In Bob Iger’s book Ride of a Lifetime, the author seemed to indicate he was completely done with Disney and would now be slowly heading into retirement after his stellar career. Of course, that all changed a couple of weeks ago when Iger was suddenly announced as new CEO, returning to his old role after the board unceremoniously dumped Bob Chapek.

Iger-Disney

The language coming from the board makes it sound like a rescue, as well they might in order to calm nervous markets and jumpy investors. The language mirrors the Apple board when they pulled Steve Jobs back in after a short period that saw them suffer, too.

So with Disney parks unaffordable for huge swathes of people, and Disney+ losing $1.5 billion a year, is Iger the saviour, or is he actually returning to clear up mess of his own making. He has two years to sort all this out and identify a successor, so where does he start?

Florida

Disney’s most important properties are in Florida, they are one of the states biggest employers. The “Don’t Say Gay bill” situation seemed like a schoolboy error. Reports say Chapek called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis personally and it did not go well.

Barely two weeks later DeSantis abolished the special district Disneyworld was allowed to operate within and called out their massive tax breaks and subsidies.

Disney-Reedy

After the mid-terms DeSantis is in a stronger position and may even be enroute to the White House. This could become a big problem for Disney if he holds grudges.

Yet it was Iger who gave internal pressure groups such as the LGBTQIA+ activists such power at Disney, promoted the executives who championed these causes and openly spoke of their push for increased representation in the company’s products. He spoke to CNN way back in March and said it wasn’t even a legal issue, he opposed the bill because it was:

“…about right and wrong.”

Even this week he told employees that inclusion and acceptance are among the “core values” of the company’s storytelling. So this one started on his watch.

Product

The same core values that seem to have run Disney into conflict with the state of Florida, seem to have run it into conflict with huge swathes of America and the world, particularly those who are not on Twitter.

Strange World is a financial disaster coming hot on the heels of Lightyear underperforming. Meanwhile Disney+ seems to be cannibalising its own family market in these spaces by offering better alternatives to going to the theatre with little kids and watching those two movies, especially as they will themselves be on Disney+ in 45 days.

Strange World 2

You still need original content too on Disney+, but its no secret some big ticket Star Wars and Marvel adventures on the streamer haven’t been as good as they should have been.

In theatres, there is no more Star Wars content from Lucasfilm on the horizon quite yet, and expectant audiences are reacting with increasing dread and horror to leaks about Indiana Jones 5. Who installed Lucasfilm into the House Of Mouse and appointed it’s current leader? That was Bob Iger too.

Meanwhile the reliable delivery machine that is Marvel has had issues of its own with Phase 4, both quality and performance. This was billed by higher-ups as the “diversity phase” by the same executives celebrating the “inclusion and acceptance” aspect of their storytelling, the same executives preaching the same corporate messages encouraged by Iger on his watch. Development of those movies also started under his tenure.

So not enough good, new, stuff on Disney+, cinema slate having challenges around both performance and quality, and large audience groups being actively turned off by their messaging-heavy content. Disney+ was also Iger’s baby, and it was Iger who pulled premium content off third-party platforms, like satellite and pay-TV, to bring an element of exclusivity to Disney+ but in doing so shut down other revenue streams. So is all this another check mark in his own column, rather than Chapek?

China

The middle class in America is struggling to justify the cost of a visit to the most costly place on earth, but at least they could actually get there if they wanted to.

There are two parks, Shanghai and Hong Kong, that are still in the grip of China’s never ending COVID policy nightmare. Shanghai was Iger’s project and a 20-year goal finally realised in June 2016. $5 billion to build, with Disney owning 43% of the property alongside the state-controlled Shanghai Shendi Group owns the remaining 57%.

Disney-Shanghai

It was the centre of horrific images, as Chinese authorities simply locked thousand of visitors inside the park when they suddenly announced a lockdown due to a COVID case inside. China shows no signs of opening up, so money is being lost hand-over-fist. Even when it does, after what China has done to its people over COVID, will any company want to still be seen as being as cosily in bed with them as Disney is?

Concerns were raised when the company started courting China under Eisner and then Iger. Have these issues now come home to roost? Again, these decisions were not made under Chapek.

What About Bob?

The issue also could be that Disney has built itself in the image of Bob Iger, meaning only Bob Iger can run it in the eyes of investors, markets, even staff. Iger never left Disney. He was there, looming, as Executive Chairman. He was even chiming in during the Florida row, which probably made it worse while Chapek took the flack.

Chapek inherited the activist, woke culture, the in-flight production slates, Lucasfilm leadership, and expensive Disney+ from his previous boss who then never really left.

There is an awful lot of mess here, and right next to them, like a puppy sitting next to a fresh pile of poop, is Bob Iger.

The more I think about it, the more I am starting to feel sorry for Bob Chapek.

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