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Return of Bob Iger hints at Disney's metaverse plans


Disney's return CEO Bob Iger is a believer in the metaverse. Will the Magic Kingdom follow?

Bob Iger's comeback to Disney has raised questions about whether the media and entertainment giant was getting ready to dive deeper into the metaverse. Iger is a vocal fan of the next iteration of the internet or web3.

In January, barely a month after he left Disney, Iger told the New York Times' Kara Swisher that web3 would "definitely be more compelling in experience, certainly more immersive, more dimensional."

He also said he envisioned a "dispersed" metaverse – sometimes called multi-metaverse – where users could hop between different digital realms using one avatar.

Shortly after, in March, it was announced that Iger invested an undisclosed amount of money into a Los Angeles-based 3D avatar start-up, Genies, and became a member of its board.

The company's stated goal is to "create a universal avatar system that can be used across an open metaverse."

Genies has reportedly raised a total of $100 million in venture capital backing and has partnered with celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Cardi B, as well as brands like Gucci. It also has an NFT marketplace.

"I've always been drawn to the intersection between technology and art," Iger said in a statement at the time.

Virtual Disneyland

Disney clearly believes Iger's creative energy can help it navigate the changing media and entertainment landscape. It has already ventured into the metaverse and web3-related projects largely thanks to policies set in motion under his earlier tenure.

In December 2021, Disney was approved for a "virtual-world simulator" patent, originally filed to the US Patent and Trademark Office in the summer of 2020.

The technology would create personalized interactive experiences for theme park visitors by tracking their phones and projecting 3D effects on physical spaces in the park. It would work as a headset-free augmented reality (AR) attraction.

In July, Disney also picked Polygon, a leading blockchain project, for its accelerator program and has released several lines of NFTs in partnership with VeVe, a digital collectibles marketplace.

Just days ago, Disney announced an AR lens in partnership with Snapchat ahead of the anticipated December 16 release of Avatar: The Way of Water.

Bob Chapek, now former chief executive, told investors in March that Disney's efforts to date "are merely a prologue to a time when we'll be able to connect the physician and digital worlds even more closely."

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Disney CEO Bob Iger. Image by Shutterstock

"Magic is back"

It just so happens that investors believe Iger is better equipped for the task. Iger headed Disney for 15 years and is revered for acquisitions involving Pixar animation studio, comic book company Marvel, Star Wars maker Lucasfilm, and, most recently, 21st Century Fox, which brought shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy under its fold.

Iger also oversaw the launch of Disney+, the company's flagship streaming platform. Under the leadership of Chapek, Disney's streaming portfolio has become the reason behind its recent financial woes as meteoric subscriber growth failed to translate into profits and its shares plummeted.

Iger stepped down as Disney's CEO in 2020 and left the company's board at the end of 2021. He picked Chapek as his successor.

Chapek ran the company mostly following Iger's vision and strategy. Still, investors seem to have more trust in the former-and-current chief executive, even as some studies show "boomerang CEOs" are not always the saviors that Wall Street is hoping them to be.

Iger's two-year appointment led Disney's shares to rise, and analysts at MoffettNathanson said that the "magic is back," applauding Disney's board for the "courage" to make this change.

Even Reed Hastings, chief executive of the arch-rival Netflix, tweeted: "Ugh. I had been hoping Iger would run for President. He is amazing."

Business shake-up

Iger has returned to the helm of Disney with a bang. One of his first moves saw the dismissal of Kareem Daniel, head of the company's Media and Entertainment Distribution division and close ally to Chapek.

Chapek put Daniel in charge of the company's film and television sales and distribution operations. Stripped of decision-making rights, creative executives complained over the lack of autonomy – some to the board, contributing to Chapek's eventual undoing.

Upon his comeback, Iger promised "to restructure things in a way that honors and respects creativity as the heart and soul of who we are."

He said he had tasked a group of executives to build a new structure that not only rationalizes costs but also puts more decision-making in the hands of creative teams.

"I fundamentally believe storytelling is what fuels this company, and it belongs at the center of how we organize our business," Iger said in an email to employees.


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