Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger told shareholders Thursday the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox will close “soon” and that the enlarged company is ready to “hit the ground running.” He also announced an accelerated opening schedule for the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands coming to Disneyland and Disney World.
Iger addressed shareholders Thursday morning at the Stifel Theatre in St. Louis, Mo., in keeping with Disney’s tradition of holding its annual meeting in a different city every year. St. Louis is close to the childhood home of company founder Walt Disney in Marceline, Mo., Iger noted.
Iger told shareholders that the company is expecting to gain final regulatory approval of the 21st Century Fox transaction “soon.” There were reports Thursday that Mexico’s telecom regulator has set a vote for Monday to give its approval of the deal, which is believed to be the last outside hurdle before Disney and Fox can wrap up the final elements of the $71.3 billion transaction.
Iger hailed the rich trove of production and programming assets come to Disney in the Fox deal as well as its “wealth of proven management talent.”
Iger added that Disney is poised to begin building on its enlarged production platform as soon as it receives the keys to 20th Century Fox, FX Networks, National Geographic Partners and other assets.
“Our new corporate structure is designed to integrate these assets and maximize long-term value,” Iger said. “We spent most of (last) year on integration planning so we’ll hit the ground running as soon as the deal closes.”
Later in the meeting, Iger said that Disney plans to keep some of the 20th Century Fox-related brand names alive for some productions.
“There will be businesses within the company that still have the Fox name on them, particularly on the movie side,” Iger said. “We will continue to make the movies under the Fox brand and Fox Searchlight brand. FX will keep its name too.”
During the session, Iger disclosed that Disney was moving up the opening date of its Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land at Disneyland and Disney World. Galaxy’s Edge will open its doors in Anaheim on May 31 and in Orlando on Aug. 29.
Iger gave Galaxy’s Edge quite a build-up, calling them “by far the largest lands we have ever built” before he screened a short video. The Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction within Galaxy’s Edge is “the most technologically advanced and immersive attraction we have ever imagined,” Iger added. “No one has ever attempted anything of this magnitude.”
During the meeting, shareholders easily re-elected nine Disney board members and approved the company-endorsed proposal for its annual non-binding shareholder advisory vote on executive compensation. Two shareholder proposals were defeated. One was a bid to have Disney offer much greater disclosure of its lobbying activities and affiliations with trade organizations. That was approved by only 39% of shareholders who voted. A bid to tie Disney’s executive compensation to the company’s handling of cyber security and data privacy issues was supported by only 26% of shareholders.
Iger also showed off clips of Disney’s upcoming live-action “Lion King” film and as well as a peek at “Maleficent: Mistress of All Evil.”
Among other topics Iger touched on:
Iger was pressed by a shareholder about revelations that ABC personalities Jimmy Kimmel and “The View” co-host Joy Behar in the past had appeared in blackface, albeit not on ABC’s air. Iger acknowledged the company dealt with the issue “as a private matter,” he said. “We don’t condone the use of blackface under any circumstance in our world today.”
Iger touted the participation in the Disney Aspire program launched last fall to provide free tuition for every hourly-wage employee at Disney, which translates to about 80,000 of its more than 200,000 employees. Iger said about 40% of those eligible had signed up for the program in its first six months. “Nothing would make me happier than if we had 100 percent of our eligible cast members take advantage of this opportunity.” Disney Aspire is funded at $150 million over the next five years. Iger said the company would add $25 million more each year after the initial five-year term.
Iger confirmed that the Disney Plus streaming service set to launch later this year will eventually house the entire Disney movie library. That’s a shift from the company’s historic pattern of keeping its classic films out of circulation for years at a time to build up demand. When a shareholder told him during the Q&A session that she was looking forward to the service, Iger responded: “Tell a friend, too.”