Written by Russell Meyer
Published: March 13, 2005 at 7:26 PM
Heir to the Throne
New York Times 3/13/05
Walt Disney has made it official, by promoting Robert Iger to the position of Chief Executive Officer. This decision comes very quickly, since current leader Michael Eisner was not slated to step down until the end of his contract in September 2006. Instead Iger will begin his new position in September 2005, and Eisner will be phased out on October 1, 2005. In addition, Eisner will not seek a leadership position on the Disney board, or even a seat on the board. The Eisner Era ends with the end of traditional animation, a questionable relationship and uncertain future with its primary computer animation company, a breakup with two of the most successful movie moguls in history, and a roster of theme parks that are starting to all look alike. It would be an understatement to say that Iger has his work cut out for him. He has a number of situations to deal with, and while he has proved himself to be a good executive by managing ABC through a network ratings recession, he has never had to make any decisions on the order of magnitude that will face him when he takes the reigns.
Can Iger succeed in the shadow of Eisner?
It’s going to be tough. Every decision will be second-guessed by the board and stockholders alike, and in many cases people will look at every detail of his performance in comparison to what Michael Eisner would do. Like him or not, Michael Eisner came to Disney on a white horse, and turned a small theme park company and movie studio into an entertainment giant. Eisner made Disney into a behemoth that many highly regarded executives wouldn’t want to run for all of the money in the world. Iger’s relationship with Eisner is going to make it even more difficult, as many critics have seen Iger as nothing more than a “yes” man for Eisner. Iger will have to quickly make a name for himself to get out from Eisner’s shadow, and quell critics who will be watching his every move. Iger would make a lot of fans by sealing a deal with Pixar, which should be one of the first items on his “to-do” list at the end of this year. Luckily Iger will never have to face Eisner in the boardroom. However, much like a coach of a sports team, following a legendary figure is not easy, and success is something that is not typical from successors of legends. Everyone remembers the legendary coaches, but does anyone remember the guy who took over from the legend? Mike Davis took Indiana to the NCAA title game with mostly Bobby Knight’s team, only to lose to Maryland (I just had to say that), and hasn’t come close since. It took the Green Bay Packers almost 30 years to win a Super Bowl after the departure of Vince Lombari. The Lakers are struggling to make the playoffs after Phil Jackson left (partly because of the departure of Shaq also). Expectations are sky high for Robert Iger, and you have to wonder why someone would want all of the pressure that comes along with the title of CEO of the Walt Disney Company. We’ll have to see how he performs, and if he can bring a new renaissance of creativity to a company that used to be the most creative on the planet.
I Wouldn’t Bet On It
Thrill Network 3/11/05
With poker on just about every cable channel, and Las Vegas growing faster than mold on month-old bread, gambling is becoming one of the most lucrative industries in the country. Many states are taking up propositions to add some sort of gaming to their tourist regions. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, Maryland has been debating for years to add slot machines to its rapidly degrading horse racing tracks, with West Virginia and Delaware already permitting the practice, and the improving Atlantic City only a short drive away. Ohio is the newest state with aspirations of luring tourists to their state with the ringing bells and flashing lights of slot machines. With Michigan and West Virginia so close to many major cities in Ohio permitting slot machines, Ohio has introduced a proposition to allow the addition of gambling attractions to any city with over 50,000 residents or counties that draw over one million visitors per year. That includes the area surrounding Cedar Point, and King’s Island. Richard Kinzel, the current head of Cedar Fair, has said that they are interested in the proposition, and would add attractions that would take advantage if it were to become law. Everyone has lauded the additions of casinos across the country in rehabilitating the areas where they are located because of the increased tax revenue and money casino guests add to the local economy. Whether Kinzel wants to build Las Vegas Land next to Millennium Force or just add a couple of slots to the arcade is anyone’s guess. However, if a casino is his intent, I would have to question that decision. It would be the first time a casino would be built near a theme park. I know Adventure Dome is in Vegas along with a lot of other theme park-style attractions, but Vegas and gambling were already there before the theme parks came. While a casino would draw people to Sandusky, it probably would have more of a negative effect on Cedar Point. Families and casinos should not mix, as Las Vegas found out in the 90’s. Cedar Fair needs to be really careful not to jump into an industry aimed solely at adults when they are a company based on entertaining families. While it has worked in a limited form in Las Vegas, generally casinos and coasters do not mix.
Fox’s Robots topped this weekend’s box office with a surprisingly low $36.5 million. Disney’s The Pacifier held strong in second with a respectable $18 million, only a 40% decrease from last week. Robots was created by the makers of Ice Age, but was unable to match that film’s opening of $46.3 million. With the star power of Ewan McGregor, Halle Barry, Greg Kinnear, Paul Giamatti, Jay Leno, James Earl Jones, Mel Brooks, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, and the amazing voice talent of Robin Williams, Robots had more bankable stars than the 77th Academy Awards. I, for one, am stunned that this movie was not able to make more money in its first weekend of release, and I’m sure Fox is really disappointed with the movie’s showing. With a 64% positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com, and all that star power and their media blitz over the past week, Robots has to be one of the biggest surprises of this year so far. One reason for its less-than-stellar opening week performance could be the lack of screenings. I was not aware of any screenings in my area, and it took until late last week before there were enough reviews to have a rating on Rottentomatoes.com, which suggests that there were very few sneak previews around the country for this movie. Other than that, it’s hard to explain how Robots underperformed, and how last week’s champ The Pacifier has overachieved. The movie biz is a tricky one, but based on this weekend’s results, don’t expect any Robots attractions any time soon.