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Bob Iger Says He’s “Open” To Staying As Disney CEO Past 2018

Deadline logo Deadline 2/7/2017 David Lieberman
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Disney CEO Bob Iger told analysts today that while he has “nothing specific to announce at this point,” he’s “open” to the possibility of staying past June 2018, when his current contract expires.

“I’m going to do what’s in the best interest of this company which is something the board is going to help determine,” he said in the company’s call to discuss its earnings for the last three months of 2016.

Disney’s board has a “good, strong succession process underway” and is “engaged on a regular basis” with finding someone, Iger says. He’s “confident that my successor’s going to be chosen on a timely basis and chosen well. If it’s in the best interest of the company for me to extend my term, I’m open to that.”

Questions about Iger’s plans have percolated since last year when then-COO Tom Staggs, seen as his heir apparent, resigned. In May, after the announcement, Iger told analysts that he did not “currently have any plans to extend” his stay past June 2018 adding that the board was “very actively engaged in a succession process as it has been actually for some time.”

But nobody’s been named yet — and many investors believe that 16 months is not long enough for the company to groom someone to take over.

Also in today’s call, Iger said that “Pandora: The World of Avatar” will open on May 27 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando.

Asked about Hulu’s plan for its live-streaming service, Iger — whose company is a co-owner — says that it’s in a private beta test. He’s “encouraged” by the user interface and has “a lot of faith in it from a technology perspective.”

The CEO reiterated his confidence in prospects for ESPN — especially as it expands to digital platforms similar to DirecTV Now and Sling TV. “It seems like we’re on the cusp of some significant growth for new entrants in the multichannel marketplace,” he says.

That includes an ESPN service, built with Major League Baseball’s BAMTech, which he says will launch in 2017.

If people gravitate to digital services that cost less than traditional pay TV, then “consumers will have more money to spend on other video services whether it’s Netflix, whether it’s Hulu, or whether it’s other Disney-owned products that we’re selling directly to the consumer.”

The technology behind the planned ESPN digital offering “has blown us away. The potential that we believe that has for us is enormous.” Disney now owns a third of BAMTech and has a path to assume full control. “We are extremely excited about the prospects of what BAM is going to be doing near term…both for the company and third parties who can use the product.”

One thing that impressed him was the technology’s ability to collect data “to generate great revenue from advertising, something that we don’t have today because a lot of our distribution comes through third parties.”

With this in his arsenal, “we don’t believe we need to make any acquisitions to accomplish what we need to do on the digital side.”

Asked about prospects for kids’ programming, Iger acknowledged that “we’ve seen a decline ratings-wise in kids’ viewing overall on linear channels.” At Disney that’s due to “an off-cycle” for programming as well as the spread of shows to multiple platforms.

But he has “a product cycle over the next year to two years that we feel great about.” And the Disney name will help the company to license shows to other distributors, and launch its own direct-to-consumer services.

“The demand for ‘Disney’ is huge from a consumer perspective and from a distribution perspective,” he says.

Iger said that ABC saw a drop in ad sales opportunities “because they were using units for audience deficiencies or make goods.”

He adds, though, that “in general there’s too much commercial interruption in television. It’s a subject that’s been discussed on the ESPN front and the ABC front, and it’s something we’re going to continue to look at.”

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