Bob Chapek, who’s had a turbulent tenure heading Disney, was on a “charm tour” working to rebrand himself over the weekend. At the D23 Expo in Anaheim – the three-day event where some 140,000 people gathered to see Disney stars, hear about upcoming movies, and new theme park rides – he “shook hundreds of hands from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, heaped praise on stars in behind-the-scenes schmooze sessions, according to the New York Times. He even gave several 15-minute, on-the-record interviews. “He hasn't done a lot of press, so this was kind of an occasion,” says Kim Masters who attended the event and talked to Chapek. Masters and Matt Belloni discuss what this image reboot means for Disney and Chapek.
Chapek’s PR effort has radically improved
Kim: [Chapek] looked spiffy. He was wearing this new beard, [as if] somebody's paid more attention to the tailoring on the clothes. His PR effort has radically improved in recent weeks.
Matt: He's got more to talk about now that they are definitely leaning into an image reboot. The financials of Disney are pretty good, especially compared to Netflix and some of the other companies right now. Wall Street seems to be valuing these more diversified media companies, a little bit more than they do the all-in on streaming valuation that we've seen over the past few years. The parks are absolutely printing money, and movie theaters are coming back.
There is a narrative that Bob Chapek would like to put out there that is very different from this embattled CEO that he has been tagged with over the first three years of his tenure. He's got a new deal. He's kind of really starting to put his fingerprints on this company, and I think we're going to start to see more announcements to that effect.
It’s not just pure play Disney
Kim: The big question that people have brought up was, “Is there a transformative vision?” Bob Iger really added so many things: Pixar, Lucas Films, Fox. [He] changed the company, whereas it doesn't feel like that's quite where we are right now with Disney.
But Chapek was asked, “What about Hulu? What about ESPN?” and there had been some pressure on him by Dan Loeb, the activist-investor, to get rid of some things. He made it clear, he doesn't intend to do that. It's not so much pure play Disney, like the company only doing what Disney does, as some would have argued for, but a more diverse company.
Matt: It doesn't seem like they're going to spin off ESPN as some had hoped.
The industry trend: integration
Matt: It seems like we're headed for an integration of Hulu within the larger Disney+ app, which seems to be an industry trend right now. Warner Bros. Discovery is combining HBO Max, Discovery+. Showtime and Paramount are coming together in one Paramount+ app where you'll have a title that you can pay an extra charge for Showtime. That is key because it increases this friction where people won't stay within your ecosystem if they have to go outside of it to log into another app. And I think we're going to see that with Disney very soon.
So there are things that he's doing that are coming from the Chapek worldview rather than the Iger worldview. It's just not that big transformative move that a lot of people were wondering if he had something up his sleeve, at least not yet.
“Can you do that on a streamer?”
Kim: I asked him about this idea of trying to launch franchises and things that spawn the kind of thing that a company like Disney needs with theme parks, cruise ships, these huge attractions. “Can you do that on a streamer?” And he said yes, but he cited “Encanto.”
“Encanto” was released in theaters, [and] he said it was a disappointment until it got to the streamer. But of course, the question would be, “If ‘Encanto’ hadn't been in theaters, even if people at that point weren't ready to go because of the pandemic, would it have turned into this kind of phenomenon that then became?”
Matt: I would argue the answer is probably no. But maybe he has a different worldview. It's just that he couldn't cite an example to compare it against something that was huge without theater, so that's still an open question.
Chapek “feels that he is coming into his own”
Kim: I also pushed him on his conflict with Scarlett Johansson, which he said it's all good now. He's great with CAA. He was very upbeat about all of that, so it seems at least that he feels that he is coming into his own.