Iger: 'Improvement on the advertising front'

Disney CEO also talks Marvel, film business

NEW YORK -- Advertisers are paying broadcast scatter ad market rates that are 25%-plus above upfront levels, Walt Disney Co. president and CEO Bob Iger said here Wednesday, a day after CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves mentioned the 25% figure.

Appearing on the final day of the 37th annual UBS Global Media & Communications Conference, Iger referred to Moonves' comment and said Disney has had a "similar experience," with some ABC scatter inventory even selling for prices higher than that.

Overall, Disney continues to see "improvement on the advertising front," but "visibility isn't all that great," he said in echoing comments from many of his peers who spoke this week at the UBS gathering, which is the longest-running media conference on Wall Street.

Asked why Disney has invested billions for acquisitions in the motion picture business via such deals as Pixar and Marvel at a time when film is a tough business, Iger expressed confidence in his team's ability to manage things right.

But he did acknowledge that the movie business in general is "more challenging today than it's been in a long time."

Asked after his appearance about his interest in MGM, Iger said Disney will look at it, but it won't be a priority given the company has its hands full already.

Like many of his peers, Iger was asked on stage about the future of retransmission fees.

He said there will be carriage negotiations with distributors in 2010, and retrans fees will get more focus.

"We derive huge value from our stations, and (distributors) derive huge value from our stations," Iger said, adding "we should get paid for that." While Disney traditionally saw retrans as part of overall carriage payments, but it will now be a more specific focus given a push in that direction across the industry.

Iger also spent some time Wednesday morning discussing the recent agreement to acquire Marvel, saying Disney wants to "put a spotlight on the name Marvel that is much brighter than today."

He explained that while Marvel is a well-known brand, there "hasn't been all that much focus on growing that brand" given the different interests of studios that have so far used some of its characters.

Iger also once again expressed confidence in the potential to develop lesser-known Marvel characters with the help of good scripts and directors, pointing to the increased prominence of "Iron Man" thanks to the Jon Favreau movie as an example.

Handling lesser-known characters right could lead to "potential surprises" and new franchises, Iger argued.

He also said Disney can test characters' appeal via TV series on Disney XD or Web content without immediately spending a blockbuster budget on a film.

Iger also said it would be "just fine" for Disney if Sony keeps making "Spider-Man" movies given that Marvel handles the licensing for them and has a big character library.

Watching Iger from the audience were Jay Rasulo and Tom Staggs who Disney recently said are swapping their roles of theme parks unit head and CFO. For new CFO Rasulo, this is his first-ever UBS conference visit.