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I’m worried about a Disney without Bob Iger

“The end of an era” can be an overused phrase, but it’s particularly apt when describing the exit of Disney’s Bob Iger from his role as CEO of the massive media company.

Under his watch, Disney’s banner grew to encompass a wide range of movie studios and television networks, rapidly expanding theme parks, and countless other properties that have become near and dear to generations of fans — many of whom consider Iger’s name synonymous with their favorite brands, from Marvel and Pixar to ABC and ESPN. And soon, he’ll be gone.

The task of filling Iger’s shoes goes to Bob Chapek, the former chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products.

Although the new CEO has a long list of impressive accolades that make him an intriguing person to steer the company’s future, it’s difficult not to feel some apprehension about Chapek — or anyone, for that matter — replicating Iger’s success over the last 15 years. Here are some of the big concerns fueling the disturbance in The Force that Iger’s departure has become.

The vault, redux?

In Disney’s press release announcing the transition, the company cites Chapek’s time as president of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, when he “spearheaded the successful ‘vault strategy’ for the company’s iconic films.” While that strategy might have yielded big profits for the company, making classic films unavailable for long periods of time in order to drive up prices when they’re finally “unlocked” from Disney’s vault isn’t looked upon kindly by many fans who lived through it.

Disney to launch new streaming service
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With Disney now embracing the idea of making the breadth of its content available via its Disney+ streaming service and other platforms, it would be a shame to see the company backtrack on throwing the doors of its library open to fans. When it comes to streaming, learning the wrong lessons from Disney’s vault strategy could prove disastrous.

Will hands-off still be the way?

While Iger deserves plenty of credit for the direct role he took in shaping much of Disney’s evolution since he took over as CEO in 2005, he also gets credit for knowing when to take a hands-off approach.

Disney’s high-profile acquisitions of Pixar, then Marvel Studios (via the larger Marvel Entertainment purchase), and, later, Lucasfilm, were each followed by plenty of dire predictions regarding the looming Disney-ification of each of the studios’ properties. That never happened, however, and in the following years, all three studios saw their brands’ profile rise under Disney’s banner to greater heights than anyone thought possible — except Iger, perhaps.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Iger’s hands-off approach let Marvel’s Kevin Feige build the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy turn Star Wars into another billion-dollar franchise. But with new management often comes a new approach to the company’s holdings, and it remains to be seen whether Chapek will see his time leading Walt Disney Studios’ distribution and home entertainment divisions as an invitation to be more hands-on with Disney’s studio acquisitions.

Given both studios’ recent success, Marvel and Lucasfilm fans are likely hoping he sees the value in keeping a professional distance form the properties they love.

How much is too much?

Given the wealth of entertainment options out there, where to spend your money is more important than ever, and pricing can make or break a company’s future.

Under Chapek’s tenure as the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, and before that as chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, single-day ticket prices for the Walt Disney World theme park in Florida grew by the largest amount in the park’s history — with a 2015 increase of $19 marking the biggest year-to-year jump in that period.

Sure, Disney’s theme parks have added some impressive (and expensive) attractions in recent years — chief among them, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — but that’s a troubling bullet point on the resume of any incoming CEO. Between that and the aforementioned price-spiking “vault strategy” established under Chapek’s tenure, the cost of being a Disney fan seems to be rising at a disturbing rate.

Of course, except for a quick drop in Disney’s stock price, fans haven’t — and likely won’t — see a direct effect of Iger’s departure (and Chapek’s introduction) anytime soon. Our biggest questions won’t have answers right away, but if there’s one lesson Iger’s time at Disney taught fans, it’s that a little patience can go a long way with Mickey Mouse’s house.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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