Disney CEO Bob Chapek described a vision to combine the company’s powerful streaming operations with its thriving theme park business, to deliver a more “personalized and personalized” customer experience.
“It’s the physical and digital aspects of your Disney lifestyle that come together,” he said during a half-hour session at The Wall Street JournalTech Live conference. “If you’re on Disney+, we should be aware, assuming you give us permission to have that awareness, of what happened, what you went through, what you liked last times you’ve visited a park. And, vice versa, when you’re at a park, we should know what your Disney+ viewing habits are.”
Efforts to unify these two arms of the company’s operational operations are underway, Chapek said. “We are putting our arms and legs on it right now within our own technical groups. What we’re trying to do is create a toolbox of utilities that can then be used by our creators at Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucas, who then take those utilities and use them to tell stories in a way more personalized and tailored to your interests.”
In this storyline, which is Disney’s “next-gen storytelling” twist on the metaverse, someone who has ridden the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, for example, would then find pirate-themed titles highlighted on their Disney+ homepage upon login.
The wide-ranging conversation also saw Chapek reflect on the tumultuous period of weeks earlier this year when he and his management team found themselves caught in the act between internal discord and harsh public criticism from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. . On a related note, the Disney boss also responded to accusations of “waking up” to the company’s business. And he explained how he sees the crowded streaming field shaking, ESPN’s plans in the highly competitive sports space and his expectations for an “emotional” premiere of Black Panther after wakanda forever following the death of franchise star Chadwick Boseman.
Chapek also said the company does not intend to be “an open market buyer” after paying $71.3 billion for most of 21st Century Fox in 2019 and closing several other deals. multi-billion dollar mergers and acquisitions in previous years. The notion that Disney is not a buyer is widely understood, given that it faces a key decision point in 2024, when it has the option of buying out Comcast’s 30% financial stake in Hulu for a cost of tens of billions of dollars. (Price will be determined closer to the date.) Chapek has indicated a strong interest in completing this deal and also a willingness to fund production and sports rights acquisitions, at robust levels.
Ask by WSJ Editor Matt Murray on criticism of Creative Choices (the gay kiss in Light year or Pinocchio accepting his wooden self in the latest version of the film, for example) that prompted the “woke Disney” label, Chapek responded with a different description. “We want our content to reflect the rich and diverse world we live in,” he said. “We now live in a world where everything seems to be polarized, but I think we want Disney to champion bringing people together.” Pressed by Murray, “To be clear, don’t you think Disney is too woke?” the executive replied, “I think Disney is a company that has survived for 100 years by catering to its audience and it’s going to thrive for the next 100 years by catering to its audience.”
ESPN will remain part of the company, Chapek claimed recently after activist investor Daniel Loeb and several Wall Street analysts called for its split. Someone who says, “Well, is that really good at Disney?” Isn’t that good at Disney? I think what they don’t see is that ESPN is a powerful brand. It represents, as Disney does, in terms of family audiences. For sports fans, it’s the power mark there. As for speculation about entertaining offers from Disney to acquire or take a stake in an ESPN spin-off, Chapek said interest was sparked as a result of news reports. “Our phone started ringing,” he said with a smile. “We have to have something great in ESPN because everyone seems to want it.”
Strategically, as ESPN seeks to remain competitive in an industry that now features deep-pocketed tech players like Amazon and Apple in addition to former rivals like NBCUniversal, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery, Chapek said the ESPN brand is designed to transcend cord cutting or other changes. “We’re talking about, ‘Well, what’s going on with the wiring harness and the cord cutting?’ This is a particular execution of this brand that has happened to be very powerful and relevant for many years – still is in many ways – but that is not the essence of this brand. much bigger than that.
When asked what he thought he did right and wrong during the situation in Florida, which caused staff walkouts and resentment from outside and inside, Chapek said: “The lesson is the lesson we’ve probably always known, which is that at Disney, it’s all about the casting.”
Recalling his tenure as head of the theme parks division, Chapek said “99%” of the letters he would receive from customers were about their interactions with the “actors”, i.e. employees dressed in costumes that bring the parks experience to life. When the Florida case came to light, Chapek revealed that Disney had unsuccessfully tried to pressure DeSantis and other state lawmakers to persuade them not to sign the bill derided as ‘Don’ t Say Gay” for its limitations on classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ topics. Once made public, DeSantis seized on it and said he planned to financially punish Disney. As the situation exploded, Chapek – who at the time had not signed an extension to remain CEO until 2025 – was attacked by employees for being too willing to allow a law to pass through the house. state despite the harmful effects it would have on a large number of workers.
“We were reminded, through the passion of our cast’s reaction, how important their feelings are on these issues,” Chapek said. When people ask him for advice on navigating choppy political waters, Chapek tells them, “Stick to your values, to your North Star. Simplify the cacophony of voices and do what you think is right.
The session began with a note on tonight’s world premiere of wakanda forever. While Chapek noted that his 30-year tenure at Disney included nearly two decades at the movie studio and witnessed “a fair number” of premieres, he said it would be something different. “I’m sure there will be a lot of emotion tonight,” he said, largely because of Boseman’s legacy.
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