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Disney CEO Bob Iger Has No Plans to Change Fox Searchlight After Acquisition

Walt Disney Co. CEO and board chairman Bob Iger on Thursday said there are no plans to rebrand or change the business operations of Fox Searchlight if and when Disney’s bid for 21st Century Fox assets receives regulatory approval.

Fox Searchlight, the specialty film label owned by 21st Century Fox, this year had 20 Academy Award nominations for two films, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water,” the latter of which won best picture on Sunday.

The studio makes off-beat, independent films, often R-rated, that some believed would conflict with Disney’s family-friendly brand.

“We have every intention once the acquisition is approved to maintain the business of Fox Searchlight,” Iger told shareholders gathered at Disney’s Annual Meeting in Houston. “We think they’re in the business of making high quality films.”

Iger, who attended the Oscars ceremony, noted Disney did not have any live-action movies nominated for best pictures so “it was easy to root for Fox Searchlight,” he said.

He added, “We don’t have any plans right now to change what they do. Frankly, we think they’re doing just fine.”

During his presentation, Iger highlighted the recent success of “Black Panther,” which is shattering box office records. “The real impact of this movie reaches far beyond the theater,” he said. “It has created an authentic cultural moment that is sparking reflecting, driving conversation, inspiring young minds and touching hearts of all ages.”

The annual shareholders meeting comes as Disney is making big moves to stay ahead of digital competitors like Netflix and Amazon. The acquisition of 21st Century Fox film and TV assets is intended to build its library ahead of the launch of a direct-to-consumer streaming platform it will launch next year. An ESPN streaming app will be unveiled later this spring for $4.99 a month.

During the question-and-answer session of the meeting, Iger took questions from a mostly friendly group, including two children. One questioner was a Disney employee who thanked Iger for the company’s tuition reimbursement program.

The friendly questions were striking given Disney is facing criticism after news reports of Disneyland employees who are struggling to make ends meet, according to a New York Times report published in late February. Picketers protested pay conditions outside of the shareholders meeting in Houston.

The final question came from a shareholder who criticized Disney networks, including ESPN and ABC’s “The View,” for comments he said were offensive to President Donald Trump and his supporters. The man wondered aloud how Jemele Hill, the ESPN anchor who ignited controversy after calling Trump a white supremacist, still had a job. He also called out comments by “The View” host Joy Behar who criticized Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian faith.

Iger quickly pushed back, saying Hill had been disciplined and that Behar had already apologized to Pence. He said he largely disagreed with the man’s characterizations and views and curtly ended the meeting after his question.

Shareholders also voted on a slate of candidates for board of directors. All were elected, according to preliminary results. The board members, which include Iger, are Susan E. Arnold; General Motors CEO Mary T. Barra; Safra A. Catz; John S. Chen; Francis A. deSouza; Maria Elena Lagomasino; Fred H. Langhammer; Aylwin B. Lewis; and Mark G. Parker.

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