Disney CEO Bob Iger in ‘damage control’ mode over possible sale of ABC, ESPN
2023/07/19

Disney's Bob Iger was forced to do "damage control" after spilling plans to possibly sell all or part of money-bleeding channels ABC and ESPN, The Post has learned.

Iger, who last week got a two-year extension to run the company after retaking the reins last year, huddled with senior leaders of Disney's TV properties on Tuesday, according to a source with knowledge.

"Iger met with senior leaders of the television group and reaffirmed his commitment to the value of the business and also ABC News," the source said, adding that he was doing some "damage control" and "reverting back to the previous talking points. "

The meeting came days after the Disney boss made some uncharacteristically candid remarks to CNBC's David Faber, in which he said Disney's traditional TV business "may not be core" to the entertainment giant. 

Among his comments was that Iger would be open to finding a strategic partner for ESPN.

Rumors have also swirled that he may spin off ABC.

The source said Iger's "undisiplined, off-message" remarks last Thursday sent "shock waves" through Disney, which along with ABC and ESPN also owns FX and National Geographic.

The head honcho told CNBC last Thursday that he did not anticipate the degree to which legacy television networks would be struggling, and that he would be open to selling or spinning off Disney's cable networks.

He added that he has had discussions with potential investors about buying a minority stake in ESPN, though he would not specify.

CNN first reported Tuesday night that Iger walked those comments back after Disney TV employees felt they were left "in the dark," having not been told about the CEO's plans ahead of time — an uncharacteristic move for the professional, straightforward exec who usually sends out a memo or hosts a town hall in advance of big news.

On Tuesday, during the offsite meeting with TV execs, Iger fielded questions and told staffers that the content created by the company's television production teams is "incredibly valuable to our business," CNN reported.

"I'm ridiculously passionate about news," Iger said, according to the person familiar with his comments.

"It's important to this company," he added, citing the importance of ABC News to Disney. "We need to figure out how it makes the transition into streaming. And I happen to believe we will endure. It's too good, it's too important, and it's really fun."

Sources told The Post that Iger's comments, while reassuring, did not extinguish fears at the company.

The 72-year-old CEO, who started his career at the company in 1972 as a weatherman on ABC, has always talked about his passion for the network, a Disney insider told CNN.

"It's great to say he loves the jewel. It's great to say that the jewel is important. It's great to say that the jewel is fun," the insider said. "But he has revealed the truth: He wants to get the highest price he can for the jewel because he can't afford it anymore. "

Another Disney source told The Post that even though Iger is tamping down fears, he knows the writing is already on the wall for linear TV at the media giant.

"Everybody has known for some time that the linear TV networks were declining," the source said. "I think he gave voice to something. He has to transform the business and get rid of parts that are not performing or that are dragging them down."

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