Iger’s New Suitors & ABC Agita

Bloomberg reported that Bob Iger has held “exploratory talks” about selling ABC.
Bloomberg reported that Bob Iger has held “exploratory talks” about selling ABC. Photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
September 15, 2023

This week, David Zaslav sought to assuage the concerns of Warner Bros. Discovery employees who had endured a year-and-a-half of aggressive restructuring, cost-cutting and debt servicing efforts by assuring them that Max was finally profitable, the company was making $5 billion in free-cash flow, and, perhaps most poignantly, that things were so much worse over at the competition. “All of our peers are losing a lot of money,” he said at a town hall, a recording of which I obtained from a source. “You can’t play offense if you’re losing money.”

In fact, Zaz is probably still as vulnerable as all his contemporaries to the tectonic shifts and macroeconomic predicaments that plague the industry: the stock is down 50 percent since launch, and there’s still far more debt servicing to be done. Nevertheless, his assessment of the Sisyphean challenge facing all his friends and colleagues in the Hollywood C-suites was spot on. Beset by their massive debt loads and dying linear businesses, they’ve been forced to abandon strategy and focus on tactics, running financial engineering maneuvers quarter to quarter and mitigating the fallout with investors, all without any grand, overarching master plan for long-term success. 

Of course, no one feels this agony more acutely than Bob Iger, who after fifteen years of empire building is now—by dint of his decision to “ruin a perfectly good retirement,” as my partner Bill Cohan puts it—engaged in the unenviable task of dismantling that very empire, and thus enduring his time in the barrel (a once-implausible scenario). On Thursday, two months and a day after Iger hung the for-sale sign on ABC in Sun Valley, Bloomberg reported that Disney had held “exploratory talks” about selling that network and its local stations to Nexstar Media, the nation’s largest local television station owner and parent of the CW and NewsNation. Bloomberg also reported that Byron Allen, the comedian-turned-media mogul, had made a $10 billion offer for ABC and the local stations, as well as FX and National Geographic.