant transaction surrounding Disney, including acquisitions to service its reported $5.5 billion in debt, or an outright sale to a tech monolith like Apple. Iger shot down those rumors, calling the Apple scenario pure speculation, and cautioned employees not to expect any new purchases (like the deals that made Iger the modern model of a CEO, in buying Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar).

Iger’s comeback has been toasted by every corner of the entertainment ecosystem, from creatives to dealmakers to our favorite subgenre of the magic kingdom’s landscape, the Disney Adult. On Monday, however, some employees were ruffled by a new Iger mandate — people need to come back to the office.

Iger spoke of the importance of working side-by-side in person, according to one source with knowledge of the town hall. As many workplaces have not yet fully adjusted to pre-COVID work habits, the issue continues to make some employees squirm.

Adam B. Vary and Brent Lang contributed to this report.

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