Just moments after Disney reported better-than expected results I sat down with CEO Bob Iger to hear his outlook.
Strength at ESPN and stronger advertising sent the Media Networks revenue higher than expected, while higher traffic and higher prices at the parks propelled that division's operating income 33 percent higher.
Advertising was stronger at ESPN and ABC, but Iger warned that things have slowed in the last three weeks. When it comes to consumer spending, the parks tell a more optimistic story. Iger points out that the company is successfully weaning people off discounts and said fourth quarter bookings are up slightly. But Iger hinted that may have less to do with the economy than with the product, saying simply: people want to go to the parks.
The idea that people are willing to pay for high quality was a recurring theme. Iger told me there was no indication of cable companies or consumers pushing back to ESPN's higher prices simply because ESPN provides so much value, so much more than it did a decade or even a few years ago.
There's no question, Iger sees the biggest growth opportunities overseas. He told me that now for the first time the infrastructure is in place for the company to really expand its reach in developing countries.
He pointed to the theme park in the works in Shanghai, a pending TV acquisition in India and a new TV venture in Russia. Disney wants to stand for family entertainment and Iger tells me there's great opportunity in the fact that many of these regions don't have a brand for Disney to compete with.
Why was Hulu pulled off the auction block?
Iger punted, saying it wasn't entirely his decision. But now that Disney, along with NBC Universal (the parent company of CNBC) and News Corp are holding on to it, Iger says there's revenue to be mined there. He was far more enthusiastic when it came to talking about the slew of digital deals Disney's made recently, with YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon. He said he has no fear of cannibalization, but rather sees it as a great way to engage customers and of course monetize existing content. In the interactive division, revenue grew 19 percent and losses declined.
IGER ON THE RECORD
Disney's media company rivals have been returning equity to shareholders with dividends and share buybacks. Disney pays a dividend every year, but hasn't made a decision yet about whether to boost its revenue — the board will decide in a few weeks.
Iger's working on a ticking clock: why did he announce he's leaving the CEO role in 2015? He says the announcement was all about ensuring a smooth succession process. And why's he leaving? After a decade as CEO, Iger doesn't want to over-stay his welcome.
Iger shared some personal thoughts on the impact Steve Jobs had on the company, and on his performance as a CEO. He called him a "great advisor and great teacher." Iger praised Jobs' attention to detail, reverence for the creative process, and for engaging the intersection between technology and the humanities.
He also weighed in on some political issues. He found the Republican debate on CNBC "entertaining." As to Occupy Wall Street, Iger was respectful, saying that people are clearly "dissatisfied" and out of work, saying "we should be mindful of that."
Check out my taped interview with Iger (video, above) following our live conversation.
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