Disney executive chairman Bob Iger opened Disney’s annual meeting in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday with an acknowledgement of the challenges presented by the coronavirus crisis while also trying to assure investors that the company is strong enough to withstand a downturn in business.
“We’re all sobered by the concern that we feel for everyone affected by this global crisis,” Iger said. He emphasized that Walt Disney Co. has survived other crises over its nearly 100-year history.
“What we’ve demonstrated repeatedly is that we are incredibly resilient,” Iger told the crowd at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. “Our future has always been bright and remains so for good reason. What we create at the Walt Disney Company has never been more necessary or more important.”
Iger also introduced his successor as CEO, Bob Chapek, who is the sixth person to serve as chief executive of Disney. Chapek, a 27-year Disney veteran who most recently headed its parks division, told shareholders he has “been a Disney fan my whole life.” Disney surprised the business world by handing the CEO reins to Chapek on Feb. 25, when Iger shifted to executive chairman, focusing on the company’s creative operations.
Iger had some movie news for the audience, disclosing that Disney has cut a deal to handle theatrical distribution of Peter Jackson’s documentary on the making of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album at a time of great turmoil for the legendary band. “The Beatles: Get Back” will be released on Sept. 4. Iger called the film “a front row seat to a seminal moment in music history.”
Meanwhile, Chapek announced that the long-planned “Avengers Campus” attraction at Disney’s California Adventure is set to open July 18.
As usual, the meeting was a breezy affair with little friction from shareholders. Shareholders once again rejected a proposal to force Disney to offer much more disclosure of its lobbying activity in Washington, and with state and local governments.
Iger told the audience that the launch of Disney Plus has “greatly exceeded our highest expectations” with subscribers of nearly 30 million racked up in just a few months.
“The decision to pivot to a direct-to-consumer strategy was a critical one and it is a top priority,” Iger said, adding that he is “more confident than ever” in the “tremendous potential” of Disney Plus, as well as ESPN Plus and Hulu.
Iger talked up the promise of three upcoming Marvel-produced original series for Disney Plus and he showed off a clip from “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” a production that was shuttered in Prague on Tuesday amid coronavirus concerns.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “WandaVision” are set to bow later this year on Disney Plus. “Loki” will arrive in early 2021. His comments came amid rumblings within the industry that Disney Plus is facing a dry spell of original series content in the coming months.
On the feature film front, Iger showed off clips of four upcoming movies: “Mulan,” “Black Widow,” “Jungle Cruise” and “West Side Story.” Of Steven Spielberg’s take on the beloved musical, Iger promised that the film “absolutely lives up to its hype.”
Iger and Chapek took a handful of questions from the audience. Queries included one from a man who has routinely complained at Disney annual meetings about what he described as “extreme anti-conservative bias that runs deep at ABC News.” Chapek responded that he visited ABC News in New York shortly after he was named CEO and he believes the organization has a “stellar track record of being objective in reporting the news.”
Chapek also politely dealt with concerns raised by a woman that Disney is now “promoting LGBT ideology in products for children.” Disney’s goal is always to “reflect the diversity in our fan base and with our audience,” he responded.
Another shareholder told Iger and Chapek that he was “worried” about the level of creativity at Pixar and Lucasfilm, and about the level of maintenance at Disney’s theme parks. Iger wasn’t having it.
“We never tell our teams to build something cheap. We ask them to make it great,” Iger said. “There’s not a company in the world that creates as much greatness as we do.”
Another perennial question — when will Disney re-release the 1946 animated movie “Song of the South” — got the same answer that it did throughout Iger’s 15-year tenure as CEO. Even with a disclaimer to warn viewers about “outdated” depictions of African Americans, “Song of the South” is too inflammatory for showcasing in the present day.
“It’s just hard, given the depictions in some of those films, to bring them out today in some form or another without offending people, so we’ve decided not to do that,” Iger said.
Iger closed the 75-minute meeting by asking shareholders to give Chapek a round of applause. “These are really challenging times,” Iger told the crowd. “Stay healthy please.”