Hours after it was announced that Bob Iger was extending his tenure as Disney’s Chairman and CEO by one year, he was interviewed by his wife Willow Bay who was recently named the Dean of USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. She asked him about his strategy, technology, his future, and more. Here is a brief summary of their discussion.
When asked about advice he gives to his team, Bob said that he tells them to never spend all of your time in either the present or the future. You have to spend time on both. When it comes to how he decides to spend his time, he asks himself where he can bring value through either mentorship, leadership, or creative insight.
But when he makes a choice, he does have a tie breaker. Due to strength of team, he said that he is able to spend time on things he enjoys as well. If he had the choice of seeing a cut of The Last Jedi or having a meeting on benefits, he will pick the former.
When asked what is fun for him, Bob mentioned that he loves engaging with technology. An example of this is that on Tuesday, he was able to test a virtual lightsaber duel technology. He also enjoys the creative process which can be frustrating, but rewarding. He also appreciates walking through the theme parks watching people enjoying what Disney created.
— Chris Smith (@CHSmithPhD) March 23, 2017
Willow mentioned that he has engaged more in the creative side of the business in recent year. When asked about that Iger said that everyone has creative instincts, but fewer are able to articulate what they like or didn’t like and why. Once Disney established what there strategic priorities he was able to spend more time on the creative side. While it might not seem that way, Iger said that executing strategy is harder than developing it as you have to do it well or the strategy is meaningless.
He was asked about his decision to focus on big brands. Iger said that technology allowed for a lot more distribution of creative works. There was an explosion of choice. But he believes that in a sea of choices, well executed brands will stand taller. To prove his point he mentioned that in 2016 there were over 700 movies made in 2016. Disney made 10, but they had 20% of the global box office. When there are many options, people gravitate to what is popular.
Regarding the rise of social media, Bob says it is a powerful tool for marketing. Disney is able to release a trailer online for virtually no cost instead of spending much more on TV ads. (Though they still buy TV ads). But social media means you can’t hide creative failure as word spreads quickly. It puts more pressure on making sure they get “it” right. Bob knew on Friday morning that Beauty and the Beast would be successful due to social media reaction.
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) March 24, 2017
Speaking of social media, Bob Iger recently joined Twitter saying it was effective for a certain President. Willow said that those pre-dawn tweets President Trump is known for will not be happing in their household. Bob felt it would be a good tool to communicate with Disney’s employees and their consumers. He says the nastiness on Twitter is good for him as it will keep him humble.
As any Disney conversation does, this one eventually turned to Star Wars. Originally they planned to make 3 Star Wars films following the acquisition but that they have expanded their vision. Speaking of the next installment, Iger said The Last Jedi is “quite good.” He said he watches dailies on his laptop under the covers as they have teenage boys at home. Iger did mention the tragedy of losing Carrie Fisher whom he says appears thought The Last Jedi. Lucasfilm will not be making changes to the film due to her passing. He reiterated what Lucasfilm previously announced that they will not be digitally recreating Carrie Fisher in the future.
On happier topics, they are currently shooting the Han Solo original story which will feature the hero from age 18 to 24. You will see him “acquireing a certain vehicle, meeting a certain Wookie, and discover how he got his name.” Looking to the future of Star Wars, they have started talking about how they will handle Star Wars after Episode IX. Lucasfilm currently thinking about the next decade and a half of Star Wars films.
Mark Hamil is a supporter of USC, so Willow pressured Bob into featuring a lot of him in the future Star Wars films. Bob said Hamil was very excited to be in The Force Awakens so he envisions Hamil getting the script and realizing that he doesn’t say anything and only appears for a matter of seconds. Iger did give Hamil fans comfort by saying that he does have a big role in The Last Jedi with a lot of talking.
Turning to Iger’s pride and joy, Willow asked about the construction of Shanghai Disneyland. Bob said building the park was difficult as they had to deal with regulations and logistics. As much in Shanghai is “cookie cutter,” it was a challenge to have the unique buildings of their theme parks built in China. Speaking on how the park became “authentically Disney, yet distinctly Chinese,” when Disney first talked to Shanghai, they wanted Disneyland. But Bob felt that it had to speak to the people of China. For example, the Main Street of the domestic parks wouldn’t resonate in China so they removed it and give the park its own unique experience. Disney also brought in many Chinese artisans to contribute to the park so the park could feel authentic.
At the parks they use technology to improve the storytelling but also the guest experience through things like the mobile app. Bob said that at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean is a great attraction but that the figures are expressionless and the boat doesn’t give an authentic experience. He said in Shanghai they could do better. They use advanced projection technology as well as a magnet technology to propel the boats. He also spoke highly of the Tron coaster. Their Christmas card was Bob riding the coaster with their youngest son.
While VR may be the latest entertainment fad, he advised his teams to not create VR experiences at the parks. They can augment the experience, but he believes the reality is integral to the theme park experience.
With Pandora just a few months from opening he spoke about the technology of the Avatar: Flight of Passage attraction. According to Iger, you can feel the heat and breathing of the banshee. They have also spent a lot of time and money working on robotics to improve expressions as seen in the shaman figure in Pandora.
Looking beyond Pandora, Bob has ridden a simulation of the Millennium Falcon ride coming to the Star Wars lands. He said it is “really good.”
Of course, Willow could not let her husband go without addressing the news of the day that Bob would be staying one year longer than what was previously announced. Bob said that he and the Board felt that they could use more time on succession, but he is serious “this time” about leaving in 2019.
Despite whispers that Iger is considering running for political office, when asked about life after Disney, Bob said that he hasn’t thought much about it, but that there is a big world of opportunity out there.