Disney CEO Bob Iger Rules Out Rebrand for Fox Searchlight

"We don't have any plans right now to change what they do," the studio boss told a shareholders meeting in Houston.

Disney CEO Bob Iger on Thursday said Fox Searchlight, which had recent Oscar success with best picture winner The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, will remain the same company should the studio complete a deal to acquire 21st Century Fox assets.

"We don't have any plans right now to change what they do. Frankly, we think they're doing just fine," he told the Walt Disney's Co.'s annual shareholders meeting in Houston.

"We have every intention, once the acquisition is approved, to maintain the business of Fox Searchlight. We think they're in the business of making high-quality films, recognized often by the Academy and all the Oscars that they've won. And we think there's ample opportunity for us as a company to continue to support those efforts," Iger added.

The annual investors meeting was for the most part without drama on Thursday, with the exception of one investor at the end of the Q&A claiming ESPN was a "24/7 anti-Trump tirade channel." Iger said little beyond noting ESPN's Jemele Hill had been disciplined after tweeting against President Donald Trump.

After concluding the official business at Disney's annual investors meeting, which included the studio electing 10 board members and voting down two shareholder proposals, Iger touted Disney's overall deal to nab big parts of 21st Century Fox in an all-stock deal worth $52.4 billion, or approximately $66.1 billion when including debt.

"Our pending acquisition of 21st Century Fox will expand our ability to drive long-term value as an extraordinary entertainment company with the content, the platforms and the reach to meet the growing demands of consumers around the world," the exec told shareholders.

Aylwin B. Lewis, chair of the Disney board’s compensation committee, said in a statement that the acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets prompted the board to keep Iger on as chairman and CEO through 2021 "to provide the vision and proven leadership required to successfully complete and integrate the largest, most complex acquisition in the company’s history."

Iger said Disney's forthcoming direct-to-consumer streaming service will launch in late 2019, and he touted an earlier announcement of Lucasfilm hiring Emmy-nominated producer and actor Jon Favreau to executive produce and write a live-action Star Wars series for the digital platform.

Headed by OTT programming chief Agnes Chu, the as-yet-unnamed streaming service set to compete against Netflix is expected to be a home for family-friendly fare including Marvel feature films and TV series and a possible reboot of The Muppets. Disney is ending a distribution agreement with Netflix beginning with the 2019 theatrical slate to launch the direct-to-consumer streamer.

The Hollywood studio also plans to launch an ESPN streaming service later this year.

Iger also talked about Disney and Marvel's superhero movie Black Panther, already a critical and commercial hit, calling it a "true movie masterpiece" that is shattering box-office records. Beyond its financial returns, the exec said Black Panther has "created an authentic cultural moment that is sparking reflection and driving conversations ... I've never seen anything like the reaction we're getting to Black Panther." Iger also predicted Black Panther would surpass $1 billion globally in box office by the end of this weekend.

The Disney boss also unveiled a behind-the-scenes look at Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is set to hit theaters May 25. Shareholders were also treated to sneak peeks at select footage for Avengers: Infinity War, due out April 27; The Incredibles 2, director Brad Bird's sequel to the 2004 hit, which is set to bow June 15; and Mary Poppins Returns, which is slated for a Christmas release.

On a personal note, Iger touted a book he is writing about his 44 years at the Mouse House, which is due out in 2019, and responded to a shareholder question by confirming that he does wake before sun-up each morning for "quiet time" and to arrive at the office early.

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