Disney CEO Bob Iger immediately steps down from CEO position

The Walt Disney Company announced this afternoon that Robert Iger, the company’s long-time CEO who ushered in the company’s lush franchise and entertainment platform profits, will step down immediately as chief executive. Bob Chapek, a long-time senior exec at the company who most recently held the position of Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, will succeed him.

Chapek, as head of Disney’s Parks Division was a somewhat divisive figure in that he led with a ‘value engineering’ (the Imagineering word for trimming cool stuff) and budget concious strategy instead of the more popular ‘let Imagineers do the most’ tactic that has produced some of the Parks most enduring rides and experiences. Disney Twitter has been quick to descend upon the Chapek choice as a sign of possible rough times ahead for Parks budgets.

Our guess for who would head Parks is Josh D’Amaro, extremely well liked former head of Disneyland who now heads Walt Disney World. Liked by Parks people for a lot of the opposite reasons, which politically could make this a non starter, but would be very popular appointment.

A few oddities surround this sudden change. Iger is only 14 months into a 36 month contract extension and this comes not on a regularly scheduled earnings call but in the midst of an interesting time for Disney as it faces Parks shutdowns due to the Corona virus outbreak. Disney’s earnings have been amazing lately, which would have made for a nice two-hander at earnings time. Speculation is still high for the exact reason behind Iger’s departure, with many hoping for something benign (ish) like a Presidential run vs. a personal issue.

Iger will address Disney employees at 5:30EST today, we’ll update if anything further comes of that address.

Under Iger’s tenure since 2005, Disney expanded aggressively into movies, theme parks, and other entertainment verticals, culminating late last year with the introduction of the company’s Disney+ streaming service. Iger oversaw such dramatic acquisitions as Marvel Entertainment a little more than a decade ago, and also bought Lucasfilm and its Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. He also helped to rebuild a partnership with late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs, and eventually acquired the Pixar animation studio, which Jobs had founded in 1986. Those decisions, among other aggressive media growth strategies, has given Disney a commanding role in the media universe.

As Jake Coyle noted in the AP earlier this year:

But in today’s IP-driven movie world, one studio is in a league of its own. In 2019, Disney dominated American moviegoing more than any studio ever has before — roughly 38% of all domestic moviegoing.

The year’s top five films were all Disney movies, and it played a hand in the sixth. Disney’s Marvel Studios produced the Sony Pictures release “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Since its launch, Disney+ itself has drawn almost 30 million subscribers according to data released by the company earlier this month.

Iger will assume the role of Executive Chairman through 2021 according to Disney’s statement.

It has been no secret that Iger has been thinking about succession planning for years, but at least until recently, details had remained scant. Media analysts probed for news in Iger’s book The Ride of a Lifetime, which was published late last year and was a summation of his tenure at the media conglomerate and his business philosophy. Yet, finding a successor at the company has been challenging, with multiple heirs apparent departing the company when the top slot looked like it would remain locked in Iger’s grasp.

On an already heavy red-ink day, Disney stock was further hit in after-hours trading by investors. Yahoo Finance’s most recent quotes puts Disney stock down 2.57% in after-hours trading, following a 3.62% decline during trading hours stemming from the global coronavirus outbreak. Disney has significant properties in Asia, including Shanghai Disney Resort, which was the company’s first platform in China and was overseen by incoming CEO Chapek.

‘The Mandalorian’ returns for Season 2 on Disney+ in Fall 2020

The last episode of the first season of Disney’s ‘The Mandalorian’ is available to stream on Disney+ today, and showrunner Jon Favreau wasted very little time confirming when we can expect season 2 of the smash hit to land: Next fall.

Favreau tweeted the anticipated timeline for the sophomore series of ‘The Mandalorian’ on Friday, accompanied by an image of a statuette of a Gamorrean, a type of alien from the Star Wars universe with a distinctly hog-like appearance. The Gamorrean’s most noteworthy appearance in the Star Wars cinematic universe to date is probably in The Empire Strikes Back, when they served as guards for crime lord Jabba the Hutt on Tatootine.

We already knew ‘The Mandalorian’ would be returning for a second season, after Favreau revealed in November that he’d begun filming on the second instalment of episodes. But now we have a better idea of exactly how long we’ll have to wait to find out what happens next in the streaming original, which is arguably the best new Star Wars universe content since the original series of films (yes, I really believe that).

If you haven’t yet seen the show, all eight episodes are now available to stream on Disney+, and it’s definitely worth the price of admission for one month of the service just to binge the series alone.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ makes some questionable choices

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opened Friday to mediocre reviews, though it’s not clear whether those reviews will put any real damper on audience enthusiasm.

In the meantime, all three of your hosts of the Original Content podcast have seen the movie. And we all agree that “The Rise of Skywalker,” while flawed, is a largely entertaining and satisfying experience.

Things get a little more complicated in our spoiler discussion, where we weigh in on the film’s big reveals. The trilogy’s previous installment, “The Last Jedi,” polarized fans with its bold storytelling choices (bold for Star Wars, at least). But we’re squarely in the pro-“Last Jedi” camp, so we were disappointed to see “The Rise of Skywalker” back away from some of those choices.

Our discussion also unearths a key piece of Star Wars history — the fact that while developing his now-formidable writing talents, our co-host Darrell Etherington wrote an extended piece of fanfiction with the tantalizing title “Reign of the Empress.” If you’d like to help us pressure Darrell into reading the story on a future episode of the podcast, please email or tweet at us!

It’s an Adam Driver-centric episode this week. In addition to discussing Driver’s Star Wars arc, we also review “Marriage Story,” the Netflix film where he and Scarlett Johansson play a divorcing couple. At least one of us thinks “Marriage Story” might be the best movie of the year, while others were a little more reserved in their praise.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:15 “The Mandalorian” listener response
8:50 “Marriage Story” review (mild spoilers)
27:42 “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” review
45:52 “The Rise of Skywalker” spoiler discussion

Fortnite gets lightsabers, courtesy of ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ promo

The final installment of the sequel trilogy is getting a lot of creative promotion — even by Star Wars standards. With The Rise of Skywalker out in just under a week, J.J. Abrams (and some spotty server issues) paid a visit to Fortnite. The director showed off an exclusive clip from the upcoming film featuring the familiar trio of Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron.

That and watching a bunch of stormtroopers dance around is all well and good, but the real fun came next. Darth Galactic Empire Lord Palpatine-Sidious kicked off a final segment that found players rushing to grab the latest Fortnite weapon: a lightsaber.

As The Verge notes, there are a bunch of other in-game Star Wars challenges added to the title as part of the promo, but honestly, lightsabers. Just lightsabers. The game now sports a variety of different colors of the iconic kyber crystal-powered weapon, including a crossguard version like the kind sported by Kylo Ren in the new films.

The lead up to the film has seen a slew of different Star Wars add-ons, including skins of Stormtroopers, main characters Rey and Finn and a TIE Interceptor-style glider.

Porsche and Lucasfilm co-designed a new starfighter for the Star Wars universe

Porsche typically concerns itself with terrestrial vehicle designs, but for a new project it worked with Lucasfilm designers in collaboration on a new starfighter for the Star Wars universe.

The starfigher, called the Tri-Wing S-91x Pegasus, obviously doesn’t exist in full-scale flyable form, but it is being built out as a 5-foot long highly-detailed sub-scale model, which will be unveiled at the Rise of Skywalker premiere in LA this month.

Note that the S-91x won’t actually be in the movie – it’s more of a design exercise and promotional thing than something that is actually intended to feature in narrative Star Wars universe content. But the collaboration is interesting because it combines Porsche sensibilities and direct design inspiration from that company’s 911 and Taycan real-world vehicles, with authentic Lucasfilm touches like an astromech slot behind the cockpit and the somewhat ‘lived-in’ detailed industrial look of Star Wars universe technology.

Porsche designers even zeroed in on cockpit comfort and ergonomics with this spacious three-seater design, which is more than you can say for whoever created the cramped and pretty austere interior of the X-Wing, or the submarine-during-combat-maneuvers cabin lighting of the TIE Fighter cockpit.

No word on pricing, but a well-appointed model with the highest trim level is bound to set you back quite a few credits. More than used Corellian YT-1300 freighter that’s for sure.

Real X-Wings took flight at Disney’s new Star Wars ride grand opening thanks to Boeing

Boeing might be taking the last crucial steps to prepare for its first crewed Starliner capsule spaceflight, but it’s also busy turning sci-fi into reality right here on Earth – by helping Disney build X-Wing large-scale starfighters to celebrate the opening of the ‘Rise of the Resistance’ ride at Disney World in Florida.

Earlier this week when the ride opened during an evening ceremony, X-Wings “roughly the size of a family van” flew over the event, as described by The Drive, which first identified earlier spy shots of the vehicles as potentially being based on Boeing’s aerial cargo drone. Boeing has since confirmed its involvement, but they aren’t providing more info than that the X-Wings were indeed their aircraft.

In the clip below, you can see the X-Wings ascend vertically into the night sky, then hover and rotate before heading out. Don’t go squinting to see if you can spot Poe Dameron at the controls, however – these are unpiloted drones based mostly likely on the Cargo Air Vehicle design Boeing has recently shown off, which sports six rotors (you can see them in close-ups of the X-Wing included in the gallery at the end of this post).

Astute observers and Star Wars fans will note that the X-Wings feature the split-engine design introduced in the T-70 variant that are flown by the Resistance in the current trilogy, as opposed to the full cylinder engine design on the T-65 from the original trilogy. That makes perfect sense, since the Rise of the Resistance ride takes place during an encounter between the Resistance and the First Order during the current trilogy timeline.

As for Boeing’s CAV, it recently completed a three-minute test flight during which it demonstrated forward movement, after flying outdoors during a hover test for the first time earlier this year. The cargo drone is designed for industrial applications, and can carry up to 500 lbs of cargo, but it’s still in the testing phase, which makes this Star Wars demonstration even more interesting.

[gallery ids="1921346,1921347,1921348,1921349"]

Disney releases cringe-worthy Baby Yoda merch

Who could have guessed an adorable, big-eyed baby Star Wars alien would have generated a ton of demand for toys? Apparently not Disney, which today started to sell merchandise based on The Child from new Disney+ show The Mandalorian, commonly known as “Baby Yoda”. The shirts, bags, mugs, and phone cases all feel…forced, like Disney rushed to print them on CafePress.

“The laziest merch ever” one TechCrunch staffer said. “If only there was 40 years of Star Wars Merchandise as a precedent. They would sell ten billion yoda beanie babies” quipped another. The lack of a plush doll, baby clothes, chew-safe rubber toys for tots and dogs, or original artwork indicate Disney was so busy getting its streaming service off the ground that it didn’t realize it already had a mascot. Yoda backpacks have been a hit for decades. Where’s the Yoda baby bjorn chest pack?

Just because the little green bundle of joy isn’t technically ‘Baby Yoda’, since The Mandalorian is set after the real Yoda’s death in Return Of The Jedi, doesn’t mean Disney isn’t exploiting the term for SEO. “He may look like a ‘Baby Yoda,’ but this lovable creature is referred to as ‘The Child'” Disney notes on all the product pages.

The Disney entertainment empire has suffered these failures to predict demand before. Frozen 1 merchandise sold out everywhere as tykes around the world screamed “Let It Go”. And Guardians Of The Galaxy 2’s Baby Groot also saw demand outstrip supply until Disney started sticking the tiny tree on everything. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can get a magnetic The Child shoulder buddy so he can ride around with us like we’re his Bobasitter.

MACLUNKEY! The Han/Greedo scene has an inexplicable change on Disney+ because George Lucas will never stop changing it

Who shot first? Han? Greedo? Who cares. MACLUNKEY!

Disney+ launched this morning, and with it comes a mostly inexplicable change to one of cinema’s most debated scenes — the encounter between Han and Greedo at the Mos Eisley cantina. For reasons unknown to anyone but George Lucas right now, a super brief but newly inserted clip has Greedo shout what the internet has decided is “MACLUNKEY!” before taking his failed shot at Han.

The change was first noted by StarWarsVisComp, a wonderful Twitter account that tears apart the countless different editions of Star Wars and highlights their endless (and sometimes quite subtle!) differences.

Before you go and get too mad at Disney for changing things for the sake of changing things: apparently this edit came from George Lucas — the uncontested champion of post-release cinematic change himself — with the new clip purportedly being inserted years ago during a 4K restoration that didn’t see the light of day until now.

Comparison clips have already started hitting YouTube:

And yes, for the curious: the “Maclunkey” line really is in the Disney+ release. If you’ve got Disney+, you can find it at around the 50:52 mark in “A New Hope.”

So what’s a Maclunkey? No one knows. As Uproxx points out, the rest of the dialog throughout the conversation is captioned. But Maclunkey? That’s left to the viewer’s interpretation.

Until we get further explanation, I like to think that it’s the Rodian/Huttese equivalent of “Eh, screw it.” Found a stain on your shirt 10 minutes after getting to work? Maclunkey. Gonna take a cheap shot at the baddest smuggler in the galaxy without bothering to, you know, aim? Maclunkey. Edited a new bit of alien dialog into your classic film but forgot to come up with a translation before it shipped? Maclunkey!

Disney+ will launch in the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain in March 2020

Disney+ will launch in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands on November 12th, a bit shy of a week from today. On November 19th, it’ll expand to Australia and New Zealand.

But what about the rest of the world?

Disney has kept quiet about its plans for other countries, presumably because going live in another country is a little more complicated than just flipping a switch. Every country tends to have different privacy/tax laws regarding subscription services, and rights and licensing for each bit of content has to be detangled with respect to existing deals.

Now, at least, we’ve got a launch date for five more countries: Disney says that Disney+ will launch in the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31st.

This news might be slightly less intriguing for folks in the U.K., who’ve had streaming access to a pretty massive collection of Disney stuff by way of DisneyLife — a streaming service that served as a test run of sorts for Disney since its launch back in 2015. But hey, The Mandalorian!

One thing worth noting: Don’t expect Disney+ to be exactly the same around the world. Thanks to those aforementioned rights/licensing deals that may already be in place around the world, as Disney puts it, “Titles may vary by territory.”

Star Wars and Marvel content is most watched among Disney+ trial users, led by ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Early adopters of Disney+ are mostly watching Marvel and Star Wars movies and TV shows, according to a new third-party report by SimilarWeb out today. The analytics firm measured Disney+ usage in its debut market, the Netherlands, where the service went live for a trial run back in September ahead of its global rollout, and has details on which specific titles are doing well so far.

This soft launch gave Disney a chance to work out some of the kinks before its wider availability starting in the U.S. and Canada on November 12, which will soon be followed by other international markets.

But the launch also gave third-party measurement firms early insight into what content is performing best on the new streaming service.

In the Netherlands, six of the top 10 most-viewed programs during the first month were TV series, and just four were movies. This included the most-watched film and No.1 most-watched program, Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War.” That was followed by the TV series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” then “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther,” which rounded out the top 5.

Star Wars and Marvel content also dominated the top 10 lists of the most-viewed movies and TV shows during this time. Marvel snagged four of the top spots for most-viewed series, while Star Wars grabbed two others.

Meanwhile, Marvel movies grabbed three of the top spots among most-watched movies during the first month, while Star Wars grabbed four other spots.

Though the data is early and limited to a single market, it does seem to point to Disney’s newer franchises — rather than its timeless animation classics or even its Pixar hits — as being the biggest draws among Disney+’s first users.

But this also could mean that Disney will need to do more to convince families with younger children of the need to subscribe in order to gain access to Disney’s kids’ content. Kids’ programming is something that’s relatively plentiful these days across rival streamers, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime — and even HBO, which has a deal with Sesame Workshop. (And its upcoming service HBO Max has already locked down new Sesame Street episodes.)

Modern streaming services long ago realized that funding and licensing children’s programming was an easy way to get entire families on board — which meant more users, more watch hours and more expensive subscription plans. Even the recent newcomers to streaming are following the same path, as Roku has with the launch of its Kids & Family section on its free The Roku Channel. 

The new streaming data arrives as Disney reported its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday. The company beat Wall Street expectations with earnings per share of $1.07, adjusted versus $0.95 expected, and revenue of $19.1 billion versus $19.04 billion expected. The company also announced the availability of the Disney+ app on Amazon Fire TV, which will also go live on November 12.

During an earnings call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the Disney+ test in the Netherlands indicated the service is appealing to a “far broader” demographic group than the company expected.

However, recent U.S. survey of 1,500+ consumers, hosted by the recommendations app Likewise, found that more men than women were interested in subscribing to Disney+ (46% men said they were considering versus 37% women). It also found interest in the service skewed younger with 58% of millennials indicating interest versus 38% of Gen X and only 21% of Boomers.

The full results from SimilarWeb’s Disney+ study are below.

Top 10 most-viewed content in September in the Netherlands:

  1. Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War (movie)
  2. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.(series)
  3. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (series)
  4. Star Wars Rebels (series)
  5. Marvel Studios’ Black Panther (movie)
  6. Marvel’s Agent Carter (series)
  7. Phineas and Ferb (series)
  8. Incredibles 2 (movie)
  9. Beauty and the Beast (movie)
  10.  The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (series)

Top 10 TV shows

  1. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  2. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
  3. Star Wars Rebels
  4. Marvel’s Agent Carter
  5. Phineas and Ferb
  6. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody
  7. Marvel’s Runaways
  8. Marvel Comics’ X-Men
  9. Disney Ducktales
  10. .Kim Possible 

Top 10 Movies

  1. Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War
  2. Marvel Studios’ Black Panther
  3. Incredibles 2
  4. Beauty and the Beast
  5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Movie
  7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  8. High School Musical
  9. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
  10. Marvel Studios’ The Avengers