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Media’s most successful CEO is leaving Disney with one last parting gift: his biggest buy yet.
Disney’s Bob Iger put forth the largest deal of his career today as the company agreed to buy Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion, including its Hollywood film studio and properties such as The Simpsons, X-Men, and Avatar.
Iger, who has helmed the House of Mouse since 2005, led the enormously successful acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars studio Lucasfilm. He paid $4 billion a piece for Marvel and Lucasfilm in 2009 and 2012, respectively, and about $7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006.
His latest acquisition is larger not only in scale, but in the scope of the properties it includes—and in the potential impact on the entertainment industry as a whole. Disney, the quintessential family brand, is now welcoming in studios and brands known for edgier fare, like 20th Century Fox, the movie studio behind R-rated films like Logan, and FX Networks, while Iger’s plans for Disney to launch standalone streaming-video services of its own could compete with players like Netflix.
Iger has a reputation for making studios and other businesses significantly more valuable with the sheer magnitude of Disney’s distribution machine, which includes broadcast and cable-TV channels, consumer products, theme parks, and soon, control of three streaming-video services, including Hulu, along with an ESPN service as a Disney-branded service.
He’s also known for bringing top creatives under his umbrella and reassuring them largely by getting out of their way. When Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull was on the fence about selling the studio to Disney, Steve Jobs told him to “get to know Bob Iger,” Catmull wrote in his book, Creativity, Inc. He did.
One thing that struck me about Bob was that he preferred asking questions to holding forth—and his queries were incisive and straightforward. Something unusual had been built at Pixar and he wanted to understand it…. We believed Bob had good intentions but were wary of the larger company’s ability—even inadvertently—to roll us over. Still, Bob had reassured John [Lasseter] by indicating he wanted to work together to make sure that didn’t happen. The deal was going to be expensive, he told us, and in lobbying for it with the Disney board he was putting his own reputation on the line. Why, Bob asked us, would he endanger the value of the asset Disney was buying?
Pixar was Iger’s first big buy as Disney’s CEO. The cutting-edge studio continued to crank out hits, like its latest film, Coco. And the acquisition also helped put Disney Animation back on the map.
Iger was due to retire in July 2019, but agreed to extend his tenure at Disney through 2021, as part of the deal with Fox. This is the fourth time Iger, 66, has delayed his retirement, for anyone keeping track. It reportedly comes at the behest of Murdoch, who would be one of Disney’s largest shareholders if the stock deal goes through.
“I’m convinced that this combination, under Bob Iger’s leadership, will be one of the greatest companies in the world,” said Murdoch in the press release announcing the merger. “I’m grateful and encouraged that Bob has agreed to stay on, and is committed to succeeding with a combined team that is second to none.”