Entertainment Industry

Category: Disney

Disney CEO Bob Iger realizes $26.6-million pre-tax gain from stock sale

Disney CEO Robert A. Iger
Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger reaped a $26.6-million gain from the sale of company stock, before accounting for taxes.

The entertainment giant's stock rose after Iger announced Tuesday, during the company's quarterly earnings call with analysts, that Disney planned to make a sequel to Marvel Entertainment's "The Avengers." The superhero movie smashed domestic box-office records in its opening weekend and has grossed more than $800 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

Iger sold $81.6 million in stock, or 1.8 million shares at an average price of $45.36, on Thursday, according to a regulatory filing made with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Other executives, including general counsel Alan Braverman and corporate strategist Kevin A. Mayer, also sold stock in the days after Disney's earnings report. 

Disney issued a statement noting that Iger owns 1.14 million Disney shares, with a value that exceeds the company's ownership requirement. The sale was "part of routine financial planning to meet his family's diversification goals."

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Robert A. Iger, chairman and chief executive of Walt Disney Co., speaks during an interview at the company's studios in Burbank. Credit: Patrick Fallon / Bloomberg

'The Avengers' to assemble -- for a sequel

The avengers
The superhero team that conquered the U.S. box office will be suiting up for a return engagement.

Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said its Marvel Entertainment group is already in development on a sequel to "The Avengers," which shattered the opening weekend box-office record domestically -- and in markets around the world.

The movie, featuring a slew of stars including Robert Downey Jr., raked in $207 million in its first three days of release in the United States, bringing its global box office to around $702 million.

"It's a great illustration of why we like Marvel so much -- great characters, great storytelling and a wonderful ability for them to bring their characters and stories to the big screen so effectively," Iger told analysts Tuesday during the company's quarterly earnings call.

Disney is aggressively mining Marvel's library of comic-book characters, who were the key attraction when the Burbank entertainment giant acquired Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. Disney plans to release "Iron Man 3" and "Thor 2" next year, Iger said, with a sequel to "Captain America: The First Avenger" due out in 2014.

The success of "The Avengers" is propelling merchandise sales. In many cases, products are sold out, Iger said, prompting the global licensing team to work with licensees and retailers to restock shelves as quickly as possible. Even Marvel's big green monster, the Hulk, is getting love from consumers, thanks to Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of Bruce Banner and his powerful alter ego.

"We expect, given the interest in this film, that demand for its product is going continue to be strong pretty much throughout the year," Iger said.

Iger also said that Disney's parks and resorts planning group, known as the "Imagineers," have been working on ways to incorporate Marvel into the company's theme parks, beyond Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where Universal Studios holds the rights to the characters.

"We have a number of other opportunities ... at our other parks, notably California and Europe and in Asia -- I guess that pretty much covers the rest of the world," Iger said. "And our Imagineering group has been working over the last year ... to create more opportunities for Marvel in the parks."

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Photo of Chris Evans, portraying Captain America, left, and Robert Downey Jr., portraying Tony Stark, are shown in a scene from 'The Avengers."  Credit: Zade Rosethal / Disney

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

'Avengers' final opening weekend tally: $207.4 million

"The Avengers" sold $207.4 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekendTurns out "The Avengers" didn't sell $200.3 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, as Walt Disney Studios announced Sunday. It made even more.

The Marvel superhero movie actually collected $207.4 million, as it grossed more on Sunday than Disney, Marvel's owner and the movie's distributor, estimated that morning. Disney had said the film would collect $50 million, but it ended up with $57 million.

Sunday morning estimates are often off slightly, but it's rare that they underestimate a film's take by more than a few million dollars. And in the case of "Avengers," it means the record for the all-time biggest domestic opening weekend is now even higher in the stratosphere.

Overseas, "The Avengers" has grossed a total of $447.4 million since opening two weeks ago. Its international gross this past weekend was also higher than Disney estimated on Sunday: $157.5 million, compared with $151.5 million.

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-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Actors Tom Hiddleston, third from left, and Clark Gregg, second from right, pose for a photo as part of a celebration of the release of "The Avengers" after ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on May 1. Credit: Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images

Comcast looking to unload its stake in A&E Television Networks

"The Client List"

Comcast Corp. has put the wheels in motion to sell the bulk of its small but valuable stake in A&E Television Networks whose holdings include cable channels A&E, History and Lifetime.

In a filing at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Comcast said its programming unit NBCUniversal had exercised an option to unload a "substantial portion" of its interest in A&E Television Networks to Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., the other partners in the venture. Comcast has put the worth of its 15% stake in A&E Television Networks at $2 billion. Disney and Hearst each own 42.5% of the company.

The move is not surprising as NBCUniversal had to eventually sell its piece of A&E Television Networks. In 2009, NBC had owned 25% of A&E Networks. However, that stake shrank by almost half when Disney and Hearst Corp. -- co-owners of Lifetime Television and its sister channels -- merged those networks into A&E Networks. When that agreement was reached, part of the deal called for NBC to exit the partnership within 15 years.

In its filing, Comcast said it expected an agreement to be reached on the value of its equity interest during the second half of this year.

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--Joe Flint

Photo: A billboard for Lifetime's new show "The Client List." Credit: Lifetime

Disney Interactive targets moms with original series

Ali Wentworth
NEW YORK -- Disney Interactive Media Group has unveiled original Web series targeting an influential demographic -- moms.

Margie Gilmore, vice president of online originals, told a group of media buyers gathered for a Digital Content NewFront presentation Thursday at SoHo House that the shows strive to remain true to the Walt Disney Co.'s heritage of storytelling -- while offering an honest, open and authentic voice that some within the company found "a little uncomfortable."

"There's not a lot of pixie dust in the world of parenting," Gilmore said. "We have to strike a balance between being Disney and being relevant and real."

The new digital shows build on Disney's considerable portfolio of assets targeting moms, including Babble Media, with its extensive roster of mommy bloggers dispensing parenting advice, and iParenting Media, which operates a network of websites geared to parents.

One series, "Moms of," features interviews with the mothers of accomplished athletes, musicians, inventors and teachers. One vignette Disney screened focused on 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, whose mother, Shonda Ingram, advises, "As mothers we don't have all the answers ... you just have to keep fighting and working hard to raise your child."

Other shows, "That's Fresh" and "Thinking Up," fall into the self-help category -- leavened with humor. The cooking show is hosted by Chef Helen Cavallo, who describes herself as "50% Italian, 50% Colombian and I'm 100% New York." Each episode features one fresh ingredient that can be prepared in multiple ways.

"Moms are looking for answers. 'What's for dinner?' 'How can I feed my kids in healthy ways, in the time that I have?'" said Gilmore, who was an executive producer for Food Network. "We're working with the irresistible Helen Cavallo. ... She's so funny and so warm, and she's the kind of person the kids won't look away from, and the moms won't look away from."

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Disney: Help wanted for high-risk, low-reward job as chairman

IgerFeigeRossFavreau
Wanted: Experienced executive who can turn around an unstable film studio and manage the egos of some of Hollywood's biggest power players including Pixar animation guru John Lasseter, DreamWorks partners Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Marvel chief Ike Perlmutter.

Reward: Not much.

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bog Iger, in other words, won't have an easy time finding a new studio chairman to replace Rich Ross.

Once considered one of the most powerful and sought-after positions in Hollywood, running the 89-year-old Burbank studio behind "Snow White," "Mary Poppins," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" now seems about as desirable as playing Goofy on a hot day at Disneyland. The buzz in Hollywood since Iger fired Ross last Friday has been less about who's angling for the job and more about who would want it.

The reason: Iger's strategy of turning Disney into a collection of brands means that most of the films it releases are not overseen or greenlit by the studio chairman, as they are at rival companies. Next year, for example, Disney will release five movies (including two 3-D re-releases) from the Pixar and Disney animation units headed by Lasseter and Ed Catmull; two superhero films from Marvel, a subsidiary run by CEO Perlmutter and President Kevin Feige; and at least one from DreamWorks, the independent studio that has a distribution deal with Disney.

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Rich Ross resigns as chairman of Walt Disney Studios

Rich Ross
After less than three years on the job, Rich Ross is out as chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Ross' departure, which was largely expected throughout Hollywood, follows a period of management upheaval at the Burbank-based studio and a pair of two high-profile box office flops: last year's "Mars Needs Moms" and the Martian adventure film "John Carter," for which Disney acknowledged it expected to take a $200-million loss -- one of the largest in movie history.

Ross, who had built the Disney Channel into a global powerhouse, was promoted in October 2009 as successor to studio veteran Dick Cook. Despite achieving success with Disney Channel shows such as "High School Musical," Ross lacked experience in the movie business.

Photos: Rich Ross' hits and misses at Disney Studios

Many inside and outside Disney were skeptical at the time that a TV executive with limited film experience could transition successfully to running a large movie studio.

In an effort to improve the studio's performance, Ross restructured operations and ousted several experienced division heads and hired a movie outsider, MT Carney, as head of marketing. Carney was pushed out in January after less than two years on the job.

Ross sent an email to his colleagues Friday morning, saying, "I no longer believe the Chairman role is the right professional fit for me. For that reason, I have made the very difficult decision to step down as Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, effective today."

In a statement, Disney Chairman Bob Iger touted Ross' contributions to the company. "His vision and leadership opened doors for Disney around the world, making our brand part of daily life for millions of people."

No replacement was named.

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Photo: Rich Ross arrives at Walt Disney Studios on the premiere of "The Princess and the Frog" in November 2009. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Disney, Common Sense Media tackle issue of cyberbullying

Billy Unger
As the documentary film "Bully" brings heightened attention to harassment in schools, the Walt Disney Co. and a nonprofit advocacy group for children are turning to TV and the Internet to tackle the related issue of cyberbullying.

Common Sense Media and Disney have created a series of public service announcements in which young Disney Channel and Disney XD actors talk about the problem of cyberbullying. The segments, produced as part of Disney's Friends for Change initiative, began appearing this week on both networks, as well as online.

Nearly one in three children say they have been the target of some form of online harassment, including having their private texts or email messages forwarded without permission, receiving threatening messages or having someone post an embarrassing picture of them online, according to a 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project report on cyberbullying.

One in four teens say they received harassing voice or text messages on their cellphones, Pew found.

The problem is most prevalent for children in their mid-teens (ages 14 to 17). Technology gives schoolyard taunts a new, more troubling dimension because of the speed, breadth and permanence of the painful remarks, Pew reported.

That's why Common Sense Media sought out Disney Channel and Disney XD — with its young audience of viewers, ages 6 to 14 — as a platform to confront the issue, as well as its "tween" stars to offer tips for dealing with the problem.

"Today's kids connect, create and collaborate through media. But it's extremely important for them to understand the implications of their online actions," James Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense Media, said in a statement. "This campaign will help empower kids to think critically about how they interact with others in their online and mobile lives and help them be smart and respectful digital citizens."

Billy Unger, the 16-year-old actor who portrays the superhuman teen character "Chase" on the Disney XD series "Lab Rats," talked about being the victim of bullying when he was in fourth grade — and how he sought the help of a teacher to stop painful taunts about his height.

Unger said he endured two years of being ridiculed every day, tormented and called "small-fry" and other hurtful insults because he was a few inches shorter than his peers. "It was pretty heartbreaking," he said.

The teen actor said he welcomed the opportunity to tell kids that "they don't need to stand there and take this beatdown every day," that they can "stand up without lashing out or fighting back" by seeking help.

"If you're sitting there and you can't come up for air, the best thing to do is to tell someone," Unger said in an interview with The Times. "If you can't do anything about it yourself, find someone who can help you. If it's not your parents, tell your teacher."

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— Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo of Billy Unger, 16-year-old who stars as the super-human Chase, the youngest of three bionic teen siblings, who tries to navigate a "normal" world of school, friends and family, in the Disney XD live-action comedy series "Lab Rats." Credit: Todd Wawrychuk for Disney XD.

 

Disney Interactive Media Group lays off 10 employees

DIMG_horz_alternate_ctr

Walt Disney Co.'s struggling games group laid off 10 full and part-time employees.

The job cuts Tuesday came in Disney Interactive Media Group's games publishing team, which handles distribution, marketing and franchise management, according to a person familiar with the situation who was unauthorized to speak publicly about the matter.

“Disney Interactive continually evaluates its resources to align with the division’s goals and business opportunities," the company said in a statement. "As part of that effort, Disney Interactive made targeted layoffs today.”

The job reductions were considerably more modest than those that occurred in January 2011, when the money-losing digital media group laid off about 200 people as part of a sweeping reorganization of the games and online groups.

At the time, Disney also closed a game development studio as the company shifted its focus away from expensive console games to concentrate on online and mobile entertainment.

Disney Interactive reported an operating loss of $28 million in its first quarter ended Dec. 31 as the group released fewer console titles but saw higher income from social games. During a February call with investors, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger singled out the success of mobile game Where's My Water?, which he said "reached the top of the charts in 71 different countries."

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Disney expects $200-million loss on 'John Carter'

Disney expects $200-million loss on 'John Carter'

Walt Disney Co. said it expects to incur a loss of about $200 million on its big-budget sci-fi film, "John Carter,"  based on box-office results.

The film's theatrical performance -- which brought in $184 million in global box-office sales, well shy of expectations -- will drag the film studio to an operating loss that Disney estimated at $80 million to $120 million for the company's second quarter.

Wall Street analysts had projected a write-down for the film, which cost an estimated $350 million to make and market. One analyst estimated losses would approach as much as $165 million, based on uneven reviews and pre-release surveys of prospective moviegoers.

The Martian adventure story was based on a century-old science fiction series that had inspired other filmmakers, including George Lucas and James Cameron. It was intended as a potential new franchise, which would fuel merchandise sales, theme park attractions and lead to film sequels.

But the movie failed to connect with contemporary audiences in the U.S., in part because the source material by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs had already been so picked over by admirers that 'John Carter' felt derivative. Its director, Andrew Stanton, had never made a live-action movie before.  And the studio executives guiding the project had limited experience in running movie divisions.

Disney issued a brief statement, warning of the expected operating loss and projecting forward to its summer movies, including Marvel's latest superhero adventure, "The Avengers," and Pixar Animation Studios' forthcoming original film, "Brave."

"We believe [these] have tremendous potential to drive value for the studio and the rest of the company," the company said in its statement.

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Mark Strong, Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe attend the British premiere of "John Carter" at The BFI Southbank in March in London. Credit: Dave J. Hogan / Getty Images

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