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Disney touts vets program at annual meeting

Execs say too soon to tell financial impact of 'John Carter'

The media is having a field day with “John Carter,” but the subject barely came up at a Disney’s annual shareholders meeting in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday.

Mouse House CEO Bob Iger outlined his plan to hire 1,000 military veterans and talked up plans for a sequel to “The Muppets” and the progress of plans for Avatar Land at Disney Parks.

Iger, who added the title of chairman at the meet, said Disney parks hope to open Avatar Land in 2015; that same year, Disney will open its Shanghai theme park, representing the company’s biggest investment ever outside the U.S. That’s also the year Iger has announced plans retireas Disney CEO. The exec announced that the company would provide at least 1,000 jobs for returning war veterans over the next three years as part of a new initiative called Heroes Work Here. He showed the first spot of a new public awareness campaign to help recruit vets across ESPN, the Disney-ABC TV group, Disney consumer products, Walt Disney studios and Disney parks and resorts.

“As a new generation of America’s military men and women complete their service and transition into civilian life, we are increasing our commitment and support for these modern day heroes,” Iger said. “It’s a measure of our respect for how much they have sacrificed on our behalf and our sincere gratitude for their extraordinary contributions to this country.”

The issue of “John Carter’s” B.O. perf was raised by one shareholder during the open Q&A period. Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo said it’s way too soon to talk about the financial impact of “John Carter” on the Mouse’s bottom line as it continues to play in global markets.

“It’s only been in the market four or five days, and with movies now finding their home all around the world, with some markets yet to open, it’s very early to talk about the financial results for that film,” Rasulo said.

Iger didn’t discuss “John Carter.” He put his emphasis on the May 4 release of “The Avengers,” the first Marvel film being marketed and distributed by parent Disney, and “Brave,” which will feature Pixar’s first female hero.

He also said execs at the Mouse are “crossing our fingers” that Broadway musical “Newsies” opens strongly this month.

During the meeting, Iger made a point of remembering Apple’s Steve Jobs, who was a Disney director and the company’s largest shareholder. Jobs, who died in October, “changed the way we worked, the way we played, the way we connected to each other,” Iger said. “He was an adviser and a supporter, and for me, he was also a dear friend.”

In response to a little girl who requested more than one Pixar pic a year, Iger said the studio’s expanded facilities in Emeryville, Calif, may allow it to make movies “a little bit faster, just a little bit” and reminded her that “Finding Nemo” will be re-released this year in 3D.

Shareholders re-elected all Disney board members and supported the company’s executive compensation proposals over protests by some groups, including Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises stockholders on how to vote. In recent weeks ISS has slammed Disney’s executive pay as excessive and urged against re-electing five directors on the slate.

ISS also took issue with a decision to name Iger board chairman while he is still CEO. He replaced John Pepper, chairman since 2007, who retired from the board. The firm prefers the position to remain split as it’s been since former chief executive Michael Eisner was forced to relinquish the chairman title in 2004.

Disney reiterated in a statement Tuesday that the board took the action “to secure Mr. Iger’s leadership through his expected retirement in 2016 to provide for an effective, seamless succession and management transition and a continuity of the company’s proven strategy.”

The board elected Orin Smith, former CEO of Starbucks, as the new independent lead director. Smith joined the board in 2006 and has served as chairman of the audit committee.

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