Disney’s Bob Chapek Talks Scar-Jo Aftermath and the Impact of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ – The Hollywood Reporter

In the heart of Disney D23 preview of upcoming material from Lucasfilm and Marvel, plus AvatarDisney CEO Bob Chapeck made himself available for a 15 minute interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The conversation touched on issues ranging from handling the Scarlett Johansson dispute and the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy in Florida, to ticket prices and more.

This presentation was a lot of Disney+. It seems like it all has its origins on the big screen — the whole Marvel Universe — it all kicks off [from movies] and you have theme parks, you have cruise ships, you have so much at stake in launching franchises. With many investors re-evaluating “streaming everything”, are you too?

It’s important to go back to when Disney+ launched and what the assumption was about how much food you needed to give this system for it to really maximize its potential, and I’d say we’ve dramatically underestimated the hungry beast and the amount of content it needed to be fed. As we were realizing this, COVID hit and we were completely limited in terms of creating new things. So we had very few valuable things pouring into our system, and we had to make the very difficult decision where to put those things. When the theatrical world was shut down due to COVID, it was a pretty easy decision. Either you postpone it for a few years – and we started postponing, as you remember – but we also had this kind of empty pipeline in this very important strategic initiative for the company, which was Disney+. Our viewers, our subscribers were asking for more so we started diverting content originally intended for theaters before Disney+ was even considered. But at the same time, we launched a very methodical plan to try to determine how much content we would need as a company to take full advantage of the opportunities in cinema, because we love the cinema business, and how much we would need to be able to feed into the content channels that were leading into Disney+ so that we could seize this opportunity… Now that production has fully returned and we fully understand what is needed, at this time – this fall – we are able to fully program the theatrical exhibition, without having to steal content from one place or another, as well as our streaming services.

Do you think you can launch a franchise – this thing that turns into a theme park attraction – on a streamer? Is there a movie that was never made or a series that led you to create a Avatar attraction? Where is the proof of this?

Absolutely. We fully believe in it. We’ve had titles in the past that, frankly, we’ve released in the theatrical exhibition world [like] Charm. It was a modest hit theatrically, and then we put it on Disney+ and it went to #1. I don’t have to tell you what a phenomenon it’s become from a merchandise and musically and how many people have seen it on Disney+.

Do you think the theatrical component was essential or could you have done without it?

I think there are films where theatrical distribution is essential. I think [with] big blockbusters, there are titles that would be well advised to be launched in theaters and then go on Disney+, but I don’t think that’s necessary for a franchise to be born. We have flexibility. It’s a word I’ve been using now since the start of the pandemic, when I first got this job…. There are a lot of people in business, in industry, who want the world to go back to how it was and it’s not, because the consumer has moved on. Ultimately, everyone who works in this industry caters to one entity, and that is the consumer. The case has evolved. That don’t mean we won’t take it big wonder and star wars movies, and Avatar, and put them first in the theater. We will do this because it’s a wonderful way to experience these films. But that doesn’t mean that everything for it to be believable or for it to end up becoming a Disney franchise has to go through it.

You walk in and Wall Street is like, “Go streaming.” Then Netflix hits this big bump and they pivot. How do you deal with this unstable, short-term Wall Street thinking?

When we went to the 2020 investor conference, we advised on two factors: the first was [subscribers], that’s where all the emphasis was at the time. But even when profitability wasn’t a Wall Street streaming priority at all, we gave a profitability guide the same day. We knew the froth of streaming activity in the eyes of investors would moderate at some point, we didn’t know when. And profitability would become as important if not more important in the end than revenue and sub-additions. For us it wasn’t as big of an internal change as it might be for others because we had our foot on the clutch and the throttle at the same time so for us, it does not matter. We’re operating as we would, we’re not reducing the amount of content we plan to put into the system, or spend. We said in our calls to investors that the amount of content we release will be essentially flat.

You are known as a guy who cuts costs and raises prices. You have raised prices quite sharply [for some streaming plans] and parks. And you got feedback from superfans. How far can you keep raising prices and is their unwillingness creating a problem for the brand?

We all love our fans equally. We love superfans, obviously. But we also love fans who don’t have the same expression of their fandom. We want to make sure that our super fans who like to come with annual passes and use [the parks] as a personal playground – we love it. We celebrate that. But at the same time, we have to make sure there’s room in the park for the Denver family that comes once every five years. We didn’t have a reservation system and we didn’t control how many annual passes we gave out and frankly the annual pass as a value was so big that people were literally coming all the time and the accessibility of the park was unlimited for them and this family from Denver would arrive at the park and not be let in. It doesn’t seem like a really balanced proposition. I guess it’s possible that superfans may see this as a disadvantage of how they consume the park, but we need to make sure that not only are we considering the needs of our superfans, but we’re considering the needs of everyone world that travels from across the country once every five years. We have a real high-class problem: we have a lot more demand than there is supply. What we won’t bend over is giving someone a less than stellar experience in the parks because we’ve stuck too many people there. If we’re going to have that fundamental rule, you have to start balancing who you let in. … Our ticket prices and the constraints we place on how often people can come and when they come directly reflect demand. When is it too much? The demand will tell us when it is too much.

You had bumps at the start. If you had to do it again with Scarlett Johansson, would you do it differently?

There were a lot of people who got a vote on how we handled this. And I was one voice, and I’ll just say our relationship with her and her agency has never been better.

You apologized to the staff on “Don’t Say Gay”. This problem caused you a lot of trouble no matter what you were doing. Do you feel you have regained the staff’s trust?

These are complex social issues where we absolutely and positively want to represent the needs and expectations of our stakeholders, but we also realize that sometimes, in such a divided world, there is no alignment between what are possibly broad constituencies of our guest and consumer base. are looking for in terms of the type of content they want to show their children at this particular time. What we try to do is be everything to everyone. It tends to be very difficult because we are the Walt Disney Company. When you are a lightning rod for clicks and for political discourse, the essence of our brand can be hijacked or misused to try to meet the needs of a particular group’s agenda. We want to rise above that. We believe Disney is a place where people can come together with shared values ​​about what an optimistic and ideal future can be. We certainly don’t want to get caught up in political gimmicks, but at the same time, we also realize that we want to represent a brighter future for families of all types, however they define themselves.

And the staff? Do they feel that about you?

We are a very close-knit, big and happy family. I think our staff saw how tough I stood during the ultimate barrage of attacks from certain political constituencies and frankly I think it was much stronger, much longer and much more difficult than they never could have imagined and we held on. So I think it’s safe to say that actions speak louder than words, and they saw resilience and consistency no matter how strong the attacks.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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