Disney CEO Bob Iger Deems 'Star Wars: Rogue One' "an Experiment, of Sorts"

THR Bob Iger 9914_02_0218_Splash_Iger - H 2016
Joe Pugliese

THR Bob Iger 9914_02_0218_Splash_Iger - H 2016

He also said the film studio recently heard a pitch from the director of a ninth 'Star Wars' film due in 2019.

While some major film studios seem constantly to be looking for co-financiers to assume some of the risk of making expensive movies, Disney has no interest in such maneuvering, CEO Bob Iger said Wednesday.

"We don't need money," he said. "We're in the business of taking big risks ... outside money is of absolutely no interest to us."

Iger said at a conference in New York that ditching Miramax and Touchstone early in his tenure, which started more than a decade ago, in order to focus on branded franchise films has proven a "phenomenal" strategy.

He said that when he took over as CEO, returns on the entire movie industry "were not impressive ... too many movies were being made, too many bets being made, too much money being spent." Iger's theory was fewer but even bigger bets, hence the purchases of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.

Regarding the latter, he said the film studio recently heard a pitch from the director of a ninth Star Wars film due in 2019 and a writer is developing another for 2020.

Iger called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story "an experiment, of sorts," given it is a stand-alone film and not part of the Luke Skywalker saga. "This is a moment in time, and we've loved what we've seen," he said. Rogue One, set to open Dec. 16, went through extensive reshoots over the summer and recently replaced its musical composer.

The global box-office average of each of the 29 films Disney made since its acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm is "a hair under $800 million," said Iger. "We figured out how to improve the odds of making good films." 

The CEO said a recent $1 billion investment in Major League Baseball's streaming technology company, BAMTech, made sense given Disney's goal of making ESPN more mobile. ESPN, he said, has a "treasure trove of digital rights for 99 percent of the sports it covers."

Disney is readying a new digital version of ESPN that analysts are calling "ESPN lite," and Iger described it Wednesday as an "add-on product." He said that it will be highly personalized, perhaps even offering consumers the ability to purchase coverage of a single sport for a specific weekend.

Disney purchased 33 percent of BAMTech last month and Iger said it will be used to deliver other Disney content to mobile devices beyond sports on the ESPN stand-alone service that probably will launch next year.

Iger, though, dedicated most of Wednesday's presentation at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia 2016 Conference to theme parks, noting that the consumer is "healthy" in the U.S. and that the park that opened recently in Shanghai, China, is booming.