Disney chief upbeat on future

Bob Iger makes remarks at UBS media conference

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger on Wednesday became the latest in a stream of media honchos to sound a high note on advertising, indicating a recovery may indeed be under way.

ABC’s scatter sales are up about 25% from upfront pricing booked this past summer, Iger said at the UBS Media and Communications Conference in Gotham, noting “encouraging signs” in the advertising market. His comments follow similar observations by CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav and other execs over the past several days.

Iger said theme parks and resorts, another big chunk of Disney’s business, are also holding up, but he admitted that’s largely due to steep discounting not likely to end anytime soon. The Mouse’s parks-and-resorts wing will soon have a new head. Iger was also asked about his unusual decision, announced last month, to have Disney’s chief financial officer of 11 years, Tom Staggs, who is well liked in the investment community, swap jobs with Jay Rasulo, the head of parks and resorts.

“I thought that when I looked at the management team, that basically increasing the breadth and diversity of the senior management team would be a good thing for the company and for the executives,” Iger said. “My role for the company is to strengthen the long term management… ultimately, to set the company up from a talent perspective well into the future.” He added, “We wont miss a beat, in my opinion. The transition will be very smooth. Their offices are next to each other and next to mine.”

The company has been investing heavily in parks and resorts, with two more Disney cruise ships, a resort in Hawaii and an upgrade to Disney’s California Adventure all coming online in the next two to three years — hopefully coinciding with an economic upswing. “I would much prefer to be investing now and opening later” than have invested a few years go and be opening now, Iger said.

Disney is also concluding a landmark deal for a park in Shanghai. That should take another few months, with the park going up in five to six years. “Three hundred million people live within a two-hour trip to Shanghai. … I like that,” Iger said.

On the film side, Iger noted the company is looking forward to revving up the Marvel brand after striking a deal in late summer to acquire the company for $4 billion. He said other studios that have worked on Marvel films haven’t emphasized the brand. Sony has the “Spider-Man” franchise, and Paramount has “Iron Man.”

“They didn’t focus on the brand. We would like to focus on the brand much more brightly than it has been,” Iger said.

Walt Disney Studios has had a rough few years, resulting in the recent ouster of former studio head Dick Cook. Iger has blasted the studio’s creative choices and moved to rein in costs. The Mouse will put out fewer films, most branded Disney-Pixar or Marvel “and not much more than that,” Iger said.

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