Disney boss bets future on Taylor Swift and Fortnite

WASHINGTON — Disney’s chief executive, Bob Iger, has announced a series of moves that he hopes will bring “significant growth” to the entertainment giant.

The plans include streaming an exclusive version of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour concert movie on Disney+.

The firm will also invest $1.5bn (£1.2bn) in Epic Games, the maker of the hugely popular video game Fortnite.

Disney has been under pressure from activist investor Nelson Peltz, who has called for a shakeup of the business.

The US billionaire wants Disney to boost profits from its streaming business as well as improve the box office performance of its films. Last year, a number of Disney films, including those from its Marvel franchise, failed to ignite the global box office.

In its results for the three months to 31 December, Disney said that its streaming service had shed 1.3 million subscribers following a price increase in October.

However, Disney still expects its streaming business to reach profitability by September this year.

The deal with Epic means gamers will be able to interact with Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and Avatar characters.

“This marks Disney’s biggest entry ever into the world of games and offers significant opportunities for growth and expansion,” Iger said.

The announcements come a day after the company unveiled a joint venture with rivals Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery to launch a new sports streaming platform.

Together, the three US media giants own a wide range of sports rights including the FIFA World Cup, Formula 1, National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

Iger also unveiled plans to buy back $3bn worth of shares from investors. In its results, Disney reported flat revenues at $23.5bn but a rise in pre-tax profits to $2.8bn from $1.7bn in the comparable quarter.

Asked whether the announcements would be enough to satisfyPeltz, who wants a seat on Disney’s board,Iger told CNBC: “The last thing that we need right now is to be distracted in terms of our time, our energy, by an activist or activists that, frankly, have a completely different agenda, and don’t understand our company, its assets, even the essence of the Disney brand.”

But a spokesperson for Peltz’s Trian Fund Management firm said: “It’s déjà vu all over again. We saw this movie last year and we didn’t like the ending.”

Disney shares rose by more than 6% in extended trading in New York after the announcements.

Iger previously headed Disney for 15 years before retiring at the end of 2021 but made a shock return to the firm less than a year after stepping down.

He was brought back after the company’s share price plummeted and Disney+ continued to make a loss.

Separately, Disney is facing a lawsuit from actress Gina Carano who was sacked in 2021 over a social media post in which she compared being a Republican to being a Jew during the Holocaust.

The lawsuit is being funded by Elon Musk, who made an open call on his platform X, formerly known as Twitter, for others to join the suit. — BBC

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