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He gets it: Iger says Disney's troubles came from putting messaging over storytelling

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  • He gets it: Iger says Disney's troubles came from putting messaging over storytelling

    Disney CEO Bob Iger says company’s movies have been too focused on messaging

    Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said Wednesday he will no longer tolerate his company’s partners and creative team prioritizing messaging over storytelling.

    “Creators lost sight of what their No. 1 objective needed to be,” Iger said at the DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday. “We have to entertain first. It’s not about messages.”

    Iger has recently pushed to improve the quality of Disney films in 2024 and beyond. He is cutting back the number of movies Disney makes to focus on making better films. Earlier this week, he told Disney employees at a town hall that creating hit movies is the best way the company can change perception for investors and employees.

    “Creators lost sight of what their No. 1 objective needed to be,” Iger said at the DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday. “We have to entertain first. It’s not about messages.”

    Iger has recently pushed to improve the quality of Disney films in 2024 and beyond. He is cutting back the number of movies Disney makes to focus on making better films. Earlier this week, he told Disney employees at a town hall that creating hit movies is the best way the company can change perception for investors and employees.

    Iger said Disney’s prioritization of messaging over storytelling peaked “while [he] was gone” in 2022, alluding to the 11 months he left his job as Disney’s executive chairman. Iger had been in charge of “creative endeavors” in 2020 and 2021, even while Bob Chapek ran the company as CEO.

    “We have entertained with values and with having a positive impact on the world in many different ways. ‘Black Panther’ is a great example of that,” Iger said. “I like being able to entertain if you can infuse it with positive messages and have a good impact on the world. Fantastic. But that should not be the objective. When I came back, what I have really tried to do is to return to our roots.”

    Disney has dealt with blowback from politicians and critics on social media for including a same-sex kiss in 2022′s “Lightyear” and an openly gay character in 2022′s “Strange World.” 2023′s “Elemental” also includes a nonbinary character.

    While Disney has a long history of infusing storytelling with positive morals, Iger acknowledged during Disney’s earnings conference call earlier this month that he believes the company’s storytelling has suffered as the company has increased the number of movies it’s made for both Disney+ and theatrical release. Iger reiterated that he has emphasized to his creative executives and production partners that making engaging stories has to be Disney’s first priority.

    “I’ve worked hard since I’ve been back to reminding the creative community who are our partners and our employees that that’s the objective,” Iger said. “And I don’t really want to tolerate the opposite.”

    Iger’s comments come as Disney faces pressure to turn around its business and boost its share price. Sustained box-office troubles, including the recent disappointing showings of “The Marvels” and the animated film “Wish,” have weighed on the company’s performance.

    Activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management said in a statement Thursday it will move forward with an effort to nominate new directors to the Disney board, concluding that “investor confidence is low, key strategic questions loom, and even Disney’s CEO is acknowledging that the Company’s challenges are greater than previously believed.” Trian will seek multiple board seats, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    Disney named two new board members on Wednesday — former Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and former Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch — as it gears up for a potential proxy fight. Current Disney board member Francis A. deSouza won’t run for reelection at the annual meeting.


  • #2
    He sorta gets it. It isn't any one magic pill that will turn things around. Making stories that entertain the masses is clearly a major move. But just who decides what those stories are? Does Disney have the people that can pick and write such stories? The DEI/Woke world changes ones perspective to know what the masses really want. Given how long it takes to make a movie, it is disingenuous to blame all of the movie ills on Chapek. may have peaked while he was gone (and has it really peaked?)...that is like heading your cruise ship into an iceberg and then handing over the ship to the next one on shift and blaming them for not being able to steer it in time. It take a long time from concept to completion for a movie. It is also not just one aspect of the company that has changed. The damage is everywhere.

    They really need to separate their theatrical from streaming. As mentioned in another thread, you can't spend 100s of millions on a theatrical movie and immediately release it to streaming. You greatly devalue it and you are not going to get/retain subscribers due to a single title like that. I think the reduction in release schedule would be good as it would increase scarcity and allow them to concentrate their promotions on the few releases in a given year. But they need to keep it off of Disney + for a year (or more).

    Then, for Disney +, concentrate on series content. People are more likely to subscribe to a streaming service to get an entire collection of content that they want to see and the catalog that is on there is more apt to keep them.

    And don't over saturate the potential customers to the point of fatigue with a subject. More of the same devalues everything.


    • #3
      But they need to keep it off of Disney + for a year (or more)
      Yes. But they'll never do that. Talk about being painted into a corner.

      They've now got people thinking that everything comes out on home video within a couple of weeks after theatrical, even though it's not always true.

      People have so much other stuff available to watch that they don't really care if they miss something. Sometimes they don't even realize they've missed something.

      People's experience at home, while usually inferior to a good theater experience, is "good enough" to satisfy them, especially young people, who are perfectly happy staring at phones. They don't give a shit about getting that next-level experience. (Probably the reason a lot of restaurants are suffering.)

      There is the perception that theatrical is "expensive," even though it isn't, considering inflation and other entertainment options. (Myself, I feel like concessions are mostly the culprit. If it were possible to reduce concession prices to convenience store levels, the complaints would diminish, but of course that's not possible.)

      And on top of all that, many of the movies are substandard.

      Our booker says that Disney will make a comeback. I'm not sure what he bases that feeling on, but I hope he's right.
      Last edited by Mike Blakesley; 12-02-2023, 01:14 PM.


      • #4
        “Creators lost sight of what their No. 1 objective needed to be,” Iger said at the DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday. “We have to entertain first. It’s not about messages.”​
        Um, almost all stories, particularly Disney fairy tales, are about messaging. "The moral of the story is..."

        The trick is getting the message that the majority of viewers will, or already have, bought into, such that the message is invisible in plain view.

        The more diverse your audience, the more difficult it will be to please everyone.


        • #5
          And so the pendulum swings the other way.

          Honestly there's just been no spark to anything Disney since Frozen 2 in my mind. The classic remakes into live action are overly long in my opinion and they've also just over saturated everything else. The animated releases have been sub par. Although I did enjoy Encanto. Marvel needed a BIG rest after Endgame and let's not even mention Star Wars. I see very little excitement going in or coming out of Disney content when we show it.

          And giving everything over on a platter for 15.00 a month sure didn't help anything. It put us in the position of being advertisers for upcoming streaming content that has largely become just a tool for background noise while everyone is staring at another screen. Perhaps we should be compensated for the promotions?


          • #6
            Yes. But they'll never do that. Talk about being painted into a corner.
            I understand that but really, if they (and every other studio) doesn't make this change, they'll NEVER get the full potential out of their expensive theatrical products. And, again, use the fewer releases to really promote those releases to develop the buzz and make it clear that the movie won't be on Disney + (or whatever streaming service the particular studio is) until next year (e.g. next fall or next winter) so there is no belief that it will be streaming in a couple of weeks.

            You still make content for the streaming service...specials...serial content and other things that you don't need to spend so much money on or wouldn't have much market theatrically. I, for one, was glued to my TV when Get Back came out and still wish the 1st cut 18-hour version was available! Then again, I'd prefer that on disc but I'm old...just like its target audience.

            For the the big, flashy, expensive stuff...keep it off of the streaming platform until theatrical has really had a chance to get everything out of it...including those that will just wait it out. for a few months.


            • #7
              I understand that but really, if they (and every other studio) doesn't make this change, they'll NEVER get the full potential out of their expensive theatrical products.
              Absolutely true... but the other thing they will mention is piracy, as if putting something on streaming doesn't result in piracy. I guess they'd rather have perfect illegal copies floating around than subpar ones.

              Um, almost all stories, particularly Disney fairy tales, are about messaging. "The moral of the story is..."
              You're confusing a message with a happy ending. There's no need to come out of a movie having "learned" something, but Disney (and others) have lost sight of that.


              • #8
                You're confusing a message with a happy ending.​
                The message it what it takes to have a happy ending, as well as what a happy ending really is.
                All movies have messages. Doesn't mean you have to learn anything. The message could just be something you 100% agree with and think is just the way of the world. Disney/Hollywood has been getting rich off of this forever. They know how to pander, they've just need to refine for a new generation.


                • #9
                  I don't think so Martin. The problem with pandering is you are going for a smaller and smaller slice. It isn't like some of this latest crap didn't sell millions of tickets and gross 100s of millions of dolllars...the problem is it wasn't profitable (regardless if you are using Hollywood Accounting or real accounting). You can spend 200-200M on a movie and gross 300M. You can make a 50M movie and gross 300M and be quite happy. If you are going to speed the huge money, you have to, rather than pander to a group, go for the masses. The more you pander, the more you alienate. And if you must pander, pander to the biggest group you can.

                  And if you are going to make a piece of content that clearly is pandering or messaging for a particular audience...make sure your budget is small enough such that the size of that group will make the venture profitable.

                  Disney, historically, hasn't gone for the small targeted audiences...they've gone for the very broad family with fun stuff for the kids while putting in candy for the adults too. They need to get back to that. Make stuff that entertains the masses...leave the messaging to the politicians...nobody likes them anyway.


                  • #10
                    At the risk of veering too far into politics, this might at least be part of the reason Iger has publicly backtracked on the woke stuff (my emphasis):

                    Nolte: Activist Investor Seeks Disney Board Seat – Not Buying Bob Iger’s BS

                    Disney Grooming Syndicate CEO Bob Iger’s lies and spin have only emboldened activist investors to get some representation on the Disney Grooming Syndicate’s board of directors.

                    Disney investor Nelson Peltz heard it all, every word of Iger’s, and is smart enough not to buy the BS.

                    The BS being the following….

                    Earlier this week, the disgraced Iger tried to tamp down the storm brewing around his epic mismanagement in two ways only a fool would fall for. First, he blamed his predecessor and successor, CEO Bob Chapek, for Disney’s problems, namely 2023’s box office catastrophes (11 out of 12 lost money). But…

                    Chapek was in charge for only a little over a year, and even then, not really, with his predecessor (Iger) still sitting on the board and occupying the CEO’s office. Movies take years to develop. Every one of 2023’s flops was greenlit and developed under Iger.

                    Then Iger said Disney’s movies must stop propagandizing and go back to storytelling. That’s how dire Iger’s position is right now. Can you imagine how cornered Iger must feel if he’s willing to publicly validate the slogan, “Get woke, go broke”? Suppose you wish to retain your standing in Hollywood. In that case, you are never allowed to acknowledge that left-wing propaganda (child grooming, token casting, heavy-handed messaging, the destruction of icons at the hands of sexless and smug girl bosses) damages profits. This is why the suckups in the entertainment media always look for another excuse, like weather or sexist Trump voters.

                    Thankfully, Peltz isn’t dumb. He knows that Iger is directly responsible for Disney’s crippling collapse and that Iger will never change. Leftists are genetically incapable of admitting they are wrong, and Iger is such a leftist he openly opposes a Florida law that protects grade school children from being groomed and “queered” by public school teachers. Iger is such a leftist he hires transvestites to greet children at his theme parks. He’s such a leftist that he greenlit two animated children’s movies with prominent homosexual love stories (Lightyear and Strange World — both of which flopped).

                    So Peltz is now doubling down his efforts to return some sanity and competency to Disney management:
                    Peltz’s Trian Fund Management investment firm, which controls about $3 billion in Disney stock, issued a statement Thursday that after the Mouse House’s board rejected Trian’s request for board seats, the hedge fund will “take our case for change directly to shareholders.” Trian is seeking two seats on Disney’s board, CNBC reported. The firm oversees more than $2 billion worth of Disney shares held by former Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, who has been vocal critic of Disney CEO Bob Iger and was dismissed from the company in March.

                    The announced intention by Trian to launch a proxy fight to get its directors on the board comes a day after Disney named Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and former Sky chief Jeremy Darroch as new directors.

                    Here’s the bottom line about the bottom line in the Trian Statement: “Since we gave Disney the opportunity to prove it could ‘right the ship’ last February … shareholders lost ~$70 billion of value.”



                    “Disney’s share price has underperformed proxy peers and the broader market over every relevant period during the last decade and over the tenure of each incumbent director,” the statement added. “Investor confidence is low, key strategic questions loom, and even Disney’s CEO acknowledges that the company’s challenges are greater than previously believed.”

                    Disney responded by accusing Perlmutter of acting on a personal grudge against Iger.

                    What’s especially interesting is that even if everything Iger said about this being Chapek’s fault was true, Chapek was Iger’s choice for a successor.

                    But you see, when you’re a leftist-in-good-standing like Iger, nothing matters. This is the guy who blacklisted a $40 million miniseries because Hillary Clinton told him to. He’s a good dog. When Warner Bros. Discovery CEO does the same to increase company value with a tax write-off, he’s excoriated. When Iger costs the company money by disappearing a $40 million investment rather than squeezing every possible nickel out of it, he’s a hero.

                    Godspeed to the man, but Peltzer won’t succeed. It’s too late. Once an institution goes left, it’s over. All that matters is The Agenda. The grooming, queering, and attempted brainwashing of small children will never stop.

                    Obviously, the author of this article is obsessed - bordering on rabidly obsessed - with the woke angle, and ignores the straight business decision-making around Disney+ that is, as Steve and others point out, a big part of the mix: the streaming platform is still costing a lot more in running costs than Iger thought it would by now, and inflation combined with stagnating incomes is squeezing discretionary consumer spending, with entertainment being especially vulnerable; so subscription sales are in decline. The same thing is happening to their theme parks, and the entire leisure industry generally. The fact that Disney+ followed the lead of its main rival, Netflix, in introducing a cheapie subscription with ads would seem to me to be evidence of this. And then there is the Disney+ factor devaluing the theatrical product.

                    Doing a public mea culpa on the woke stuff is one of the few immediate, short term steps Iger can make that does not cost a lot of time and money, and might assuage investors and stockholders. If Nolte is right, then it appears not to have assuaged Peltz, and obviously the longer Disney continues to hemorrhage money (and therefore its share price declines, encouraging Peltz to buy more stock), the more likely it is to become a takeover target.
                    Last edited by Leo Enticknap; 12-03-2023, 12:09 PM.


                    • #11
                      I don't think we disagree. Pandering is just Give The People What They Want.

                      The question is what is "The People?" Followed by "What do they want?"

                      The "masses" are changing constantly, so the studios have to recalibrate. Maybe Disney's business model is no longer feasible (I don't know). Maybe movies will go the way of radio and the music industry, micro-targeting. Adjustments will have to be made, its of budgets slashed, but now and then the movie equivalent of Taylor Swift will hit the spot.

                      I'm sticking with all movies contain messages. Does anyone think Gone With The Wind didn't contain a message (check the opening crawl)? The Avengers or X-Men? Marvel Comics was built on messaging. Just because movies hide their messages in plain sight, doesn't mean they don't have them.


                      • #12
                        There's no way Disney is going to 'right the ship' in less than a year, it's probably going to take them two or three years of not making any mistakes to right the ship. If they can pump out two or three blockbuster movies, it will happen faster.

                        It's pretty well established that the streaming platforms are costing a ton of money to maintain, since they have an endless voracious appetite for new "content," whether the content is any good or not is less important than keeping the steady stream of content coming, and the more the better.

                        So what Disney should do, instead of selling off things like Hulu and ABC TV or whatever they're planning to sell off, is they should sell Disney+. Let the new owners worry about satisfying the endless voracious appetite. (And the new owners could shop around from other studios for content as well as from Disney.) That way, Disney can return to the days of only making the content they have proper inspirations and creators for, as opposed to forcing product out the pipeline to keep the stream flowing.


                        • #13
                          I'm not sure what Disney wants to be those days. To me it feels like they want to be seen as a teenage girl brand, all across the board. For me, Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar now have become brands for rebellious teenage girls with the average output having the same quality as your average 1990s sitcom, only at about 5000% of the costs...

                          As a long-time Disney shareholder this whole ordeal is painful to watch. As an exhibitor, I'd feel equally frustrated... Stuff like this to me seems like part of the constant one-step forward and two steps backward as of late. This "awakening" from Bob Iger seems like a step forward, but this is just one of the many problems Disney is currently facing and the two-steps-backward are probably just around the corner.

                          From what I've heard of the few people I still know that work there, the culture has become extremely toxic over the last few years. Many capable people with decades of experience have left the company in the last couple of years. The company has killed its own soul, creative processes have been short-circuited by inclusivity-checklists all across the board. Who doesn't follow suit gets demoted or fired.

                          It takes more than a few words from Iger to correct this, this needs a complete overhaul of the entire board and all C-suits up to two or three levels down the reporting chain. Actually, I'd say that Iger, who was around when this was all being planned and set in motion, should be the first one out the door. It took him more than a year to even utter this conclusion, whereas the signs were already clear when he took over from Chapek, who was nothing but a pawn for Iger.

                          So, what needs to happen at this point according to my greater wisdom? Here's my "short list":
                          - Replace Iger. Get someone from outside, NO Dana Walden or Josh D’Amaro... those people got us here.
                          - Get rid of that Hulu deal that's going to kill your company in a few short months...
                          - Sell Disney+ to Hulu, Apple or any other highest bidder. There is no need and no room for yet another dumpy streaming platform and the incoming cash can be used to pay for the reorganisation. The good thing is that you'll now, again, will actually get paid for the content you make...
                          - Fire Kathleen Kennedy, bring in Jon Favreau. Bring George Lucas back, at least as consultant, "advisor" or "executive producer".
                          - Fire Kevin Feige, at this point it's even better to replace him with a headless monkey.
                          - Fire whoever is currently pretending to run Pixar and Disney Animation and bring back John Lasseter
                          - Fire whoever is in charge of Twentieth Century Fox or whatever you call it now, because he/she has apparently forgotten that he/she is running a movie studio.
                          - Put all current studio and theme-park projects on-hold. Re-evaluate them and cancel all the woke trash like the new Snow Brown and the Seven Baristas. Also immediately stop retheming perfectly fine attractions for millions upon millions of dollars because they're remotely connected to something that came up on your woke radar.
                          - Try to re-hire the talent you have either blatantly fired or bullied away over the last few years.
                          - Across all your divisions, bring the greatest minds together again. Let them work on a blue sky for the long-term future of the company. Let them come up with new ideas, new creative stories, story arcs, characters and ideas. Make sure you set those ideas in motion. You're Disney, you've been doing this for 100 years now.
                          - Try to get some big-shot directors involved with your multi-billion dollar franchises: Imagine letting Christopher Nolan direct your next 350 dollar Marvel movie instead of Nia DaCosta? What about giving Tarantino the opportunity to direct a Star Wars as his "last movie"?
                          - Reinstate a theatrical exclusivity window of at least 6 months for all big budget productions. Market it as a revival: ONLY IN THEATERS! Get your lazy ass out of the seat and see our 300M+ spectacle the way it's meant to be seen!
                          - Bring back physical media, but make it something special: Start to include extras, put it in a HUGE box, throw in some toys or other collectors items, or whatnot: Be f*cking creative: you're Disney for gods stake...
                          - Bring back the FREE Fast Pass and ditch this confusing ripoff Lightning Lane / Genie Plus system, among other free amenities you've been ditching across your theme parks the last 5 or-so years.

                          I could go on for twenty pages to come, but I guess it's already barely a "short list"...

                          I get it, those are all some personal ramblings. But I simply fail to grasp how the people in charge can mess up the stuff the way they do. You expect those people at that kind of corporate level to be playing some kind of 5D chess. But in reality, the entire thing is clearly ran by a bunch of morons that aren't capable of seeing they've pointed their cruise ship straight at a huge, honking iceberg. Instead of putting all engines in full reverse and deflecting the ruder by 90 degrees, they're still busy about contemplating what to do about the chilly temperature on the lido deck...


                          • #14
                            Seems to me that the old Disney stuff told both a story and a message all in 4 or 5 reels. Concentrating on one or the other seems to be a common problem in Hollywood the last 6 or 7 years.


                            • #15
                              Don't forget, Disney was on the brink in the in the late 80s. For the previous 20 years they released such live action classics as Herbie Ride Again, The Million Dollar Duck, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, etc. They still had the every few years animated hit, but movie-wise, they were pretty much bleeding to death until 1990. Finally, Micheal Eisner said screw it, set up a new Disney sub-label, and released an R rated movie that made a bunch of money --Pretty Woman. A Hooker with a Heart of Gold movie saved Disney and they learned they had to produce just like all of the other studios. So let's not get hung up on all of the family fare. Most of that was total crap.

                              So, we'll see if they can pull it out of the fire again.