Disney's Bob Iger on Economic Recovery & the FCC

After Disney reported its fiscal second quarter resultsI spoke exclusively with CEO Bob Iger, who is optimistic about what the company's results indicate about economic recovery.

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Perhaps most notable, Iger cautioned the government to be cautious and restrained in its regulation of the Internet.

After the Federal Communications Commission proposed last week to assume new regulatory authority over the Internet, I asked Iger what's best for Disney as it looks to grow its digital revenues.

Iger didn't mince any words, saying "We would hope and urge the government to proceed with caution when they consider or apply regulation to the medium."

On one hand Disney wants the FCC to be able to filter out pirated content, which stricter Internet regulation will enable. But Iger also said, "sometimes the best way to create growth is to allow the marketplace create it through normal circumstances." And Iger is focused on growing digital revenues, pointing to positive signs this past quarter -- digital sales at ESPN grew 30 percent last quarter and new gadgets mean new opportunities. Iger said he's "stunned by some of the rates" the company's been able to charge for ads on iPad aps.

One factor putting pressure on the stock after hours -- the theme park division, where operating income fell 12 percent. But Iger defended the parks performance and pointed to the promise of long-term growth. The parks took the necessary step of phasing out discounts and promotions that kept attendance stable through the downturn. That's hurting now, but the company says it expects to get pricing and margins back up to prior levels by next year.

And Iger's confident that more people will take vacations at the parks this summer than last summer, despite fewer discounts. I suggested that the parks are a good barometer of consumer spending, and Iger responded that it's the economy that's a good predictor of parks, performance, saying that the parks lag the recovery because of the fact that people book vacations months in advance.

Iger has no doubt that the worst of the economic downturn is behind us, but he also says that American consumers are suffering from a hangover. "I think there was also a fair amount of damage done to the American psyche, and that takes some time to recover from. So I think that while circumstances are better-- and you see that with certain metrics -- I think the recover is going to be gradual an not happen all at once."

The downturn in economic spending hasn't hurt Disney's studio performance -- more on that and the ad rebound in my next blog.

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