November 28, 2022

The big stunner in the media over the past week was Bob Iger returning as CEO of Disney. Less than two years after stepping down as CEO and hand-picking his successor, Bob Chapek, the 71-year-old Iger is returning to Disney.

Earlier this year, podcaster Kara Swisher asked Iger about rumors he was going back to Disney. At the time, he said the buzz was “ridiculous,” adding, “You can’t go home again. I’m gone.”

Honestly, what was Iger going to say at the time? He certainly wasn’t going to publicly say that, yeah, a return to Disney was possible. Still, when the news came down, it was a surprise.

So now what? Iger had one of the all-time great CEO runs in entertainment history. When he left Disney, there was talk about a presidential run, or buying an NBA team. So it’s hard to imagine him going back just to keep the status quo.

The Los Angeles Times’ Ryan Faughnder writes, “Bob Iger faces daunting challenges in his return to lead the Walt Disney Co. What to do about ESPN? How to make Disney+ profitable? Preserving fan loyalty at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Navigating a possible recession.”

But Faughnder adds that the biggest challenge might be fixing what didn’t work the first time he stepped down: finding the right successor.

That’s the long-term plan for Iger, who signed a two-year deal. The short-term plan includes navigating the media giant through a constantly-changing entertainment landscape.

The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle has an idea in her column “Disney’s CEO can help the world by buying up streaming companies.” McArdle writes, “This is an industry ripe for consolidation. The streaming entertainment business has huge economies of scale: Once you’ve built a platform and created content for it, it costs little to serve it to more customers. This is a business model that works best with a few companies that can amortize their investment costs over lots and lots of subscribers — more profits, but also the ability to set lower consumer prices.”

Such consolidation is easier said than done, but McArdle writes, “… much more consolidation is needed, and Iger might just be the man to deliver it. He is, after all, the chief executive who oversaw Disney’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, making the company the undisputed king of franchise intellectual property.”

About ESPN …

With Iger returning to Disney, could he look to spin off ESPN? CNBC’s Alex Sherman wrote, “Iger has had many chances in the past to shed cable networks, including ESPN, or broadcast channel ABC and its owned and operated affiliates, or Hulu.”

Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Ventures, told Sherman that Iger might have to shed those cable networks now. Sherman wrote, “Greenfield recommended either spinning off ESPN or dramatically cutting costs, including passing on renewing NBA broadcast rights, which will be renegotiated in 2023. He also said he’d try to sell Hulu to Comcast rather than paying Comcast $9 billion or more for the remaining 33% stake in the streamer.”

Or, Iger could concentrate on finding the right successor and letting that person figure out what’s next for Disney, including what to do about ESPN. Then again, there’s a reason why Iger returned. As Greenfield said, “The old plan can’t be the new plan. That plan wasn’t working. Iger is going to have to make some hard decisions.”

Recommended reading

For more on the Iger-Disney shakeup, check out Deadlines’ Nellie Andreeva and Dade Hayes with “Did Someone Save Disney’s Life Last Night? Behind Bob Iger’s Stunning CEO Return & What’s Next For Media Giant.”

On one hand, you have to feel for Chapek, whose timing could not have been worse. He took over as CEO in February of 2020, just as COVID-19 was shutting down the globe — including theme parks that make up a good chunk of Disney.

“But,” the Deadline reporters wrote, “some of the problems were self-inflicted — he presided over regrettable episodes like the public fight with Scarlett Johansson and the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ quagmire in Florida. Still, a string of events this month appeared to seal his fate, multiple insiders told Deadline, despite his receiving a contract extension in June.”

That string of events included a dismal quarterly earnings report. The Deadline reporters wrote, “Making matters worse, Chapek came off as curiously sanguine during the company’s quarterly earnings call with analysts. Breezing past a much-wider-than-expected operating loss from streaming of $1.5 billion, Chapek declared the quarter a ‘turning point’ en route to a more profitable future, but he didn’t come close to acknowledging the uphill climb ahead.”

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be? That’s a tough question, but I can tell you who you should probably not have on the list: Kanye West, who has changed his name to Ye, and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Yet former President Donald Trump had both for dinner at his Mar-a-Lago home last week.

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer wrote, “A Holocaust denier and unabashed racist, Mr. Fuentes openly uses hateful language on his podcast, in recent weeks calling for the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods and demanding that Jews leave the country. It is unclear how much Mr. Trump knew of Mr. Fuentes’s well-documented bigotry and extremism before their dinner.”

Trump later acknowledged he did have dinner with Ye and Fuentes, but seemed to distance himself a bit by putting in a statement, “This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”

Haberman and Feuer added, “Even taking at face value Mr. Trump’s protestation that he knew nothing of Mr. Fuentes, the apparent ease with which Mr. Fuentes arrived at the home of a former president who is under multiple investigations — including one related to keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago long after he left office — underscores the undisciplined, uncontrolled nature of Mr. Trump’s post-presidency just 10 days into his third campaign for the White House.”

Many Republicans have blasted Trump for his dinner guests, including former New Jersey Gov, Chris Christie, who said, “This is just another example of an awful lack of judgment from Donald Trump, which, combined with his past poor judgments, make him an untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024.”

The topic of Trump’s dinner came up on Sunday’s morning shows. Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd, “Well, he certainly needs better judgment in who he dines with. … I would not take a meeting with that person, though. I wouldn’t take a meeting with Kanye West either, but that’s my opinion.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told anchor Dana Bash, “Well, I hope, someday, we won’t have to be responding to what former President Trump has said or done. In this instance, it’s important to respond. And, as you mentioned, the last time I met with a white supremacist, it was in an armed standoff. I had a bulletproof vest on. We arrested them, prosecuted them, sent them to prison. And so, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that is setting an example for the country or the party to meet with an avowed racist or antisemite. And so it’s very troubling, and it shouldn’t happen. And we need to avoid those kinds of empowering the extremes. And when you meet with people, you empower. And that’s what you have to avoid. You want to diminish their strength, not empower them. Stay away from them.”

Fauci on COVID-19

Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking at the White House last week. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Anthony Fauci is about to end his career as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. After nearly 40 years, Fauci is set to step down at the end of the year.

And he’s still around to remind us that COVID-19 is not over. He told Chuck Todd on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that between 300 and 400 people in the U.S. are dying every day. He said, “I think the idea that ‘forget it, this is over’ — it isn’t.”

He also appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and told moderator Margaret Brennan, “It’s much, much better than it was, but it is not at a level low enough where we should feel we’re done with it completely because we’re not.”

Brennan also asked Fauci about Republicans, perhaps, asking him to testify about the origins of COVID-19. Fauci said he would be willing to testify, as he has “literally hundreds of times” over the years in oversight hearings.

But Fauci also believes there are political motives behind calling him to testify.

He told Brennan, “It is very clear when people are running their campaigns with an anti-Fauci element to it. I mean, that’s ridiculous. I mean, this is a public health issue. So yeah, it’s going to keep going — likely much more geared toward me. I mean, it’s obviously a political issue. I’m not going to get involved. I didn’t get involved before in the politics. And I’m not going to get involved now in the politics. I’d be more than happy to explain publicly or otherwise, everything that we’ve done, and I could defend and explain everything that we’ve done from a public health standpoint.

Media tidbits

Hot type

“CBS Sunday Morning” with “Helping a wounded Ukrainian soldier walk again.”

Catching up on this story from last week, New York Times deputy sports editor Mike Wilson with “Two Lives Long Harnessed Together, Until One Could Not Go On.”

The staff of The New York Times Book Review with “100 Notable Books of 2022.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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