U.K. Disney+ Execs Upbeat About Bob Iger’s Return Despite Possible Strategy Change: ‘He’s a Creative at Heart’


Disney+ execs in Europe appeared outwardly upbeat about Bob Iger’s return to the House of Mouse during their first public outing since Bob Chapek’s shock ousting some 10 days ago.

This is despite the fact that Iger is reportedly looking to change course when it comes to streaming strategy. He is said to have told employees at his first town hall on Monday he wants to re-focus Disney+ onto profitability as opposed to subscriber growth, a development that potentially puts him at odds with the platform’s current strategy, particularly internationally where Disney has been building an impressive (but expensive) stable of local originals.

Last year Jan Koeppen, president of The Walt Disney Company EMEA, revealed the company had upped its target of local originals from 50 to 60 by 2024. Of those, 40 have already been commissioned, produced or released. These include forthcoming dramas about fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld (produced in France and Germany) and Cristóbal Balenciaga (in Spain) as well as U.K. originals “The Ballad of Renegade Nell” (penned by “Happy Valley” creator Sally Wainwright) and “Wedding Season” (pictured above), which was released in September.

On Tuesday, just over a week since Iger returned to the fold, some senior Disney EMEA execs participated in a panel at U.K. TV conference Content London, where they appeared outwardly upbeat about the regime change.

When Variety asked whether Iger’s return would impact their strategy of pursuing local originals, Liam Keelan, SVP for originals, EMEA, demurred, saying: “Well, he’s only been there a week.”

“What I would say is he’s a creative at heart,” Keelan continued. “Me and the team have had experience of working with him when he was here the last time, albeit just over a year of working with him, [Keelan joined from the BBC in Feb. 2020] but he was massively supportive during that period.”

“We were on one of these town hall things yesterday hearing him speak and the creative is always at the forefront of his thinking,” he added. “So that’s massively encouraging to hear.”

Joining Keelan on stage on Tuesday were Pauline Dauvin, VP for programming, production and acquisitions in France, Alessandro Saba, director for original production in Italy and Benjamina Mirnik-Voges, VP for original production in Germany.

If Iger is planning to dramatically re-focus the streamer, it is likely to put an end to the seemingly blank chequebook the company has been waving internationally, even as competitors such as HBO Max have withdrawn from parts of Europe.

When the Disney EMEA panel was asked how they measure the success of any particular production, Dauvin replied: “It’s a lot of elements to measure success. As Liam said, we have only started our […] journey, so we are still in test mode. So it’s both in terms of subscribers, both in terms of changing the perception of the platform as well, press, awards, as well. So it’s a lot of the KPIs I would say.”

In response to a question about oversight from Burbank, Keelan revealed that the EMEA team largely has free reign when it comes to commissioning. “That has been, dare I say, the surprise about working for Disney, is that they’ve just been incredibly supportive,” he said. “Now, of course, there has to be information-sharing and discussions around shows that we’re commissioning and that’s right because FX are commissioning, Hulu are commissioning so you don’t want to be commissioning in the same space. So those kinds of conversations go on all the time. But in terms of what we’ve wanted to achieve with the original slate, they’ve just been really good and supportive. I wouldn’t describe it in any way, shape or form as an onerous process.”

The question now, of course, is how much longer that will remain the case.

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