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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Disney Acknowledges the Obvious: Audience Behavior is Changing, and Competition is Increasing

Pursuant to yesterday's blog post about Big vs. Small, here's an interesting couple comments from Disney's CEO. Bob Iger was talking to the Wall Street Journal:

    Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger told analysts Tuesday that some of the entertainment empire's businesses, like its broadcast television network, are feeling "signs of secular change as competition for people's time is increasing and the abundance of choice is allowing consumers to be more selective."

    Mr. Iger's comments raised eyebrows because he was suggesting that something more than just the worldwide economic downturn was behind Disney's 32% drop in fiscal first-quarter earnings and 8.2% revenue slide. Media stocks, like other industries, are at multiyear lows, but Mr. Iger's comments -- echoed by others -- indicate the challenges facing media companies.

    "We don't believe the changes we are seeing in consumer behavior can all be attributed to a weak economy, and we feel it is important for us to address them as more than just cyclical issues," Mr. Iger said.

Disney employs a lot of smart people. They know what's going on. And my sense, from visiting with them pretty frequently over the last few years, is that they know what they need to do and are simply trying to get the organization aligned to do it.

They know that inexpensively-produced mobile content is going to be important. They know that user-gen is going to be important (and are just wrangling with the in-house attorneys to see how they can take advantage of this trend.) They know that audiences are fragmenting into millions of niches. They know that there is a new media format out there -- the three minute Internet video, which is different from the 30-minute TV show and the 90-minute feature film.

I suspect that the big debate inside Disney is, can we remain a Big Media company while also pursuing these smaller, cheaper, quicksilver opportunities? Can we get out of our own way enough to be nimble?

Creating some small skunkworks projects that could have some distance from the Disney brand might be wise...

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