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Disney CEO Bob Iger extends contract to 2026 as ESPN plans DTC future

Board hope to identify successor to continue company’s transition to streaming model.

13 Jul 2023 Steve McCaskill

Getty Images

  • Iger’s first spell in charge lasted 15 years from 2005
  • ESPN reportedly planning to go DTC in next few years

Disney chief executive Bob Iger has extended his contract with the media giant until 2026, the same year that the company has reportedly earmarked for a full migration of ESPN to a direct-to-consumer (DTC) model.

Iger is currently in his second stint in the job, having previously retired from the role in 2020 after 15 years in the role.

The 72-year-old returned last year to replace his own successor Bob Chapek, who had struggled to make Disney’s DTC division profitable and overseen a slump in the firm’s share price.

Despite Iger’s insistence that he would retire once again at the end of 2024, after identifying a replacement, he has now signed up for another two years at the request of the Disney board.

The company is happy with the progress made by Iger in adapting to market challenges and believes the extension will give it more time to plan an orderly transition when Iger does eventually depart.

A series of executives have been linked with the position, including National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver, ESPN chair Jimmy Pitaro and Kevin Mayer, who was previously Disney’s streaming head and launched ESPN+.

“Since my return to Disney just seven months ago, I’ve examined virtually every facet of our businesses to fully understand the tremendous opportunities before us, as well as the challenges we’ve been facing from the broader economic environment and the tectonic shifts in our industry,” said Iger.

“On my first day back, we began making important and sometimes difficult decisions to address some existing structural and efficiency issues, and despite the challenges, I believe Disney’s long-term future is incredibly bright.

“But there is more to accomplish before this transformative work is complete, and because I want to ensure Disney is strongly positioned when my successor takes the helm, I have agreed to the board’s request to remain chief executive for an additional two years.

“The importance of the succession process cannot be overstated, and as the board continues to evaluate a highly qualified slate of internal and external candidates, I remain intensely focused on a successful transition.”

SportsPro says…

Iger’s impact on ESPN since his return to Disney last year has been significant. The self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports is now part of a standalone sporting unit within the wider Disney group, with Iger adamant that it will not be spun off, as some shareholders might hope.

Instead, he has cut costs, laying off production staff and on-screen talent to improve profitability and ensure ESPN can bid the for the most important broadcast rights in the US. The most obvious example is the NBA, which hopes for a big uplift in its next domestic rights cycle. 

But, above all, Iger is preparing for the DTC launch of ESPN. Although there is no firm timeline in place, it is widely thought it could happen in 2025 or 2026 and only when the financial opportunities of streaming outweigh the guaranteed revenue from linear distribution.

ESPN is arguably the glue keeping the cable bundle together, a position that gives it more power to dictate its future than others might have. But it also knows that a seamless transition is essential for the future of the business.

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