“We love what we’ve seen” for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, due in December, a break from the past because “it does not fit neatly into the Skywalker saga.” He doesn’t expect sales to match last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, “but interest is high.”
Meanwhile he just heard a pitch from the director of the Star Wars movie due in 2019, and has hired a writer who’s developing another stand-alone Star Wars film for 2020.
Broadly speaking, Iger credits his company’s success in films to a decision to focus on relatively few releases each year, and primarily big-budget tentpoles.
“Returns in general across the entire U.S. movie business were not impressive,” he told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference. “Too much money was being spent on what we thought was a business that was not expanding.”
So he ditched the Miramax and Touchstone businesses to favor films from Disney animation, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm that could appeal to audiences around the world. As a result, “our returns have been phenomenal.”
“We figured out – not perfect science, and we’ve made some mistakes – but we figured out the odds for making good films….We have a great system in place.”
At the theme parks, Iger says that there’s been “no discernable impact” in attendance in Orlando due to concerns about the Zika virus.
His newest park, Shanghai Disney, “has exceeded our expectations” — at least in its handling of creative, cultural, and logistical matters.
And he sees additional “margin expansion possibilities” by improving efficiency, and investing in attractions.
“We’re going to open a huge Pandora or Avatar Land in Animal Kingdom” in Orlando. “It will become a full-day experience…We’re also building two Star Wars attractions for Florida and California. We haven’t been specific about when they will come on line, but we’re in the building process already.”
Iger believes attendance and sales will be helped by the strong economy, saying he sees “no sign whatsoever of a consumer slowdown….advanced bookings are relatively strong.”
The CEO also talked up prospects for his biggest money maker: ESPN. Disney’s recent investment in Major League Baseball’s BAMTech streaming technology platform offers “a great way for us to move ESPN and other Disney assets” to digital.
ESPN plans a service that will offer “complementary products” for fans of sports to which the channel has licensed video rights, but doesn’t have airtime to show.
“It should not be a one-size-fits-all,” Iger says. “Where the market could be going is buying very selectively a specific sport and maybe a specific date” especially for “fans who don’t want to buy another bundle of sports rights.”