Scott Shepard: Bob Iger’s Diminished Disney: Time Shares, Betting Lines, and Inoffensive Retreads

In a commentary published at RealClearMarkets, Free Enterprise Project Director Scott Shepard notes that Disney CEO Bob Iger has so abused Disney that its plans to save itself rely on helping people bet on amateur sports, hawking time shares and churning out sequels from what were some of the most creative studios on earth before he crushed them. Hardly a record to be proud of.

Read the commentary in full below.

Join me, boys and girls, in surveying the wreckage of this once world-bestriding entertainment colossus. And then, unless you own lots and lots of Disney stock, we can laugh and laugh together. If you want a real treat, pay extra-special attention, toward the end, when we’ll reveal that Bob Iger has had to admit that he has been running Disney as a partisan political outlet, and that has been a catastrophe.

Scott Shepard

Scott Shepard

Say that last word with me, boys and girls (no, not “dreamers of all ages;” that’s how Disney got in this mess in the first place): cat-a-stro-phe. That means a big, huge, giant mess. You know, like the kind your little brother makes and then the room smells terrible.

I ate at the bar of a favorite local restaurant last Friday (happily not the one David Brooks recently libeled). Disney’s ESPN played above the bar and so I glanced at it for the first time in, probably, years, and saw that it had started including betting lines for college football games, right in the general ticker.

That surprised me, naif that I am. Surely enabling sports betting – on college games played by unpaid scholar-athletes, no less – is hardly consonant with Disney’s long-standing, traditional values. It’s well within the memory of people still of working age that even contemplating sports betting could destroy athletes’ careers, or at least their promotional and recognition prospects. Uncle Walt would surely be pretty horrified.

Bob Iger’s disastrous reign at Disney means that he’s had to give up on moral stances, though. ESPN is no longer a cash cow, like it was when Disney paid nearly $20 billion nearly 30 years ago (when 30 billion dollars still went somewhere, Jack!) for ABC, but mostly for ESPN. This isn’t entirely the fault of Iger’s management; he’s not directly responsible for cord cutting, but he is for the fact that the deals that Disney has struck do not allow it to put any of ESPN’s sporting events on streaming, so that ESPN+ is as bereft of watchable sports as was ESPN itself in its first days in the early 1980s – when it sometimes covered high school football and synchronized swimming – but without the novelty value. And so Iger and Disney must push viewers to ESPN however they can, including by facilitating betting on amateur sports.

But that surrender is one of traditional values that Iger obviously little admires. The vastly more astonishing news is that over the past few days Iger has admitted that he has been running Disney not to maximize value for investors (his enforceable legal duty under fiduciary law) but to push his wildly partisan and demonstrably unpopular personal policy preferences. In calls with investors he admitted that for the sake of Disney’s corporate value he needed to “quiet the noise” of the culture war between Disney and … well, as the stock price makes increasingly clear, Disney’s erstwhile customers.

The language of the admission was anodyne corporate cliché-ery, but it contained two deep acknowledgements: that Disney had taken a highly partisan side in a culture war, and that this stance had hurt the company badly. Until now Iger – who forced Chapek into the always false “don’t say gay” fight and then used the disaster that resulted to force Chapek out – has adamantly pretended that he had done no such thing, but had only defended neutral virtue and been attacked. This was always a stupid stance, which makes his admission even more revealing.

A second set of covert admissions even more clearly reveal the sweep of Iger’s misrepresentations, and his failure. For years now he and Disney have refused to acknowledge that he, Dana Walden, Kathleen Kennedy and that whole tedious crowd have jacked hard-left political and social stances into Disney productions, and that revenues have plummeted as a direct result of this enwokefication. But Iger has finally come clean, saying that it’s time for Disney to take political agendas out of its movies and Disney+ programs – which of course contains within it both an admission that these agendas have filled Disney productions in recent years and that it, too, has been a failure.

How big a failure? So big that Iger is covertly admitting that he and his team have killed some of its best properties’ creativity entirely. Pixar, for instance, will now only make sequels.

Disney has destroyed Pixar’s creativity. Why only sequels? Probably because the flotsam that Walden and Kennedy have collected in the writing rooms can’t be trusted to write new stories that aren’t shot through with the toxic agenda that has brought Disney to its knees.

In a final set of admissions, Disney will be pouring money into parks, cruises and time-shares, because those are mostly physical assets and so are the least tainted by the toxic partisanship best known as Igerology.

Sequels, amateur sports betting and time-shares. Bob Iger should be forced to come to work in a uniform, like so many other “cast members,” (bleh) – and it should be the checked sports coat and dacron slacks of a 1970s car salesman.

Sing it with me, kids: c-a-t, a-s-t, r-o-p-h-e!

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

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.