Does Disney Have an Identity Crisis?
Things have been wild and, well, Woola at Walt Disney Studios this year. The ebullience felt over last weekend’s $200 million opening of The Avengers was tempered by the fact that the studio had to take a $200 million loss on March’sJohn Carter. Such a spectacular failure didn’t just highlight how dependent Disney has become on outside brands like Marvel, it also cost the studio chairman, Rich Ross, his job late last month.
But lost in all the media speculation and Hollywood chatter about who might replace the recently defenestrated chairman is a larger question that must be on the minds of potential candidates: What does “Disney” mean in 2012?
It is a brand that, almost since its founding in 1923, has become synonymous with family. But since he took over from Michael Eisner in 2005, Disney’s CEO Bob Iger has been busy spending billions of dollars to acquire costly pinch hitters that now threaten to eclipse the Mouse: $4 billion for Marvel in 2009; $7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006; the Muppets from the Jim Henson Company in 2004 for an undisclosed sum, said to be less than a quarter of a billion dollars.
“In a strange way,” Iger told Fortune magazine in a profile published yesterday, “I am the brand manager of Disney.” It’s a curious strategy that has paid off for Disney’s stock price, which has shot up 80 percent under Iger’s tenure, but it also seems to be taking a heavy toll on the Disney brand. As one rival studio chief puts it, “Bob Iger is the CEO of a company; Michael Eisner was the CEO ofDisney.”