April 19, 2024

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After Disney declared victory in its proxy battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz, CEO Bob Iger went on a theme-park offensive during the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Delivering scripted remarks on video from a perch overlooking Disneyland in Anaheim, Iger extolled the parks as a key strategic area of focus and offered a brief first look at the “possible” new Avatar-themed area within the California park. Pandora – The World of Avatar, has already been up and running at Disney World in Florida and Iger said it is still the company’s “intention” to make it a new feature of Disneyland. “We’re thrilled about many potential new stories that our guests could experience in Walt’s original theme park, including the opportunity to embark on all-new Avatar adventures with a visit to the world of Pandora,” he said.

The exec also touted a number of theme park initiatives in Florida. The recent settlement of litigation with the special district board selected by Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee the company’s Florida theme park properties will provide a boost, he noted. Disney last fall laid out plans for $60 billion in parks and experiences investments over the next 10 years.

Conducted virtually, the meeting started with business items including elections of members of the board of directors. The Q&A portion of the meeting, often a colorful affair when the gathering is held in person, as costumed Disney fans who own stock get a chance to quiz executives on their plans, was far more tame and controlled this year. In one of the few moments that didn’t come off as tightly scripted, Iger was pressed by one shareholder (whose question, like others, was read by a Siri-like computerized voice) about the soon-to-be-stepped-up competition in Orlando. NBCUniversal’s Epic Universe, which will open in 2025, will double the company’s footprint in Central Florida.

In preparation, “Why hasn’t Disney prepared anything or placed more than just a handful of attractions in the pipeline to be ready for this in 2025 at Walt Disney World?” the unidentified shareholder asked.

“Thank you very much for your question, but that just couldn’t be further from the truth,” Iger replied. “We’ve been aware of Universal’s plans for a new park for more than a decade. And we have a sophisticated approach to analyzing the needs of all of our businesses and strategically deploying capital.”

He then reeled off a list of Orlando moves the company has made in recent years, including the opening of Pandora, Toy Story Land, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios. A “multi-year, multi-billion-dollar transformation” of Epcot Center, he added, included new attractions like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Moana’s Journey of Water and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind.

“By staggering these major launches, we’ve been able to commercially and operationally optimize our new offerings over time, rather than having to do it all at once,” Iger said.

In response to a separate shareholder question about why more details about the $60 billion investment have not been shared, Iger kept his comments fairly brief. “You know, we have a lot of projects in development,” he said. “Many of them are known to us. But we disclose these at a cadence and when we really feel we’re ready, and we have something more tangible to show people.”

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