By guest author Nat Ives from the Wall Street Journal.
Fans of the Disney’s theme parks and movies flocked to social media to celebrate Robert Iger’s return as CEO, Jacob Passy writes.
It might seem odd that some consumers posted TikTok videos from Disneyland toasting an executive change, while others used Twitter memes.
But Disney fans scrutinize not only changes to its entertainment offerings, but also its boardroom moves and quarterly earnings.
They also did not like the approach that ousted CEO Bob Chapek, a former parks executive, took toward pricing at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
“People really align themselves with the Disney brand, and almost consider the brand to be a part of them,” said Alexander Huey, a digital marketing professional in Milford, Del., who previously worked at Disney World.
By guest author Jacob Passy from the Wall Street Journal.
Fans of the company’s theme parks and film franchises flocked to social media to celebrate the news when the Walt Disney Co. announced Sunday that Mr. Iger would return to the chief executive role he held for roughly 15 years. Disney fans scrutinize not only changes to its entertainment offerings, but also its boardroom moves and quarterly earnings.
“People really align themselves with the Disney brand, and almost consider the brand to be a part of them,” says Alexander Huey, a 27-year-old digital marketing professional in Milford, Del., who previously worked at Walt Disney World. Fans often take executive shake-ups personally, he adds.
Fans have criticized the approach that ousted CEO Bob Chapek, a former parks executive, had taken toward pricing at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Disney has steadily increased the price of admission and eliminated free perks. Many fans derided the Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane app features that allow people to pay to skip lengthy standby waits for popular attractions. At Walt Disney World, Genie+ now costs as much as USD 29 a person.
Other misgivings regarding Mr. Chapek’s time at Disney include how the company eschewed wide theatrical releases of films such as the animated “Turning Red” in favor of pushing them to the Disney+ streaming platform.
Mr. Chapek and Disney didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
When news of Mr. Chapek’s exit broke Sunday, some Disney lovers quickly took to social media. Some posted videos to TikTok from Disneyland toasting the news. Others posted memes on Twitter bidding Mr. Chapek adieu. One popular tweet suggested Mr. Chapek was being sent to the “Disney vault,” a reference to how the company would only release popular films on home video for a limited time.
Jeff Gordon, a community college project manager in Los Angeles, began visiting Disneyland as a child and still visits the parks regularly. “I just feel more connected to Disney than other companies,” he says.
Mr. Gordon says he was unsure initially whether he could trust the reports of Mr. Chapek’s exit. Quickly, that disbelief turned into glee, he says, and soon he was one of many Disney lovers celebrating the news on social media.
Like many other Disney fans, Mr. Gordon had come to resent what he called the “nickel and diming” that he thought the company had resorted to under Mr. Chapek’s leadership. In addition to higher prices at Disney parks, Mr. Gordon has bristled at a new reservation system that has made it more difficult for annual passholders to visit as frequently as they would like.
Some Disney enthusiasts think Mr. Chapek, who took on the top job weeks before Covid-19 lockdowns halted travel for millions, had become the company’s fall guy. Sean Nyberg, 40, a lawyer and Disney investor from Bellevue, Wash., traces the vitriol Mr. Chapek faced to his time as head of the company’s parks division.
Mr. Chapek took heat from Disney fans when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a theme park area based on the popular films, didn’t live up to initial descriptions from the company, Mr. Nyberg says. After Mr. Chapek became CEO in February 2020, Mr. Nyberg says that many theme-park fans continued to blame him for unpopular decisions, rather than his successor, Josh D’Amaro.
Whether or not Disney fans approved of Mr. Chapek’s decisions, most have strong opinions on what they want from Mr. Iger and his successor. In Disney’s announcement of Mr. Iger’s return, the company said he would stay in the role for two years before another CEO took over.
For Mr. Gordon, it is important for the leader after Mr. Iger to have a history with the company and “an understanding of what makes Disney Disney” to maintain goodwill with fans.
Mr. Iger, 71, oversaw Disney’s purchases of Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment, plus expansion of the company’s theme-parks business, including the opening of parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Beyond these popular decisions, some fans have applauded how Mr. Iger displayed an appreciation for the company’s history and its connection with so many people.
“He is a very charismatic CEO and has the ability to speak with fans,” Mr. Huey says.
But some remain skeptical about the likelihood Mr. Iger will undo any recent unpopular changes, especially given the company’s recent performance. The company reported weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings in early November as losses in the company’s streaming business cut into the profits from its theme parks. Mr. Iger said in a memo to Disney employees Monday that he would oversee a restructuring of the company, including a reorganization of its media and entertainment distribution division.
“People want to go back to 2019,” says A.J. Wolfe, the Frisco, Texas-based founder of Disney Food Blog, a website focused on the company’s theme parks. “Disney has used the pandemic to implement a lot of things that are going to give them control over who comes into their parks and how much money is spent, and that’s not going to be rolled back.”