As inflation increases and consumers ready themselves for a recession, many companies are preparing for rough times ahead.
Disney, whose shares are down 37 percent year to date, isn't immune from those changes. On Sunday night, the company made a shocking move and announced former CEO Bob Iger would return to lead the company. Outgoing CEO Bob Chapek, who led the company since 2020 and recently had his contract renewed in June for three years, would depart effectively immediately.
"Disney's best chance to win amidst the headwinds facing the industry right now is strong leadership," said Mike Proulx, vice president and research director at consulting firm Forrester. "Iger is a proven and revered chief executive that's already a known quantity for Disney. This makes him a pretty certain bet against a backdrop of so much uncertainty."
Though Disney did add more subscribers than expected during its latest earnings report and projected profitability for Disney+ by 2024, its streaming service still has a rocky road ahead. The streaming division noted an operating loss of $1.47 billion during its latest quarterly report on November 8, and Chapek said in a call with investors that costs would only continue to mount through 2023. It also missed estimates on earnings per share and revenue.
Iger spearheaded Disney for 15 years from 2005 to 2020 and was executive chairman and chairman of the board through 2021. Under his tenure, the company acquired large franchises including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox, and he also led the launch of Disney+, which marked its foray into the streaming space. He will be tasked with leading the company for the next two years, as well as choosing a successor.
"Iger is well liked at Disney for his business acumen and his personal charisma, so it's understandable for the board to call him back," said Paul Verna, Insider Intelligence principal analyst. "This is, after all, a company that excels at turning characters into franchises. The question is whether the sequel will be as good as the original."
Yet, while his track record is impressive, Iger will be returning to a very different Disney. When he left in 2020, the business was faced with new challenges including a global pandemic which shut down in-person entertainment like movie theaters and theme parks.
"Today, while the pandemic is no longer a health emergency in the US, the ripple effects continue to play out across the global economy and the supply chain," Verna said. "These factors are compounded by the Russian war in Ukraine. And the streaming business, which is pivotal to Disney's future, is now virtually saturated with competitors, so it looks different, and more daunting than it did in early 2020. In short, Iger faces a set of circumstances that will make success much harder than it was during his first run as CEO."
Media could be what helps Disney get through this next chapter, and Iger not only has experience there but used those franchises to bolster the parks business, but there's also that increased competition in the streaming space. Even though Disney is gearing to add a cheaper ad-supported tier for Disney+ on Dec. 8, other platforms have already embraced advertising including Netflix.
"Consumers are trying to navigate their lives on the backside of the pandemic," Forrester's Proulx said. "This will be new territory for Iger. He can't rely on his previous knowledge of consumer behavior because it's pretty much a blank slate right now. Consumers have more choices when it comes to streaming and they're being price pinched more than ever. Iger can't rely on his old playbook in this new environment."