LTP News Sharing:

Benjamin Franklin published a tract in London and Philadelphia in 1773 explaining the Rules by Which a Great Empire May be Reduced to a Small One. As good satire, it offered both humor and warning, but apparently the British no more believed then than now that Americans understand either sarcasm or satire, and so fat King George took it as instruction. He shouldn’t have.

Scott Shepard

Scott Shepard

Neither should Bob Iger.

Bob’s quest appears to be turning a massive, globe-bestriding entertainment colossus into a wildly indebted boutique shop. What have been his rules?

First, he bought up great swathes of entertainment companies that had been successful in other hands. These included Lucas Films, Pixar and most recently Fox.

He overpaid heavily for at least the last one, and arguably for nearly everything.

Then he hired (or in the case of Kathleen Kennedy and Lucas Films, allowed to have forced on him) openly, brazenly partisan creative executives, who pushed niche, boutique, leftwing, upper-middle/lower-upper-class urban obsessions into everything that Disney produced, or nearly everything. (I’m reliably told that the Marvel movies aren’t quite as bad, and as a result are doing less badly at the box office.)

Relatedly, these partisan producers and executives happily gave up opportunities that looked profitable and popular, if their niche obsessions weren’t fully incorporated.

Then he reportedly allowed these niche-obsessed executives to push out of Disney anyone who was unwilling to publicly subscribe to the executives’ obsessions for failing to be “team players,” while demanding similar statements of faith from advertisers (e.g., the people who pay the bills), while pushing advertising sales staff to push advertisers to support in particular the most niche-obsessed of Disney’s offerings.

He then pretended to resign as CEO, but he kept his CEO’s office, and stayed right there on the premises, and interfered constantly in his “successor’s” efforts.

Part of that interference was to pressure the successor into picking a fight with the governor and government of the company’s second home state.

He then returned formally as CEO, escalated the fight, and then when it turned out to be a disaster for Disney, admitted the loss but blamed it on the poor hapless guy who for a while was sock puppeted as CEO.

Finally, after returning, he allowed the niche obsession to play out in the parks designed for small children as well.

You will not be surprised to hear that this has all resulted in Disaster at Disney. Attendance at the parks is down; other sources of revenue are drying up. The central fact is this: Disney has already almost certainly lost well more than a billion dollars on its movies this year in ways that have absolutely destroyed the value of all the purchases that Iger has made over the years. Disney just made an Indiana Jones movie that made Indiana Jones a sad wreck of a man, while attempting to swap him out for an almost indescribably unlikeable replacement who is also, of course, a Strong, Powerful Woman Who Rightly Makes Men Look Worthless.

Of course that lost hundreds of millions of dollars. How could it not?

Iger’s problem is this: he’s allowing his employees to spend as though Disney is still “making the magic” – making stuff that a significant fraction of the whole world will happily go watch, and then pay to download and watch again and again. But what they’re making for all of this money are movies (and theme parks and everything else) that appeal only to a small cohort of angry upper-middle/lower-upper-class women and the children whom they force to watch this stuff or go to these parks, and so on.

Making boutique-interest offerings for tentpole-release prices is a recipe for absolute disaster, as Iger and Disney are discovering, both at the box office and at the theme park gate. Oh, and on Wall Street, too. Bob has had to offer to sell off bits of Disney in what’s being called yard-sale fashion, and surely at prices that will come nowhere near what he paid for those businesses before he allowed his teams to destroy their appeal and value.

But here’s where Iger shows his Fantasia-level dark-magician skills: after all that, he just got his contract renewed through 2026, which really means, as this fine fellow has worked out, in a Putin-like way either directly in charge or in charge behind another sock puppet, still in the Office of Power, until 2031.

That’s fairly interesting, given that activist investor Nelson Peltz last year reportedly backed off a board bid in part because Iger had agreed to get a genuine successor in place and finally and fully leave the kingdom behind. Surely the board wouldn’t have re-upped Iger after this flailing, failing performance if it were just teeing up another board fight, would it?

Wait. Let’s see. Who are the biggest shareholders at Disney? Well, they are not Vanguard, State Street and BlackRock; rather, it’s those firms’ ultimate investors. But there they are, the Big Three “non-woke” investment houses using other people’s money to back up the Wrecking Ball for Wokeness who is Bob Iger.

How about that.


Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Director of its Free Enterprise Project.

Author: Scott Shepard