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Bob Iger Is Back at Disney


Disgruntled theme-park enthusiasts and conservative Florida politicos couldn’t take Bob Chapek down as Walt Disney’s (NYSE: DIS) CEO. It was the ire of Disney shareholders — possibly sparked by CNBC’s Jim Cramer — that finally did the trick.

Disney announced on Sunday night that Bob Iger will be back at the helm of the media giant. He will serve as CEO for the next two years, helping refocus the strategic direction for renewed growth at the House of Mouse. He will also work on finding a successor, ideally one who pans out better than Chapek did during his tenure of nearly three years.

Cramer, on CNBC less than two weeks ago, suggested that Chapek should be cut loose after another poorly received financial update. Someone was listening. Disney needs a spark, and Iger is a great choice to get consumers and investors excited about the stock again.

Bob Iger at the opening of Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida.

Image source: Disney.

Bobbing for Bobs

Iger handed the reins to Chapek after 15 years at the top. History won’t be kind when it reflects on the Chapek era, but hopefully it’s framed in a fair light. Chapek was put in a difficult situation. He was asked to lead the company on Feb. 25, 2020. Within a month he would be shuttering its theme parks, mooring its cruise ships, and ending theatrical distribution of its popular films.

When Disney’s gated attractions did reopen –four months later in Florida and 13 months later in California — it would be with health and staffing mandates to keep turnstile clicks in check. Disney had to dramatically improve monetization per guest, and it did exactly that by boosting per-capita revenue by 40% over the past three years. The end result was record financial results for the segment, but diehard Disney World and Disneyland fans weren’t happy to be playing the role of the “per capita” in that success story.

Earlier this year, Chapek was egged on to take a political stance in Florida. It was a no-win situation. Silence was not an option. Speaking out would make Disney a target despite not necessarily being any more “woke” than every other major media empire out there.

He wasn’t perfect, but let’s not dismiss him as a failure just by eyeing a stock chart. Disney shares have fallen 28% since he was tapped as Iger’s replacement. The S&P 500 has risen 27% in that time. That’s a bad look, but have you seen how its peers have fared in that same timeframe? Things aren’t pretty.

The entire basket of stocks has been a mess, and Comcast would probably be down a lot more than 20% if not for its all-weather broadband connectivity business, as its cable communications segment accounts for the lion’s share of its revenue. The NBCUniversal appendage that is the best match to Disney’s studio, broadcasting, and theme parks business is a smaller part of the business. Meanwhile, CBS and Viacom parent Paramount Global are performing roughly in line with the House of Mouse. And Warner Bros. Discovery is a good proxy for Disney, as it has a strong presence in streaming and studios. It also owns DC, the other major superhero factory that’s not Disney’s Marvel Comics. The company has shed more than half of its value since being spun off as its own stock in April.

I’m not cherry-picking stocks here. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is down 26% since Feb. 25, 2020. Disney is roughly in line with its industry. That doesn’t excuse a CEO’s performance, but you can’t fault the leader in the corner office when an entire industry is out of favor.

Chapek got Disney through the pandemic. He took Disney+ to 164.2 million subscribers, and you don’t do that without profit-slurping investments in content and international expansion. He performed so well in some regards that the board of directors chose to extended Chapek’s tenure through 2025, a decision that will definitely cost it an expensive golden parachute now.

Iger is the right hire for Disney right now. He’s the best choice to fix the mess that the bellwether for entertainment stocks finds itself in at this juncture. He’ll get the chance that Chapek never had to do right by everybody.

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Rick Munarriz has positions in Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. and recommends the following options: long January 2024 $145 calls on Walt Disney and short January 2024 $155 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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