Of course, Bob Iger faces a very tough slate of strategic conundrums, ranging from Disney’s stagnant and unprofitable streaming business to its profitable but declining television business, a flailing movie production business and a succession challenge—which Disney is trying to put on the back-burner by extending Iger’s contract by two years but is still of primo importance. And then there is the Disney stock price, which is down 7 percent since the day Iger returned. In last week’s earnings call, Iger tried to address some of his company’s stickiest wickets.
But if you look at each of Iger’s recent strategic decisions, you’ve got to wonder if he may simply be running out of good ideas for how to solve Disney’s myriad of problems—or, as my partner Matt Belloni wrote earlier this week, “it’s hard” not to see Iger’s latest decisions “as knee-jerk plays for quick cash.” Dangling assets for sale on CNBC is not the best way to go about a M&A process, unless of course you are desperate. Now potential buyers are well aware that Iger wants his linear TV assets off the books and can take advantage of that fact. We’ve seen this before: In 2015, when GE publicly announced its desire to sell GE Capital, buyers from Blackstone to Apollo to Wells Fargo all exploited the process to get a good deal for themselves.
But it seems like Iger either didn’t want to simply run a traditional sale process, or he felt that he needed to reach beyond the obvious buyers by making a high-profile public announcement about his desire to sell. After all, who is going to want a TV network that is steadily losing altitude? Disney’s linear TV group, which includes all of ABC, FX, ESPN, and the Disney Channel, among a few others, saw its operating income fall 23 percent in the recently concluded third quarter, to $1.89 billion. Wall Street analysts had hoped for $100 million more.