Disney CEO Bob Iger doesn’t “retract or in any way change” the disclosures about subscriber losses at ESPN that rattled the media industry three months ago. he told analysts today. “We decided to be candid, maybe refreshingly so….There certainly should be no reason to panic over comments like that.”
But with the spotlight on the sports channel, especially after recent layoffs, he and other execs sought to give it an unequivocal vote of confidence.
“There’s a glass half full perspective,” Iger says. “We’re bullish about ESPN.”
As for the recent layoffs of 300 people, about 4% of the workforce, COO Tom Staggs says that ESPN “is quite healthy operationally” but — like with other Disney channels — “we won’t let any of them stand still…ESPN has been innovating all along and will continue to do so.”
Iger dismissed as “not factually correct” a recent article in Sports Business Journal that said ESPN has tried to secure higher rates from cable and satellite operators by agreeing to let them reduce their guaranteed distribution of the channel to about 80% of subscribers from 90%.
Speaking broadly about cable losses, Iger says there’s been “some attrition from large bundle subscriptions.” Some people feel they can’t afford to pay the rising costs. In addition, “young people are not signing up as quickly as they once did.”
To appeal to them “the user interface has to be great.” So-called skinny bundles also “tend to be attractive to young people.” Iger says he doesn’t mind seeing new entrants offering these smaller packages. “The more the merrier in terms of new platforms…They need Disney and ABC.”
Execs kept information about the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens close to the vest. “Of course we’re very excited,” the CEO says. “J.J. Abrams and his cast and crew have delivered a truly epic adventure.” The CEO touted the “huge global response ” to the recent Force Friday roll out of consumer products, and the upcoming release of the Star Wars Battlefront from EA.
CFO Christine McCarthy says the merchandise sales weren’t included in the latest earnings report because an accounting rule bars recognition of the revenues from a new film until it’s released.
As for the open date for the Shanghai Disney park, Iger says that it was delayed to 2016 when the company and its partners decided to expand their plans. “We’re currently thinking it will open sometime in the spring of 2016, and sometime between now and the end of this calendar year we’ll announce an opening date.”
Despite the slowing economic growth in China “we still feel great about the market. We continue to be impressed with the buzz we’ve seen whenever we go to China…It is in fact the talk of the town.”