Bob Iger: Home Entertainment Key to Pixar Acquisition, Movies to Netflix, Disney+ Launch

With Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger in the final years at the helm of the global media brand, the executive has been making the media rounds peddling his memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime.

In an interview with BBC Studios, Iger recounts many aspects of his life and career, including discussions with the late Steve Jobs about acquiring Pixar Animation, which counted the Apple co-founder as its majority stakeholder at the time.

But before that $7.4 billion transaction could be approached, Iger said he had to develop a relationship with the often mercurial Jobs. According to Iger, it was his willingness to put select Disney and ABC TV shows on the upstart Apple iTunes platform, which had just started selling videos, including an iPod capable of playing video in addition to music, that paved the way toward the 2006 Pixar acquisition.

“Steve was immediately impressed with my knowledge of  [iTunes], or my interest in it, my willingness to disrupt using technology current business models, [and] my ability to do a deal very quickly without too much bureaucracy,” Iger said.

The iTunes pact helped migrate the home video industry from purely packaged media distribution to transactional video-on-demand and electronic sellthrough.

As of January 2017, iTunes offered more than 35 million to 40 million songs, 2.2 million apps, 25,000 TV shows and 65,000 films.

Through June 30, 2019, digital sales and rentals of movies and TV shows topped $2.2 billion, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Iger said the key is “owning and controlling content that is so valuable, so important, so loved by consumers that they’ll access it, buy it almost anyway they possibly can.”

Separately, Iger confirmed the pending Disney+ subscription streaming service would be launched in Western Europe within the next year. Calling over-the-top video distribution a “nascent market,” Iger said there remains plenty of room for other players besides Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to succeed.

“You have to launch [your OTT product] when the technology is right and when you have enough content. It takes time to get both of those right,” he said.

The executive reiterated that he does not consider Netflix to be a rival to Disney+, calling the SVOD pioneer a “volume play” service with a lot of quality in it.

“They created the market in the direct-to-consumer space in video — and brilliantly, by the way,” Iger said.

At the same time, he doesn’t regret licensing Disney movies exclusively to Netflix in 2012 — a landmark deal that helped broaden Netflix’s appeal on a global basis.

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“It was an enormously profitable deal for us at a time when we had no ability to launch a Netflix-like service,” he said. “We didn’t have the technology and we didn’t have enough content. We’ve never second-guessed the decision.”

Iger said Disney+ will offer much less volume of content than Netflix, which he contends makes the service less of a direct competitor.

“There may be room for people to have more than one [SVOD] subscription,” Iger said. “I don’t think we know how large the global market is for these products yet.”

When asked about the proliferation of Marvel-themed movies released by Disney, Iger said the comic book brand is as popular as ever. He admitted that Disney has released too many “Star Wars” movies over a short period of time.

“I have not said that they were disappointing in any way. I’ve not said that I’m disappointed in their performance. I just think that there’s something so special about a ‘Star Wars’ film, and less is more,” he said.

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