Even before the surprise return of Bob Iger in November, the Walt Disney Company attracted the attention of corporate raiders. The first one was Dan Loeb, who had made a deal with Bob Chapek, who was then its CEO. But another couple of players are now in the mix: Nelson Peltz, an 80-year old, longtime dissident shareholder who buys positions in companies and tries to get his ideas enacted and has launched a battle for a board seat at Disney, and also Ike Perlmutter. Kim Masters and Matt Belloni dissect what this means for Disney and Iger’s future at the company.
This segment has been edited for length and clarity.
Nelson Peltz’s bid for board seat
Kim Masters: Ike Perlmutter had been the CEO of Marvel Entertainment. He had sold that company to Disney, and eventually Bob Iger told him that Kevin Feige, who at that time ran Marvel Film would no longer report to him and then finally gave pretty much all of the Marvel control to Feige.
Iger wrote in his book, as has been reported, that Ike Perlmutter, this very quirky, tight fisted pistol packing, rich friend of Donald Trump had blocked the first Marvel movies with a Black cast that was “Black Panther,” and the first one with a female lead, which was “Captain Marvel.” So clearly, Ike Perlmutter might have some scores to settle.
And Nelson Peltz isn't usually known [for] being in the entertainment space and this time it was like, “What's he doing?” And then Ike Perlmutter’s involvement was revealed.
Matt Belloni: You can almost see these guys sitting around Mar-a-Lago or somewhere else in Palm Beach just complaining about Disney. Ike is a guy that holds grudges and he was very upset about being marginalized at Disney. He used to call Bob Iger in the mornings and discuss things and Bob Iger had to take his calls. This is the kind of thing where now he's gotten revenge. He's this guy who bought up $900 million worth of stock via his company, and is now wreaking havoc.
What is Disney going to do about this?
Belloni: The question is, “What is Disney going to do about this?” And how are they going to fend him off because they have a shareholder vote that's coming in March, and I'm pretty sure that when presented with the option of backing Bob Iger or backing Nelson Peltz, the shareholders are probably going to back Bob Iger and reject this effort to get on the board.
Peltz is not going away
Belloni: But that only buys [Iger] time. He's to turn this company around. The stock was down 45% in 2022. That's why these corporate raiders come out of the woodwork.
And if the stock doesn't start to improve, and we don't start to see action on the succession front, and all these other issues that Nelson Peltz has raised, he's not going to go away. He's going to keep standing on whatever soapbox he can stand on to cause problems for Disney and Iger.
Masters: It's a distraction. These guys started this fight when Bob Chapek was in the chair.
Disney will fight back
Masters: [But] Disney has pointed out, they're going to fight this as aggressively as they can. They pointed out this whole sector in media has been challenged by events, including the pandemic, and, of course, the digital pandemic. [Peltz] didn't mention the pandemic. And he's not really asking for that much specifically, except, “Let me be on the board and I can make it better.” Disney has basically mocked him.
They will not go away, and the irony is just as Iger is trying to deal with all of these challenges, as all the companies are, he's got to be distracted by these two 80-year old raters making noise.
Iger wants to talk about the future
Belloni: It's not what [Iger] wants to be talking about. He wants to put out that Bob Iger narrative where he's coming in with a cape on to rescue the company. And we've got this guy pointing out all the faults and claiming that he overpaid for Fox, which a lot of people are now talking about and saying, “Yeah, maybe he did overpay for Fox.” I happen to think that we haven't seen the benefits of a lot of those assets they got in the Fox transaction yet, and ultimately, it will bear fruit.
[Iger] doesn't want to be litigating his old deals. He wants to be talking about the future, and it's tough with these guys.
Masters: I'll just point out that Comcast drove up the price because they wanted to buy Fox and right now, Bob Iger has “Avatar,” which he got through that transaction. That's looking like a pretty good asset with more movies to come.