Bob Iger Discusses Disney Parks Pricing, Accessibility & Future Plans
Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke at the the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference on March 9, 2023 in San Francisco. The event is billed as a place to learn about the trends reshaping the technology, media and telecom landscape with new insights.
Iger did exactly that during his interview. During that, he explained how the world’s largest entertainment company is evolving its approach to streaming, and why he undid his predecessor’s restructuring. Iger spent a large portion of the interview discussing Disney+ and the potential Hulu acquisition; programming on linear television; the power of sports, value of ESPN, and inevitability of betting; as well as revenue from subscribers, advertisers, and the impact of competition in Disney’s businesses.
Iger also outlined his vision for the future, including what to expect from Disney+ and the company going forward. Most notable for our Walt Disney World and Disneyland-centric audience, Iger discussed his priorities for the parks. The interviewer opened this segment of the discussion as having investors anxious because the theme parks are overearning (a refrain from the ‘Restore the Magic’ campaign).
Iger started by praising the parks for their resiliency. He discussed how they had performed well coming out of the pandemic, but also post-9/11 and during the Great Recession. (He later mentioned that Disney wasn’t recession-proof, but is pretty close to it.) Iger also covered how well Walt Disney World and Disneyland have bounced back, and said this wasn’t just in the United States, but globally. Shanghai Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and other destinations are all doing extremely well according to Iger.
On the over-earnings front, Iger stated that he’s “always believed that Disney was a brand that needed to be accessible.” He added that under the Chapek regime, there was a “zeal to grow profits [that] may have been a little bit too aggressive about some of our pricing. I think there’s a way to continue to grow that business but be smarter about how we price so that we maintain that brand value of accessibility.”
Recently, he’s brought this up while noting that measures have already been taken to make the parks more accessible–presumably referring to an increase in the cheapest single-day park tickets and rolling back of hotel parking fees.
One of the things I find most amusing about Iger’s interviews since returning as CEO is how carefully yet clearly he throws Chapek under the bus. It’s really impressive. There’s also a sense of plausible deniability–as if Iger is carefully skirting a non-disparagement agreement–but it’s so obvious to anyone who knows the story.
Iger also mentioned that Disney took certain steps when he came back to improve guest satisfaction and undo some of this damage, noting that these changes “resonated extremely well with consumers. And we’re not only going to continue to listen to consumers, but we’re going to continue to adjust.”
He hinted that more changes like this are on the horizon, without offering specifics. Iger simply said that Disney will continue to listen to guests and make adjustments based on feedback.
He also discussed striking the right balance between accessibility and crowds. Iger reiterated past remarks by Chapek and Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro that some of the initiatives at Walt Disney World and Disneyland have been done to “protect” the guest experience and ensure that the parks are not too crowded.
“It’s tempting to let more people into the parks…but if guest satisfaction is going down because of crowding, it doesn’t work. We had to figure out how we reduce crowding but maintain profitability, and we did that well,” Iger said in reference to park reservations and the approach to yield management by Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Iger also diverged from Chapek’s stock answer to this type of question, noting the need to be “careful” when dealing with capacity and pricing, as consumer sentiment can sour. He acknowledged that pricing or “features” could be viewed as too aggressive or alienating by guests. With that exception, Iger mostly stuck to the stript that would sound familiar to anyone who read our post about why Disney Doesn’t Actually Want Lower Crowds.
Iger briefly touched upon plans for the future, and reiterated his bullishness on parks. We discussed all of this in great length in Bob Iger Wants Big Expansions at Walt Disney World & Disneyland. He made it sound like additions in Florida and outside of the United States were both a given.
Most interestingly, Iger said there were “more opportunities” in California at Disneyland than most people were aware. Although he didn’t directly mention it by name, it would seem that Iger might’ve been referring to DisneylandForward, the proposed zoning initiative. It’s also possible he was hinting at the redevelopment of Tomorrowland, expansion to Fantasyland, or the second phase of Avengers Campus.
All of those are very real possibilities that are or have been on the table, sort of proving Iger’s point that there are plenty of opportunities at Disneyland Resort. If even two of those things happen during the next development cycle, that’ll be huge for Disneyland Resort.
Iger mentioned again that the company is planning on building an Avatar experience at Disneyland, but declined to provide additional details about the substance and nature of this. (See our latest update on the Avatar Experience Coming to Disneyland for the latest on that–nothing new on that.)
Iger also noted that as Disney continues to invest in the theme parks, the company will “essentially building out new capacity or new attractions, it gives us the ability to, one, service more people. The more attractions you have, obviously, the more people have to do.”
He also indicated that theme park expansions give Disney an opportunity to “mine our IP more effectively.” Iger added that the streaming and film franchises that perform well are also “truly leverageable at the parks level” as has previously been learned with the investments made in themed lands for Star Wars, Avatar, and Toy Story.
Iger said that this creates growth for Disney because it increases capacity and it improves marketability. With that, he said that Disney has “opportunity that is almost endless, but we obviously don’t have endless amounts of capital.” He added that Walt Disney World and Disneyland do have almost endless opportunity for growth if the parks are priced right, marketed well, and managed properly. Iger concluded: “It’s a business that, obviously, we’re betting on. I would bet on it.”
Ultimately, nothing really new here from Bob Iger out of the Morgan Stanley TMT Conference. He repeated familiar phrases and sentiment, including some that was common from Bob Chapek. The key distinction is one of balance. Chapek was not necessarily wrong with his comments about guest demand and pricing, but that seemed to be his singular focus. Chapek’s statements often had an arrogant, ‘fans can pound sand if they don’t like it‘ attitude to them.
Iger also discusses the business realities of the Walt Disney Company, but appears to be more keen on finding solutions other than just raising prices. He’s clearly concerned about the guest experience, and this is now the second time he’s discussed the need to grow capacity by building out the parks. His concluding remarks, which may not translate as well to text, were also reassuring, as he emphasized his willingness to bet on the theme parks and their potential for future growth.
From my perspective, Iger and Josh D’Amaro both saying the same things about expansion and future developments reinforces that there are substantive plans, and it’s not just posturing or hollow hype. Nothing new came out of this conference, but consistently repeating the same goals, ambitions, and willingness to bet big on building new lands certainly suggests that there’s something on the horizon. Here’s hoping we hear official announcements and actual specifics soon.
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Did you watch Disney CEO Bob Iger’s interview during the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference? Thoughts on anything he said–or didn’t say? Thoughts on his comments about crowds, price increases, high demand, reservations, Cast Members, or anything else? Are you worried about the future of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or the company in general? Think things will improve or get worse throughout this year? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I appreciate what Bob Iger is trying to convey, but he’s (theoretically) a lame duck CEO, so it’s hard to see anything substantial being made official until the next CEO is in place. Or maybe I am conflating lame duck CEOs with lame duck presidents?
As a Singapore citizen who had read and seen various temporary Disney exhibits and events here in Singapore, I hope they will build Disneyland in Singapore or Malaysia (Melaka is a good choice) soon where many people from Southeast Asia, India and Australia can visit at shorter distance. I hope also that the poor and those who have flight phobia around the world will all have access to Disneyland in their lifetime. My idea is to build mini Disneylands in Brazil, Kenya, Dubai, India and Australia around this decade, and then see if enough visitors will make it worth the expansion.
The wonderful thing about Disney is it’s NOT available so readily.