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Disney, WBD heads talk Marvel slips, succession, strikes at NYC conference

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Source: Thomas Hawk (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bob Iger

Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed succession and Marvel Studios box office misses at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday.

The CEO said he had analysed what went wrong with the previous succession plann – a reference to the short-lived previous CEO Bob Chapek – adding that the company’s succession plan was robust and that he will step down when his contract ends in 2026.

The executive also spoke about the need to focus on quality rather than quality in the Marvel Studios stable after recent stumbles, including the performance of The Marvels, the sequel to Brie Larson-led $1.1bn 2019 global hit Captain Marvel.

The Marvels has flopped at the box office and could earn the ignominious distinction of becoming the first Marvel Studios release to finish below $100m at the North American box office.

“Often the story is not as strong as the original story. That can be a problem, but it just has to have a reason – you have to have a reason to make it beyond commerce,” Iger told host Andrew Ross Sorkin. “There has to be an artistic reason to make [a film], and we’ve made too many.”

Igor noted The Marvels was made during the pandemic and not as many executives were on set as usual to supervise production.

On Wednesday Disney brought on two new board members – Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and former Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch.

The move is seen as an attempt to bolster support as activist investor Nelson Peltz, who has amassed a $2.5bn stake in Disney, seeks to control seats.

“We have to obviously contend with [activist investors] in some form,” said Iger. “I’m certain that the board will hear them out in terms of what their plans are, what their ideas are… I have a lot to do. I’m not going to get distracted by any of that.”

Iger also defended Disney (among others) pulling ads from X (formerly Twitter) after X owner Elon Musk endorsed an antisemitic post several days ago.

Later in the day Musk took to the stage and said of the advertiser boycott, “Don’t advertise. If someone is going to try and blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money? Go fuck yourself. Go fuck yourself, is that clear? Hey Bob, if you’re in the audience. That’s how I feel, don’t advertise.”

The DealBook Summit also heard from Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who discussed “generational disruption”, rebuilding, and the recently ended Hollywood strikes.

Zaslav told Sorkin that the end of the dual Hollywood strikes and drastic cost-cutting measures at WBD were positioning the company for growth in the year ahead.

The executive noted that since the merger between Discovery and WarnerMedia WBD has repaid $12bn in debt and made “a lot of very difficult decisions”.

David Zaslav

Source: Warner Bros Discovery

David Zaslav

“We had to move a lot faster than we probably wanted to, because this is a generational disruption,” said Zaslav, referring to upended entertainment business models amid the expensive rise of streaming and decline in traditional linear television.

Zaslav addressed write-downs on features, another tactic the company has used to save on costs in cases like the Batgirl film, which was shelved.

“The Warner Brothers team and HBO made a number of decisions. They were hard, but when I look at the health of our company today, we needed to make those decisions and it took real courage.”

Turning to the strikes, the CEO said his focus was to end the work stoppages. “I did fight, and [Disney CEO] Bob Iger. There was a bunch of us.”

The executive was recently quoted in a New York Times interview as saying he agreed with Writers Guild of America and believed they were “right about almost everything”. On Wednesday he added that applied to SAG-AFTRA as well.

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