Bob Iger Returns To Upfront Stage For First Time Since 1994 With Pitchman Praise For Disney’s “Creative Excellence” & Jimmy Kimmel’s Roast To Follow

“I am deeply optimistic about our company, and in a world that is so in need of entertainment is a true privilege,” said Disney boss Bob Iger today in a rare appearance on stage at the start of the media giant’s upfront presentation in New York City. “To run a company that is the embodiment of creative excellence, of great and bold storytelling, of quality, and of innovation.”

“Today we’re going to share with you the incredible projects that we’re working on. And then later Jimmy Kimmel will be out to tear them all apart. I think he’ll probably be tearing me apart too.”

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As he noted from the get-go, this is the first time Iger has been in front of advertisers and other clients on an upfront stage since he ran ABC Entertainment back in the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

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Coming off heavy praise and “pixie dust” filled introduction by Oscar winner Emma Stone and back on the upfront stage for the first time in decades, Iger was quick this to bask in the glory of Nielsen’s Media Distribution report released this morning that put the House of Mouse at #1 for total TV viewing.

“To say a lot has changed since 1994 would be an incredible understatement and I’m not just talking about the color of my hair, or my fashion choices,” Iger quipped as a pic of his questionable suit and haircut was strewn across the giant video screen behind him.

With an upcoming bundle plan with Warner Bros Discovery in hand, an earnings report earlier this month that beat Wall Street expectations (and a brief stock dip), and a sports streamer team-up with Fox and WBD on the horizon, the past and current CEO had some pep in his step Tuesday at the cavernous Javits Center.

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“As you might imagine being here today has led me to ponder all that has transpired since then, and the radical changes that have transformed our business over the last three decades,” he noted. “For instance, television used to be something you watched on a television.”

Even more so in front of the “big time advertisers” and their “check books” as Abbott Elementary’s Lisa Ann Walters called it in the Disney empire roll call that began the presentation.

“Now while the whole business model and the way people consume media are drastically different, what hasn’t changed is the fact that success in this industry is really predicated on one thing, and that is telling great stories,” Iger said in full pitchman mode. “And great storytelling is something Disney has always excelled that we have an array of outstanding creative engines, producing world class talent.”

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A TKO last month in his deep pocket board battle with Nelson Peltz and Ike Perlmutter plus a lowering of the political temperature the legal skirmishes with Ron DeSantis, might have put some heft in smooth operator Iger’s punch on Tuesday too.

Either way, even with an odd and unironic pre-show playlist of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” it was a far cry from the rather dimmed Disney upfront of last year. The Writers Guild strike was in full roar in May 2023, and scripted celebs and talent like longtime marquee roaster Kimmel were declining to cross picket lines. Back in his old job for just over six months and handing out pink slips and cutting costs at the company, Iger was nowhere to be seen at the 2023 upfronts too.

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Still, with linear TV in a near freefall and streaming still not profitable for Disney+, it wasn’t all wine and roses for Iger — not that you would have known it from his remarks today.

“We have an enviable portfolio of brands, franchises and sports and just endless stories to tell, and we have a deep library of popular titles have been built over the past century that continue to connect with each new generation,” the man who returned as CEO to an unsteady company in late 2022 stated.

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“We’re delivering it all to a broad array of audiences across many platforms,” he went on to say playing to the purpose of the star and exec heavy event. “We have the best advertisement technology in the streaming business globally. And we have a talented and experienced group of executives overseeing everything we make.”

Iger never said the word “succession” today, but he did potentially show it.

“And I’m grateful to be joined today by members of my senior leadership team, including Disney entertainment co chairs Alan Bergman and Dana Walden, Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman of ESPN and Disney experiences Chairman Josh  D’Amaro,” Iger said as the camera panned the C-Suite front row. Later, slightly poking that corporate raw nerve, comic Jim Gaffigan joked that he was going to be the next Disney CEO, before announcing Hulu’s raid at Netflix’s comedy special dominance with the new Laughter Now brand.

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After an animated intro via Family Guy, Iger was followed on stage by Disney global advertising chief Rita Ferro – who noted she was “so glad” that the CEO had graced the upfront with his presence.

The upfront won’t be Iger’s only stint on stage this week.

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The CEO will be speaking at MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit on May 15, and participating in a Q&A. Stay tuned.

Disney’s Rita Ferro & Bob Iger at 2024 Disney Upfront/ photo Brian Bowen Smith
Disney’s Rita Ferro & Bob Iger at 2024 Disney Upfront/ photo Brian Bowen Smith

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