Bob Iger’s Disney revamp could keep critic Peltz ‘at bay’

Reuters | February 9, 2023

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(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Iger dazzled Wall Street on Wednesday with sweeping changes and billions of dollars in cost cuts, and some analysts are convinced that will be enough to sway its harshest critic – activist investor Nelson Peltz.

In his first earnings call since returning to the top job in November, Iger addressed several points that Peltz had raised in his proxy battle against Disney, which will come to a head on April 3 with a vote on if the activist should get a board seat.

Under the restructuring, Disney is cutting 7,000 jobs and reorganizing into three divisions – an entertainment unit encompassing film, television and streaming, a sports-focused ESPN unit and one with Disney parks, experiences and products.

“Iger’s early steps seem likely to keep Peltz at bay, which the company dearly wants. Peltz could have an opening if Disney slips up,” said Barton Crockett, analyst at Rosenblatt Securities.

Peltz’s Trian Fund Management, which holds a stake of about $1 billion in the media giant, praised Disney for what it said was a response to its suggestions. “We are pleased that Disney is listening,” a Trian spokesperson said.

Disney shares rose 6% before the bell on Thursday, with at least nine brokerages raising their price target on the stock after Iger targeted savings of $5.5 billion with the restructuring and doubled down on making the streaming business profitable.

Peltz’s list of demands to “restore the magic” at Disney include combining the streaming outfit with Hulu, which it part-owns, and that Iger find his replacement within two years for a company with a long history of botched succession planning.

He has also questioned Disney’s 2019 buyout of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.

“Carving out ESPN leaves the door open for them to eventually spin the sports network out. That is one of the key components that Peltz has been agitating for, along with making cost cuts,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Briley Wealth.

“This announcement should go a long way towards appeasing the activist investor.”

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles and Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Samrhitha Arunasalam and Johann Cherian; Editing by Devika Syamnath)