Disney CEO Bob Iger Says Fox Deal to Close "Soon"

Bob Iger - Getty - H 2018
Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for The Walt Disney Family Museum

The exec told the studio's annual shareholders meeting that the combined company will "hit the ground running" when the industry-rattling merger is completed.

As The Walt Disney Co. endeavors to wrap up the final elements of its industry-rattling merger with 21st Century Fox, chairman and CEO Bob Iger on Thursday said he expected the blockbuster transaction to close "soon."

"Our new corporate structure is designed to integrate these assets and maximize their long-term value. We will hit the ground running as soon as the deal closes," the exec said at The Walt Disney Co.'s annual shareholders meeting in St. Louis.

Disney is paying $71.3 billion for most of Fox, including the film and TV studio, FX, National Geographic, an additional 30 percent of Hulu — bringing Disney's stake to 60 percent — and more, though not the Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network. Iger made no mention of possible layoffs to follow the closing of the Fox deal.

Disney is about to combine 20th Century Fox's film units with Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Disney Animation Studios and Disney's own live-action productions. The marquee Fox franchises that Disney is set to inherit include James Cameron's Avatar series, while Fox superhero properties such as X-Men and Deadpool are likely headed to Marvel Studios.

During prepared remarks to shareholders, Iger also focused on Disney's upcoming Netflix-like streaming service and its theme park operations. The studio boss announced that Disney’s new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge attraction will open May 31 at Disneyland in Anaheim and Aug. 29 at Walt Disney World in Florida.

During his presentation, Iger addressed the studio's ESPN+ and Disney+ digital streaming services as its answer to the growing audience for streaming content and a declining base of subscribers for its linear TV channels. "Building our direct-to-consumer business remains one of our top priorities," said the exec, as he pointed to ESPN+ having passed the 2 million subscriber mark since launching last April.

"The success of ESPN+ certainly bodes well for our Disney+ service, which will launch later this year," Iger added. The emergence of its digital streamers comes amid seismic shifts in the entertainment industry with the rise of streaming services like Netflix and growing competition for ad dollars from digital giants Facebook and Google.

Disney shareholder meetings typically include a sizzle-reel opening of new film footage. This year's clips featured The Lion King, Angelina Jolie's Maleficent 2, Dumbo, Aladdin and Toy Story 4. The studio's 2019 slate includes Avengers: Endgame, Frozen 2 and Star Wars Episode: IX.

Earlier, during the business portion of the meeting, all nine proposed nominees for the Disney board of directors — Susan Arnold, Iger, Mary Barra, Maria Elena Lagomasino, Safra Catz, Mark Parker, Francis deSouza, Derica Rice and Michael Froman — were elected following a shareholders vote.

Investors also approved an advisory proposal for executive compensation at Disney. Ahead of the meeting, Disney's board cut Iger's compensation package by a potential $13.5 million.

Shareholders also voted down two proxy proposals on cybersecurity and data privacy and transparency for lobbying efforts by the studio.

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, Iger addressed a shareholder question amid the blackface controversy in Virginia about The View co-host Joy Behar having worn blackface in an unearthed photo and Jimmy Kimmel having done the same in a comedy bit.

"We don't condone the use of blackface under any circumstances in our world today. We take into account context when we become aware of people who have been in blackface in public. And the specific incidents you raised we chose to deal with privately. We did not feel it required any particular comment, nor do we have anything to say about what actions we may have taken in that regard," the exec answered.

"I just would put it out there that you are the most powerful man in Hollywood, and so your public statements do mean a lot," the shareholder then insisted. "I think that's a compliment," Iger responded, before the questioner agreed it was.

The Disney boss also took a question from an investor from Arizona who had attended 12 earlier annual shareholder meetings and asked if she and Iger could have lunch when she was next in Los Angeles in June. "I'm looking at my team here," Iger said, before adding, "We can negotiate that."

He also gave an update on Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer possibly making National Treasure 3 after two previous National Treasure movies were made under an earlier first-look deal with Disney. Iger said Bruckheimer "would like to make a third movie, and I know that discussions about that film have gone on, probably since 2016, with our studio. But I know they have not greenlit such a film."