Wow. Spectacular. We already knew Bob Iger was one of Hollywood’s most legendary CEOs, but between his earnings call with investors yesterday and his interview with CNBC that landed today…I just need to bow down. Hail to the King, Baby!
On the earnings call yesterday, Iger threaded all the obstacles in the current hellscape of falling streaming revenue, rising costs and no one knowing anything. He announced that Disney will seek to cut $5 billion in costs (including laying off about 7000 employees across all business units). He also restructured the company, peeling back the unproductive C-suite that interregnum head Bob Chapek had installed, and addressed streaming sub losses and the future of Hulu.
All big things, but handled with the confidence, intelligence and vision that Iger is known for.
It was such an impressive performance that rebel stockholder Nelson Peltz just gave up on his quest to join the board. Peltz had been seeking a seat on the Disney board in an activist role backed by Marvel’s Ike Perlmutter, in a saga that involved snubs, feuds and a sailing trip. Peltz, who had no real agenda other than cost cutting, was so thoroughly undermined by Iger’s performance that this morning he announced he was abandoning his plan.
“My dad once told me that you can only win once,” Peltz told Jim Cramer. “This was a great win for all the shareholders. Management at Disney now plans to do everything that we wanted them to do. We wish the very best to Bob, his management team, the board. We will be watching, we will be rooting, and the proxy fight is over.”
Disney said it appreciated Peltz’s decision.
“We are pleased that our Board and management can remain focused without the distraction of a proxy contest, and we have tremendous faith in Bob Iger’s leadership and the transformative vision for Disney’s future he set forth yesterday,” the company said in a statement Thursday.
BAM! Step away, you petty annoyance, Disney seemed to be saying. Peltz’s CNBC interview followed one by Iger himself that was even more of a victory lap….but in Iger fashion, a tastefully lowkey triumphalist parade. But Iger did take the opportunity to bury former Marvel chairman Ike Perlmutter in the most savage way possible: by revealing that Ike had been trying to fire MCU mastermind Kevin Feige back in 2015 until Iger stepped in. Like the ultimate grown-up in the room, Iger tied together the Peltz insurrection with this long ago conflict:
“Our filings indicate that both Ike and Nelson were working together to try to encourage the board or convince the board to put Nelson on the board,” Iger said. “They have a relationship that dates back quite some time. We bought Marvel in 2009. I promised Ike the job that he would continue to run Marvel after that. Not forever, necessarily. But after that. And in 2015 he was intent on firing Kevin Feige who was running Marvel’s studio, the movie-making [operation] at the time, and I thought that was a mistake and stepped in to prevent that from happening. I think Kevin is an incredibly, incredibly talented executive that you know, the Marvel track record speaks for itself. And so I moved the movie-making operation of Marvel out from under Ike into the movie studio under Alan Horn” (with Feige reporting directly to Horn, who retired from the company in 2021).
Asked by host David Faber if that created ill will, Iger said, “You’d have to ask Ike about that. But let’s put it this way. He was not happy about it. And I think that unhappiness exists today. And you know, what the link is between that and Nelson, his relationship. I think that’s something that you can speculate about. I won’t.”
“I thought that was a mistake.”
I’m dying here. Just dying. Iger also delivered a velvet killshot to Peltz’s scheme:
Iger said “there is not a need” for a new board member and Peltz had “not articulated either a vision or even ideas that are of particular value to us.” He has some, “but we were already working on those.”
“So where is the need.? … Just from a shareholder perspective where is the need?”
“Disruption from a force like that is not something that would be helpful to the shareholders of the company.”
While we still don’t have ALL the juicy details of the 2014-2015 Feige-Perlmutter battle, we do know a few things: such as the situation got so bad that Warner Bros, still in a quest for the “DC Feige” at the time, actually talked to KEVIN FEIGE about becoming an ACTUAL DC Feige, according to a report by Puck’s Matthew Belloni. Matters that seemed to be on the table included having a female villain for Iron Man 3, and costs for Avengers: Civil War.
Now just a reminder of how Ike responded at the time to being removed from overseeing Marvel Studios, the film unit at Disney. He still had control of Marvel Television, run by Jeph Loeb, and the Marvel Comics division under Dan Buckley.
Ike was so incensed that the X-men were making money for Fox instead of Marvel that he attempted to replace them with the Inhumans, leading to one of Marvel’s most infamously cheesy bombs. It included things like shaving Medusa’s head and killing off Lockjaw because they were too costly to animate.
Ike did attempt to wage a proxy PR war against Feige at the time, mostly with clumsy attempts to paint the Marvel Creative Committee as the REAL brains behind the MCU’s success, all planted at one particular comics outlet. Unfortunately for Ike, no one bought it.
While no one can deny that Ike’s guidance of Marvel out of bankruptcy and the decision to finance their own film slate led to great success for the company, once it was solvent, his legendary penny pinching became counter productive.
The penny pinching at Marvel Comics is well documented – back in the day employees were ordered to turn the lights off, and only allowed to make a single pot of coffee a day. Office space was so cramped that there was only one bathroom for a company of 100+, and even VPs shared their tiny offices.
As news of Iger’s burial of Ike Perlmutter spread today, more stories came out. Collider’s Steven “Frosty” Weintraub contributed one to the lore.
but this sums him up. A big name Marvel star was filming on location many years ago and signed up for a local gym membership to stay in shape and look good on film. Ike wouldn’t approve reimbursement. Like are you kidding me?! Have heard countless stories like this.
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) February 9, 2023
“the amount of horror stories I’ve heard about Ike Perlmutter would shock you,” Weintraub wrote. “You have no idea how terrible of a person he is and the cheapest a hole alive. He would always make Disney book the worst and smallest theater for press screenings to save money. but this sums him up. A big name Marvel star was filming on location many years ago and signed up for a local gym membership to stay in shape and look good on film. Ike wouldn’t approve reimbursement. Like are you kidding me?! Have heard countless stories like this.”
The Perlmutter-Feige conflict has unfortunately become part of the culture wars now – with Phase Four being slammed as “Woke” just for including female, POC and queer characters – all things that Ike actively forbade while he was running the studio. It’s an attitude that echoes today in things like the cancellation of Ho Che Anderson’s Luke Cage mini series.
But setting aside these crucial issues, Ike’s cheapness and meddling was also damaging to the overall vision Feige had for the MCU, as shown by the conflicts over Civil War. Avengers Endgame cost $356 million, which is a lot of money, but it made over $2.7 billion worldwide, which is even more. That could never have happened under Ike and the Creative Committee.
Ike’s shadow still looms over Marvel Comics, which is nominally under Feige “creatively” following the 2015 reorganization. However Ike is technically in charge of Marvel Comics’ finances, although how involved he is any more is open to question. His cost–cutting methods have become more prevalent in corporate America – Marvel offices are all hot desk open plan now so – and massaging the bottom line remains the most important thing for Marvel Comics as a Disney unit. Whether they’ll be affected by the upcoming layoffs is unknown, but it’s already a very lean unit and they’ve had a hiring freeze for a while, as has most of Disney.
Whatever the future holds, when Bob Iger writes his diary entry for tonight, it will have to be a pretty satisfying one. In a few masterful moves he disarmed one of his most annoying foes, and pretty much destroyed the idea that Ike has any business sense for all times.
Nice work, Disney Bob.