Some of Disney’s annual shareholder meetings over the years have brought high corporate drama, but today’s edition in Houston was more of a chance for celebration.
There was a brief business portion of the meeting, during which directors up for nomination were introduced. All of them were approved. The roster includes Susan E. Arnold; Mary T. Barra; Safra A. Catz; John S. Chen; Francis A. deSouza; the company’s chairman and CEO, Bob Iger; Maria Elena Lagomasino; Fred H. Langhammer; Aylwin B. Lewis; and Mark G. Parker.
Under Disney corporate governance guidelines, director Robert W. Matschullat did not stand for re-election. As previously disclosed, Facebook’s Sheryl K. Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey did not stand for re-election.
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Two shareholder proposals, one having to do with lobbying, the other to do with proxy access, were rejected.
With that business dispensed with, chairman and CEO Bob Iger took the stage for a broad discussion of the company’s streaming, film, TV and theme-park operations. During the Q&A portion, Iger was asked about plans for the film operations after the proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets closes. He said he was “rooting for Fox Searchlight” from his seat at last Sunday’s Oscars. Asked by a shareholder about plans for the specialty label, which is the subject of a lot of speculation in Hollywood, he said, “We have every intention of maintaining the operations at Fox Searchlight. … We don’t have any plans right now to change what they do.”
He also introduced new clips of the next Avengers outing, a behind-the-scenes video from Solo: A Star Wars Story and a first look at Incredibles 2. The videos were not part of the web stream of the meeting and were not immediately posted online.
Iger also affirmed Disney’s efforts to launch ESPN Plus, its new direct-to-consumer subscription service, and a Disney-branded OTT service in late 2019. No news was broken in that area, and many of Igers comments reaffirmed discussion on the company’s quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts last month. In the one major development since the call, he reflected on the breakout success of Black Panther, which he said could reach the $1 billion box office plateau as soon as this weekend.
“The real impact of this movie reaches far beyond the theater,” Iger said. In 44 years at the company, he added, “I’ve never seen anything like the reaction we’ve gotten.”
The final question during Q&A touched on a belief widely held in some conservative corners that ESPN and ABC have become left-wing propaganda outlets. The shareholder noted comments by former ESPN host and now online columnist Jemele Hill about President Donald Trump as well as those by View host Joy Behar about Vice President Mike Pence. “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you,” Behar said Feb. 13 on The View. “That’s different, that’s called mental illness.”
Iger said Behar “apologized to Mike Pence directly, which I thought was the right thing to do. She made a call to him and apologized. … I happen to take exception to what she said. It wasn’t right.” As to Hill, Iger pointed out that she was disciplined after her comments labeling Trump and his supporters “white supremacists.” In response to the larger complaint about bias, Iger said, “I don’t agree with all the things you said. But I respect your right to say them.”
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