Disney looks for cost savings, ponders layoffs: sources

LOS ANGELES, Mon Jan 7, 2013 — Walt Disney Co. , which reported record earnings in November, started an internal cost cutting review several weeks ago that may include layoffs at its studio and other units, three people with knowledge of the effort told Reuters.

Disney, whose empire spans TV, film, merchandise and theme parks, is exploring cutbacks in jobs no longer needed because of improvements in technology, one of the people said.

It is also looking at redundant operations that could be eliminated after a string of major acquisitions over the past few years, said the person, who did not want to be identified because Disney has not disclosed the internal review.

Executives warned in November that the rising cost of sports rights and moribund home video sales will dampen growth.

“We are constantly looking at eliminating redundancies and creating greater efficiencies, especially with the rapid rise in new technology,” said Disney spokeswoman Zenia Mucha.

In terms of profit margin, Disney’s studio is the least profitable of the entertainment conglomerate’s four major product divisions.

Its fifth division, the interactive unit that creates online games, lost $758 million over the last three years, according to the company’s financial filings.

Disney bets $1 billion on Pixar-driven park revamp

LOS ANGELES, Fri Jun 8, 2012 – The Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, a dud since it opened in 2001, will unveil the fruits of a five-year, $1 billion renovation next week – and there’s a lot more riding on the effort than ticket sales.

Disney is counting on the overhauled park to entice visitors at adjacent Disneyland to stay another day or two, preferably in a Disney hotel. It is also a riposte to rival Universal Studios, which just launched a heavily promoted thrill ride based on the movie “Transformers.”

Perhaps most importantly, the revamped Disney California Adventure underscores the emergence of Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, as a key force within Disney — as a colorful and imaginative counterpoint to the company’s technocratic, financially oriented chief executive, Bob Iger.

Indeed, with the opening next week of a themed area called Cars Land, the park is fast becoming Pixar-land. Nine of 20 rides are now based on films from the computer animation company, which Disney bought from Steve Jobs in 2006.

The prominence of Lasseter and Pixar, as well as the emergence of such major franchises as Marvel Entertainment’s blockbuster film “The Avengers,” marks a major shift for the venerable entertainment conglomerate.

In its most successful times, “Disney magic” came largely from within. The company was run by creative executives such as Walt Disney himself and Michael Eisner, a former TV and film production executive.

Now it is counting on companies it acquired for the iconic characters and story lines that drive everything from theme park attendance to merchandise sales.

Disney film studio chief Ross steps down; run included ‘John Carter’ flop

LOS ANGELES, Fri Apr 20, 2012 – Rich Ross has stepped down as chairman of Walt Disney Co’s. movie studio after a less than three-year run that included the release of “John Carter,” one of the biggest flops in recent Hollywood history.

Ross, named to the job in October 2009, was never able to duplicate the success he enjoyed as president of the Disney Channel, where he was credited with creating monster franchises that included “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana.”

“I no longer believe that the Chairman role is the right professional fit for me,” Ross told his staff in an e-mail.

Disney will not immediately name a new head for its studio, a source familiar with the matter said.

In a statement, Disney CEO Bob Iger said: “For more than a decade, Rich Ross’ creative instincts, business acumen and personal integrity have driven results in key businesses for Disney. … I appreciate his countless contributions throughout his entire career at Disney and expect he will have tremendous success in whatever he chooses to do next.”

As the company’s studio chief, Ross approved production of “John Carter,” an expensive science-fiction epic whose development started years earlier. The film’s costs eventually ballooned to more than $250 million.

Disney said in March it expected the film to lose about $200 million and to saddle its studio with $80 million to $120 million in operating losses.

Disney elects board over shareholder group objections

BURBANK, Calif., Tue Mar 13, 2012 – Walt Disney Co. shareholders re-elected 10 members of the Disney board during the company’s annual shareholder meeting despite opposition from shareholder groups who had recommended a vote against four board members.

Institutional Shareholder Services and the treasurer for the state of Connecticut raised objections after the board announced on Oct. 7 that it would combine the roles of chairman and chief executive, elevating CEO Robert Iger to the dual roles.

Chairman John Pepper, who is retiring, announced the board’s reelection based on initial proxies submitted prior to the meeting.

ISS advises shareholders, who make their own voting decisions. The state of Connecticut holds more than 642,000 Disney shares worth about $27 million in its retirement plans.

ISS argued that Disney reversed a commitment to seek shareholder input before combining the CEO and chairman jobs. The company split the roles in 2005 after some shareholders complained about former CEO Michael Eisner holding both titles.

Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier in a statement before the meeting said letting Iger hold both titles was “a regressive policy that could impair the board’s role to oversee executive management on behalf of shareholders.”

ISS and Nappier called on shareholders to vote against the four directors who serve on the nominating committee that recommended Iger take on the chairman’s role — JLabs CEO Judith Estrin; Potbelly Sandwich Works CEO Aylwin Lewis; private equity investor Robert Matschullat; and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Iger was not formally announced as chairman during the meeting. That announcement will come later in the day, after the new board meets.

Disney also announced a new company-wide initiative to hire more than 1,000 returning U.S. veterans over the next three years, and to launch a nationwide public awareness campaign for other companies to follow.

Disney parks, cable in focus with gains expected

LOS ANGELES – Walt Disney Co. is expected to show another steady quarter of growth, driven by healthy business at cable networks and theme parks, when the media giant reports results on Tuesday.

The company’s shares have risen 10.2 percent since November, when CEO Bob Iger reported higher income and profits propelled by a rise in cable advertising and theme park growth.

Analysts predict the operator of TV networks ESPN and ABC, a movie studio, cruise line and theme parks will again show it is steadily navigating through an uncertain economy and report a 4.7 percent revenue increase this quarter.

Looking ahead to 2012, investors want to hear executives’ outlook on its resorts like Walt Disney World, expectations for the advertising market and details on negotiations with Univision for a new 24-hour cable news network.

News broke on Monday that Disney’s ABC television unit was talking with the Spanish-language broadcaster about creating an English-language news channel.

Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan said it “makes a lot of sense” for Disney to target the growing Hispanic market in the United States. But Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould was unsure the company could distinguish itself among the crowded field of cable news outlets. “I’m just not sure if we need another 24-hour news channel,” he said.

With Tuesday’s results, Wall Street likely will focus on the parks and cruise ship business as well as the sprawling landscape of cable networks including ESPN and the Disney Channel.

Reports of strong attendance late last year at the flagship Walt Disney World resort in Florida signal another solid quarter for the theme parks Disney operates on three continents, some analysts said.

Disney CEO Bob Iger buys $1 million worth of Apple stock

LOS ANGELES ― Apple Inc’s. newest board member, Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger, bought about $1 million worth of the iPhone maker’s shares earlier this week, a symbolic gesture of confidence in the prospects of the company.

Iger, who was appointed to Apple’s board on November 15, bought 2,670 Apple shares on the open market on Tuesday at an average price of $375 each, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Iger’s wife also owns 75 Apple shares, the filing said.

As part of being a director of Apple, the long-time Disney executive also is entitled to the standard $50,000 annual retainer and received an initial grant of 142 restricted Apple stock units that will vest in February.

Disney’s Bob Iger to cede CEO, chairman posts in 2015

LOS ANGELES ― Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger will step down in March 2015 after less than 10 years at the helm of the largest U.S. media and entertainment conglomerate.

Iger will hold the positions of chairman and chief executive officer through March 31, 2015, Disney said on Friday.

Iger succeeded Michael Eisner as Disney’s CEO in October 2005, which means his tenure as chief executive will be less than a decade long. Eisner’s reign at Disney, which ranks among the longest and most storied — both for better and worse — in CEO history, lasted 21 years, from 1984 until 2005.

After vacating the CEO role, Iger, 60, will continue to serve as executive chairman of Disney’s board through June 30, 2016, the company said in a statement.

The company did not mention possible successors, but industry speculation has centered on Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo and the head of Disney’s huge theme parks and resorts division, Tom Staggs.

Rasulo and Staggs previously held each other’s positions, but Iger made them switch roles in 2009, in part to groom them for the CEO role by exposing them to different parts of the Magic Kingdom’s big business.

Shares in Disney were down 1 percent at $31.70 in afternoon trade.

Hulu owners seeking best sale value, says Disney’s Iger

LOS ANGELES ― Hulu’s current joint owners are seeking the highest possible value in a sale rather than focusing on who a new owner might be, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger said Wednesday.

The popular online TV video site is jointly owned by Disney, News Corp., Comcast Corp’s NBC Universal and private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners.

The owners have agreed to put the site up for sale. Disney and News Corp recently renewed new programming licenses to aid that process.

Iger said all the owners are committed to selling the site, but declined to comment on the timing of a deal.

“I don’t think it matters to us, we just need to get the best value,” Iger told Reuters on the sidelines of the Allen & Co. conference attended by some of the biggest names in technology, media and deal financing.

The owners have begun preliminary sales talks with about a dozen potential buyers, including Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. a source familiar with the situation said last week. .

Hulu expects its number of paid subscribers to top 1 million by summer’s end, earlier than previously forecast, its chief executive said on Wednesday.