Disney CEO makes keynote at Luxury Summit

Who needs movie critics when you have Facebook?

Monday at FT’s Business of Luxury Summit, Disney CEO Bob Iger pointed out that the studio has cheap and easy access 33 million consumers through various Disney Facebook groups. And even more when you factor in friends of those fans.

“They can talk to us, and we can talk to them,” Iger said in his keynote conversation with FT editor Lionel Barber. “It’s pretty powerful.”

Social media has also made it easier than ever for consumers to share their opinion about movies and TV shows to friends. Since many consumers prefer recommendations of friends to assessment by reviewers, critics in traditional media are less important than they once were, Iger said.

“Social media is a powerful recommendation engine – or anti-recommendation unit – and that can’t be ignored,” Iger said.

Such instantaneous feedback “also makes the environment much less forgiving,” he added. “When a movie’s no good, people know.”

He said that social media has already transformed movie marketing. Previously, third-party companies had the direct relationship with consumers, whether it was the movie theater showing the studio’s pics or big box chain selling its DVDs. Thanks to Facebook and other social media, Disney has a direct relationship with consumers.

Iger digital philosophy: You’ve got to go where the consumers are. When devices like video iPod and iPhone come out, “people are going to spend time on those platforms,” he said. “So we want to be there.”

He noted that Disney was the first studio to allow its movies to be released on video iPods. Apple CEO Steve Jobs “and I cooked it up ourselves,” he told the aud at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“I want people to know it’s OK to challenge the status quo,” he said. “I was actually more interested in sending a message internally than outside to consumers and the press.”

Theater owners and big box stores haven’t been quite as bullish about the company’s approach to new platforms, however, viewing them as a potential threat to their businesses. Iger admitted Disney has spent a lot of time working with people who “are very important in the near term and in the future” about such issues.

“We want to innovate and we want to appear to innovate,” he said.

Disney remains focused on growing its international biz, which Iger joked is “not for the faint of heart.” The company seeks growth in developed markets, and recently restructured its European operation. A bigger focus: penetrating emerging markets more deeply through local production that can be exported elsewhere.

“There’s a huge amount of investment right now in new markets,” Iger said.

Another potential boost overseas: Shanghai Disneyland. Last year, the studio executed a short-form agreement with China for the themepark and is in the process of negotiating the longer-form agreement that would allow it to proceed.

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