The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Disney, is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate, headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. It is the world's second largest media conglomerate in terms of revenue, after Comcast. Disney was founded on October 16, 1923 – by brothers Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney – as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, and established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into live-action film production, television, and theme parks. The company also operated under the names The Walt Disney Studio and then Walt Disney Productions. Taking on its current name in 1986, it expanded its existing operations and also started divisions focused upon theater, radio, music, publishing, and online media.
In addition, Disney has since created corporate divisions in order to market more mature content than is typically associated with its flagship family-oriented brands. The company is best known for the products of its film studio, Walt Disney Studios, which is today one of the largest and best-known studios in American cinema. Disney's other three main divisions are Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Media Networks, and Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Disney also owns and operates the ABC broadcast television network; cable television networks such as Disney Channel, ESPN, A+E Networks, and Freeform; publishing, merchandising, music, and theater divisions; and owns and licenses 14 theme parks around the world. The company has been a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since May 6, 1991. Mickey Mouse, a cartoon created in 1928, is a primary symbol and mascot for Disney.
1919–1928: The silent era
In early 1923, Kansas City, Missouri, animator Walt Disney created a short film entitled Alice's Wonderland, which featured child actress Virginia Davis interacting with animated characters. After the bankruptcy in 1923 of his previous firm, Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Disney moved to Hollywood to join his brother, Roy O. Disney. Film distributor Margaret J. Winkler of M.J. Winkler Productions contacted Disney with plans to distribute a whole series of Alice Comedies purchased for $1,500 per reel with Disney as a production partner. Walt and Roy Disney formed Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio that same year. More animated films followed after Alice. In January 1926, with the completion of the Disney studio on Hyperion Street, the Disney Brothers Studio's name was changed to the Walt Disney Studio.
After the demise of the Alice comedies, Disney developed an all-cartoon series starring his first original character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was distributed by Winkler Pictures through Universal Pictures. The distributor owned Oswald, so Disney only made a few hundred dollars. Disney completed 26 Oswald shorts before losing the contract in February 1928, due to a legal loophole, when Winkler's husband Charles Mintz took over their distribution company. After failing to take over the Disney Studio, Mintz hired away four of Disney's primary animators (the exception being Ub Iwerks) to start his own animation studio, Snappy Comedies.
1928–1934: Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies
In 1928, to recover from the loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney came up with the idea of a mouse character named Mortimer while on a train headed to California, drawing up a few simple drawings. The mouse was later renamed Mickey Mouse (Disney's wife, Lillian, disliked the sound of 'Mortimer Mouse') and starred in several Disney produced films. Ub Iwerks refined Disney's initial design of Mickey Mouse. Disney's first sound film Steamboat Willie, a cartoon starring Mickey, was released on November 18, 1928 through Pat Powers' distribution company. It was the first Mickey Mouse sound cartoon released, but the third to be created, behind Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho. Steamboat Willie was an immediate smash hit, and its initial success was attributed not just to Mickey's appeal as a character, but to the fact that it was the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Disney used Pat Powers' Cinephone system, created by Powers using Lee de Forest's Phonofilm system. Steamboat Willie premiered at B. S. Moss's Colony Theater in New York City, now The Broadway Theatre. Disney's Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho were then retrofitted with synchronized sound tracks and re-released successfully in 1929.
Disney continued to produce cartoons with Mickey Mouse and other characters, and began the Silly Symphony series with Columbia Pictures signing on as Symphonies distributor in August 1929. In September 1929, theater manager Harry Woodin requested permission to start a Mickey Mouse Club which Walt approved. In November, test comics strips were sent to King Features, who requested additional samples to show to the publisher, William Randolph Hearst. On December 16, the Walt Disney Studios partnership was reorganized as a corporation with the name of Walt Disney Productions, Limited with a merchandising division, Walt Disney Enterprises, and two subsidiaries, Disney Film Recording Company, Limited and Liled Realty and Investment Company for real estate holdings. Walt and his wife held 60% (6,000 shares) and Roy owned 40% of WD Productions. On December 30, King Features signed its first newspaper, New York Mirror, to publish the Mickey Mouse comic strip with Walt's permission.
In 1932, Disney signed an exclusive contract with Technicolor (through the end of 1935) to produce cartoons in color, beginning with Flowers and Trees (1932). Disney released cartoons through Powers' Celebrity Pictures (1928–1930), Columbia Pictures (1930–1932), and United Artists (1932–1937). The popularity of the Mickey Mouse series allowed Disney to plan for his first feature-length animation.
1934–1945: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and World War II
Deciding to push the boundaries of animation even further, Disney began production of his first feature-length animated film in 1934. Taking three years to complete, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered in December 1937 and became highest-grossing film of that time by 1939. Snow White was released through RKO Radio Pictures, which had assumed distribution of Disney's product in July 1937, after United Artists attempted to attain future television rights to the Disney shorts.
Using the profits from Snow White, Disney financed the construction of a new 51-acre (210,000 m2) studio complex in Burbank, California. The new Walt Disney Studios, in which the company is headquartered to this day, was completed and open for business by the end of 1939. The following year on April 2, Walt Disney Productions had its initial public offering.
The studio continued releasing animated shorts and features, such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). After World War II began, box-office profits declined. When the United States entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of Disney's animators were drafted into the armed forces. The U.S. and Canadian governments commissioned the studio to produce training and propaganda films. By 1942, 90% of its 550 employees were working on war-related films. Films such as the feature Victory Through Air Power and the short Education for Death (both 1943) were meant to increase public support for the war effort. Even the studio's characters joined the effort, as Donald Duck appeared in a number of comical propaganda shorts, including the Academy Award-winning Der Fuehrer's Face (1943).
1946–1954: Post-war and television
With limited staff and little operating capital during and after the war, Disney's feature films during much of the 1940s were "package films", or collections of shorts, such as The Three Caballeros (1944) and Melody Time (1948), which performed poorly at the box-office. At the same time, the studio began producing live-action films and documentaries. Song of the South (1946) and So Dear to My Heart (1948) featured animated segments, while the True-Life Adventures series, which included such films as Seal Island (1948) and The Vanishing Prairie (1954), were also popular. Eight of the films in the series won Academy Awards.
The release of Cinderella in 1950 proved that feature-length animation could still succeed in the marketplace. Other releases of the period included Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953), both in production before the war began, and Disney's first all-live action feature, Treasure Island (1950). Other early all-live-action Disney films included The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953), and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). Disney ended its distribution contract with RKO in 1953, forming its own distribution arm, Buena Vista Distribution.
In December 1950, Walt Disney Productions and The Coca-Cola Company teamed up for Disney's first venture into television, the NBC television network special An Hour in Wonderland. In October 1954, the ABC network launched Disney's first regular television series, Disneyland, which would go on to become one of the longest-running primetime series in history. Disneyland allowed Disney a platform to introduce new projects and broadcast older ones, and ABC became Disney's partner in the financing and development of Disney's next venture, located in the middle of an orange grove near Anaheim, California. It was the first phase of a long corporate relationship which, although no one could have anticipated it at the time, would culminate four decades later in the Disney company's acquisition of the ABC network, its owned and operated stations, and its numerous cable and publishing ventures.
In 1954, Walt Disney used his Disneyland series to unveil what would become Disneyland, an idea conceived out of a desire for a place where parents and children could both have fun at the same time. On July 18, 1955, Walt Disney opened Disneyland to the general public. On July 17, 1955, Disneyland was previewed with a live television broadcast hosted by Art Linkletter and Ronald Reagan. After a shaky start, Disneyland continued to grow and attract visitors from across the country and around the world. A major expansion in 1959 included the addition of America's first monorail system.
For the 1964 New York World's Fair, Disney prepared four separate attractions for various sponsors, each of which would find its way to Disneyland in one form or another. During this time, Walt Disney was also secretly scouting out new sites for a second Disney theme park. In November 1965, "Disney World" was announced, with plans for theme parks, hotels, and even a model city on thousands of acres of land purchased outside of Orlando, Florida.
Disney continued to focus its talents on television throughout the 1950s. Its weekday afternoon children's television program The Mickey Mouse Club, featuring its roster of young "Mouseketeers", premiered in 1955 to great success, as did the Davy Crockett miniseries, starring Fess Parker and broadcast on the Disneyland anthology show. Two years later, the Zorro series would prove just as popular, running for two seasons on ABC. Despite such success, Walt Disney Productions invested little into television ventures in the 1960s, with the exception of the long-running anthology series, later known as The Wonderful World of Disney.
Disney's film studios stayed busy as well. Averaging five or six releases per year during this period. While the production of shorts slowed significantly during the 1950s and 1960s, the studio released a number of popular animated features, like Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), which introduced a new xerography process to transfer the drawings to animation cels. Disney's live-action releases were spread across a number of genres, including historical fiction (Johnny Tremain, 1957), adaptations of children's books (Pollyanna, 1960) and modern-day comedies (The Shaggy Dog, 1959). Disney's most successful film of the 1960s was a live action/animated musical adaptation of Mary Poppins, which was one of the all-time highest-grossing movies and received five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews and Best Song for Robert B. Sherman & Richard M. Sherman for "Chim Chim Cher-ee".
The theme park design and architectural group became so integral to the Disney studio's operations that the studio bought it on February 5, 1965, along with the WED Enterprises name.
1966–1971: The deaths of Walt and Roy Disney and the opening of Walt Disney World
On December 15, 1966, Walt Disney died of complications relating to lung cancer, and Roy Disney took over as chairman, CEO, and president of the company. One of his first acts was to rename Disney World as "Walt Disney World" in honor of his brother and his vision.
In 1967, the last two films Walt actively supervised were released, the animated feature The Jungle Book and the musical The Happiest Millionaire. The studio released a number of comedies in the late 1960s, including The Love Bug (1969's highest-grossing film) and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), which starred another young Disney discovery, Kurt Russell. The 1970s opened with the release of Disney's first "post-Walt" animated feature, The Aristocats, followed by a return to fantasy musicals in 1971's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Blackbeard's Ghost was another successful film during this period.
On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World opened to the public, with Roy Disney dedicating the facility in person later that month. On December 20, 1971, Roy Disney died of a stroke. He left the company under control of Donn Tatum, Card Walker, and Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller, each trained by Walt and Roy.
1972–1984: Theatrical malaise and new leadership
While Walt Disney Productions continued releasing family-friendly films throughout the 1970s, such as Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Freaky Friday (1976), the films did not fare as well at the box office as earlier material. However, the animation studio saw success with Robin Hood (1973), The Rescuers (1977), and The Fox and the Hound (1981).
As head of the studio, Miller attempted to make films to drive the profitable teenage market who generally passed on seeing Disney films. Inspired by the popularity of Star Wars, Disney produced the science-fiction adventure The Black Hole in 1979 that cost $20 million to make, but was lost in Star Wars' wake. The Black Hole was the first Disney film to carry a PG rating in the United States. Disney dabbled in the horror genre with The Watcher in the Woods, and financed the boldly innovative Tron; both films were released to minimal success.
Disney also hired outside producers for film projects, which had never been done before in the studio's history. In 1979, Disney entered a joint venture with Paramount Pictures on the production of the 1980 film adaptation of Popeye and Dragonslayer (1981); the first time Disney collaborated with another studio. Paramount distributed Disney films in Canada at the time, and it was hoped that Disney's marketing prestige would help sell the two films.
Finally, in 1982, the Disney family sold the naming rights and rail-based attractions to the Disney film studio for 818,461 shares of Disney stock then worth $42.6 million none of which went to Retlaw. Also, Roy E. Disney objected to the overvalued purchase price of the naming right and voted against the purchase as a Disney board director. The 1983 release of Mickey's Christmas Carol began a string of successful movies, starting with Never Cry Wolf and the Ray Bradbury adaptation Something Wicked This Way Comes. The Walt Disney Productions film division was incorporated on April 1, 1983 as Walt Disney Pictures. In 1984, Disney CEO Ron Miller created Touchstone Films as a brand for Disney to release more major motion pictures. Touchstone's first release was the comedy Splash (1984), which was a box office success.
With The Wonderful World of Disney remaining a prime-time staple, Disney returned to television in the 1970s with syndicated programming such as the anthology series The Mouse Factory and a brief revival of the Mickey Mouse Club. In 1980, Disney launched Walt Disney Home Video to take advantage of the newly emerging videocassette market. On April 18, 1983, The Disney Channel debuted as a subscription-level channel on cable systems nationwide, featuring its large library of classic films and TV series, along with original programming and family-friendly third-party offerings.
Walt Disney World received much of the company's attention through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In 1978, Disney executives announced plans for the second Walt Disney World theme park, EPCOT Center, which would open in October 1982. Inspired by Walt Disney's dream of a futuristic model city, EPCOT Center was built as a "permanent World's Fair", complete with exhibits sponsored by major American corporations, as well as pavilions based on the cultures of other nations. In Japan, The Oriental Land Company partnered with Walt Disney Productions to build the first Disney theme park outside of the United States, Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in April 1983.
Despite the success of the Disney Channel and its new theme park creations, Walt Disney Productions was financially vulnerable. Its film library was valuable, but offered few current successes, and its leadership team was unable to keep up with other studios, particularly the works of Don Bluth, who defected from Disney in 1979.
By the early 1980s, the parks were generating 70% of Disney's income.
In 1984, financier Saul Steinberg's Reliance Group Holdings launched a hostile takeover bid for Walt Disney Productions, with the intent of selling off some of its operations. Disney bought out Reliance's 11.1% stake in the company. However, another shareholder filed suit claiming the deal devaluated Disney's stock and for Disney management to retain their positions. The shareholder lawsuit was settled in 1989 for a total of $45 million from Disney and Reliance.
1984–2005: The Michael Eisner era and the "Save Disney" campaign
With the Sid Bass family purchase of 18.7 percent of Disney, Bass and the board brought in Michael Eisner from Paramount as CEO and Frank Wells from Warner Bros. as president. Eisner emphasized Touchstone with Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1985) to start leading to increased output with Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Pretty Woman (1990) and additional hits. Eisner used expanding cable and home video markets to sign deals using Disney shows and films with a long-term deal with Showtime Networks for Disney/Touchstone releases through 1996 and entering television with syndication and distribution for TV series as The Golden Girls and Home Improvement. Disney began limited releases of its previous films on video tapes in the late 1980s. Eisner's Disney purchased KHJ, an independent Los Angeles TV station.
Organized in 1985, Silver Screen Partners II, LP financed films for Disney with $193 million. In January 1987, Silver Screen III began financing movies for Disney with $300 million raised, the largest amount raised for a film financing limited partnership by E.F. Hutton. Silver Screen IV was also set up to finance Disney's studios.
Beginning with Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, Disney's flagship animation studio enjoyed a series of commercial and critical successes with such films as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994). In addition, the company successfully entered the field of television animation with a number of lavishly budgeted and acclaimed series such as Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck and Gargoyles. Disney moved to first place in box office receipts by 1988 and had increased revenues by 20% every year.
In 1989, Disney signed an agreement-in-principle to acquire Jim Henson Productions from its founder, Muppet creator Jim Henson. The deal included Henson's programming library and Muppet characters (excluding the Muppets created for Sesame Street), as well as Jim Henson's personal creative services. However, Henson died suddenly in May 1990 before the deal was completed, resulting in the two companies terminating merger negotiations the following December. Named the "Disney Decade" by the company, the executive talent attempted to move the company to new heights in the 1990s with huge changes and accomplishments. In September 1990, Disney arranged for financing up to $200 million by a unit of Nomura Securities for Interscope films made for Disney. On October 23, Disney formed Touchwood Pacific Partners I which would supplant the Silver Screen Partnership series as their movie studios' primary source of funding.
In 1991, hotels, home video distribution, and Disney merchandising became 28 percent of total company revenues with international revenues contributed 22 percent of revenues. The company committed its studios in the first quarter of 1991 to produce 25 films in 1992. However, 1991 saw net income drop by 23 percent and had no growth for the year, but saw the release of Beauty and the Beast, winner of two Academy Awards and top-grossing film in the genre. Disney next moved into publishing with Hyperion Books and adult music with Hollywood Records while Walt Disney Imagineering was laying off 400 employees. Disney also broadened its adult offerings in film when then-Disney Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg acquired Miramax Films in 1993. That same year Disney created the NHL team the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, named after the 1992 hit film of the same name. Disney purchased a minority stake in the Anaheim Angels baseball team around the same time.
Wells was killed in a helicopter crash in 1994. Shortly thereafter, Katzenberg resigned and formed DreamWorks SKG because Eisner would not appoint Katzenberg to Wells' now-available post (Katzenberg had also sued over the terms of his contract). Instead, Eisner recruited his friend Michael Ovitz, one of the founders of the Creative Artists Agency, to be President, with minimal involvement from Disney's board of directors (which at the time included Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier, Hilton Hotels Corporation CEO Stephen Bollenbach, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Yale dean Robert A. M. Stern, and Eisner's predecessors Raymond Watson and Card Walker). Ovitz lasted only 14 months and left Disney in December 1996 via a "no fault termination" with a severance package of $38 million in cash and 3 million stock options worth roughly $100 million at the time of Ovitz's departure. The Ovitz episode engendered a long running derivative suit, which finally concluded in June 2006, almost 10 years later. Chancellor William B. Chandler, III of the Delaware Court of Chancery, despite describing Eisner's behavior as falling "far short of what shareholders expect and demand from those entrusted with a fiduciary position..." found in favor of Eisner and the rest of the Disney board because they had not violated the letter of the law (namely, the duty of care owed by a corporation's officers and board to its shareholders). Eisner later said, in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, that he regretted letting Ovitz go.
Eisner attempted in 1994 to purchase NBC from General Electric (GE), but the deal failed due to GE wanting to keep 51 percent ownership of the network. Disney acquired many other media sources during the decade, including a merger with Capital Cities/ABC in 1995 which brought broadcast network ABC and its assets, including the A&E Television Networks and ESPN networks, into the Disney fold. Eisner felt that the purchase of ABC was an important investment to keep Disney surviving and allowing it to compete with international multimedia conglomerates.
Disney lost a $10.4 million lawsuit in September 1997 to Marsu B.V. over Disney's failure to produce as contracted 13 half-hour Marsupilami cartoon shows. Instead, Disney felt other internal "hot properties" deserved the company's attention.
Disney, which had taken control of the Anaheim Angels in 1996, purchased a majority stake in the team in 1998. That same year, Disney began a move into the internet field with the purchase of Starwave and 43 percent of Infoseek. In 1999, Disney purchased the remaining shares of Infoseek and launched the Go Network portal in January. Disney also launched its cruise line with the christening of Disney Magic and a sister ship, Disney Wonder.
The Katzenberg case dragged on as his contract included a portion of the film revenue from ancillary markets forever. Katzenberg had offered $100 to settle the case, but Eisner felt the original claim amount of about half a billion too much, but then the ancillary market clause was found. Disney lawyers tried to indicate a decline situation which reveal some of the problems in the company. ABC had declining rating and increasing costs while the film segment had two film failures. While neither party revealed the settlement amount, it is estimated at $200 million.
Eisner's controlling style inhibited efficiency and progress according to some critics, while other industry experts indicated that "age compression" theory led to a decline in the company's target market due to youth copying teenage behavior earlier.
The year 2000 brought an increase in revenue of 9 percent and net income of 39 percent with ABC and ESPN leading the way and Parks and Resorts marking its sixth consecutive year of growth. However, the September 11 attacks led to a decline in vacation travel and the early 2000s recession led to a decrease in ABC revenue. Plus, Eisner had the company make an expensive purchase of Fox Family Worldwide. 2001 was a year of cost cutting laying off 4,000 employees, Disney parks operations decreased, slashing annual live-action film investment, and minimizing Internet operations. While 2002 revenue had a small decrease from 2001 with the cost cutting, net income rose to $1.2 billion with two creative film releases. In 2003, Disney became the first studio to record over $3 billion in worldwide box office receipts.
Eisner did not want the board to renominate Roy E. Disney, the son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, as a board director citing his age of 72 as a required retirement age. Stanley Gold responded by resigning from the board and requesting the other board members oust Eisner. On November 30, 2003, Disney resigned from his positions as the company's vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, accusing Eisner of micromanagement, failures with the ABC television network, timidity in the theme park business, turning The Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and refusing to establish a clear succession plan, as well as a string of box-office film flops starting in the year 2000.
On May 15, 2003, Disney sold their stake in the Anaheim Angels baseball team to Arte Moreno. Disney purchased the rights to The Muppets and the Bear in the Big Blue House franchises from The Jim Henson Company on February 17, 2004. The two brands were placed under control of the Muppets Holding Company, LLC, a unit of Disney Consumer Products.
In 2004, Pixar Animation Studios began looking for another distributor after its 12-year contract with Disney ended, due to its strained relationship over issues of control and money with Eisner. Also that year, Comcast Corporation made an unsolicited $54 billion bid to acquire Disney. A couple of high budget films flopped at the box office. With these difficulties and with some board directors dissatisfied, Eisner ceded the board chairmanship.
On March 3, 2004, at Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising 45% of Disney's shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, withheld their proxies to re-elect Eisner to the board. Disney's board then gave the chairmanship position to Mitchell. However, the board did not immediately remove Eisner as chief executive.
2005–present: The Bob Iger era
On July 8, 2005, Walt Disney's nephew, Roy E. Disney, returned to the company as a consultant and as non-voting director emeritus. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts celebrated the 50th anniversary of Disneyland Park on July 17 and opened Hong Kong Disneyland on September 12. Walt Disney Feature Animation released Chicken Little, the company's first film using 3D animation. On October 1, Iger replaced Eisner as CEO. Miramax co-founders Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein also departed the company to form their own studio. On July 25, 2005, Disney announced that it was closing DisneyToon Studios Australia in October 2006 after 17 years of existence.
On January 23, 2006, it was announced that Disney would purchase Pixar in an all-stock transaction valued at $7.4 billion. The deal was finalized on May 5; Steve Jobs, who was Pixar's CEO and held a 50.1% ownership stake in the company, transitioned to Disney's board of directors as its largest individual shareholder, with a 7% stake. Ed Catmull took over as President of Pixar Animation Studios. Former Executive Vice-President of Pixar, John Lasseter, became Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, its division DisneyToon Studios, and Pixar Animation Studios, as well as assuming the role of Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering.
In February 2006, Disney acquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBC Universal (including the character's intellectual property and the 26 Oswald cartoons produced by Walt Disney) from NBC Universal as part of an exchange of minor assets. In return, Disney released sportscaster Al Michaels from his contracts with ABC Sports and ESPN, so he could join NBC Sports and his long-time partner John Madden for NBC's new NFL Sunday Night Football. In April 2007, the Muppets Holding Company was moved from Disney Consumer Products to the Walt Disney Studios division and renamed The Muppets Studio, as part of efforts to re-launch the division,
Director Emeritus Roy E. Disney died of stomach cancer on December 16, 2009. At the time of his death, he owned roughly 1 percent of all of Disney which amounted to 16 million shares. He was the last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the company. In October 2009, Disney Channel president Rich Ross, hired by Iger, replaced Dick Cook as chairman of the company and, in November, began restructuring the company to focus more on family friendly products. Later in January 2010, Disney decided to shut down Miramax after downsizing Touchstone, but one month later, they instead began selling the Miramax brand and its 700-title film library to Filmyard Holdings. In March, ImageMovers Digital, which Disney had established as a joint venture studio with Robert Zemeckis in 2007, was shut down. In April 2010, Lyric Street, Disney's country music label in Nashville, was shut down. The following month, Haim Saban reacquired the Power Rangers franchise, including its 700-episode library. In September 2012, Saban reacquired the Digimon franchise, which, like Power Rangers, was part of the Fox Kids library that Disney acquired in 2001. In January 2011, Disney Interactive Studios was downsized.
In April 2011, Disney broke ground on Shanghai Disney Resort. Costing $4.4 billion, the resort opened on June 16, 2016. Later, in August 2011, Bob Iger stated on a conference call that after the success of the Pixar and Marvel purchases, he and the Walt Disney Company are looking to "buy either new characters or businesses that are capable of creating great characters and great stories." Later, in early February 2012, Disney completed its acquisition of UTV Software Communications, expanding their market further into India and Asia.
On October 30, 2012, Disney announced plans to acquire Lucasfilm in a deal valued at $4.05 billion. Disney announced an intent to leverage the Star Wars franchise across its divisions, and plans to produce a seventh installment in the main film franchise for release in 2015. The sale was completed on December 21, 2012. On March 24, 2014, Disney bought Maker Studios, a multi-channel network active on YouTube, for $500 million.
On February 5, 2015, it was announced that Tom Staggs had been promoted to COO. On April 4, 2016, Disney announced that Staggs and the company had mutually agreed to part ways, effective May 2016, ending his 26-year career with the company.
In August 2016, Disney acquired a 33% stake in BAMTech, a streaming media provider spun out from Major League Baseball's media division. The company announced plans to eventually use its infrastructure for an ESPN over-the-top service. On March 23, 2017, Disney announced that Iger had agreed to a one-year extension of his term as CEO through July 2, 2019, and had agreed to remain with the company as a consultant for three years after stepping down.
In August 2017, Disney announced that it had exercised an option to increase its stake in BAMTech to 75%, and would launch a subscription video-on-demand service featuring its entertainment content in 2019, which will replace Netflix as the subscription VOD rightsholder of all Disney theatrical film releases.
Rumored merger with 21st Century Fox
On November 6, 2017, it was reported by CNBC that Disney had been in negotiations with 21st Century Fox in a deal in which both companies would merge. The merger would largely include Fox's entertainment assets, including filmed entertainment, cable entertainment, and direct broadcast satellite divisions in the UK, Europe and Asia (including in particular 20th Century Fox, FX Networks, National Geographic Partners, and Fox's international divisions), but exclude divisions such as the Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Television Stations, the Fox News Channel, the Fox Business Network, and Fox Sports, which would be owned by a resulting independent company; a notable side effect of such a purchase would be Disney being able to acquire the distribution rights to the first Star Wars film, the film rights to the Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises—which Disney did not obtain through its acquisitions of Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment—and the distribution rights to DreamWorks Animation's 2013-2017 film library, which they could potentially use to trade for Universal Pictures' right of first refusal to distribute any future MCU Hulk films produced by Marvel Studios. It was reported later that day that the talks had stalled without a deal being finalized just yet, but CNBC reported on November 10 that the prospected deal has yet to be fully abandoned.
On November 28, merger negotiations between Disney and Fox had reportedly resumed and at a rapid pace regarding Fox's key assets. Mike Fleming Jr. of Deadline.com commented that "given how Disney made the Marvel and Lucasfilm deals under the cone of silence, if this happens we'll probably only know it when it's announced. It is certainly being talked about today." Rumors of a nearing deal continued on December 5, 2017, with additional reports suggesting that the FSN regional sports networks would be included in the resulting new company (assets that would likely be aligned with Disney's ESPN division). Both companies expect to announce the merger on December 14.
On December 11, 2017, it was announced that Comcast had dropped their bid on the Fox assets. Although price negotiations are ongoing, Disney has estimated that it would purchase $60 billion worth of Fox's assets, including debt. Fox shareholders would own 25 percent of the merged company.
Company divisions and subsidiaries
The Walt Disney Company operates through four primary business units, which it calls "business segments": Studio Entertainment, with the primary business unit The Walt Disney Studios, which includes the company's film, music recording label, and theatrical divisions; Parks and Resorts, featuring the company's theme parks, cruise line, and other travel-related assets; Media Networks, which includes the company's television properties; and Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, which produces toys, clothing, and other merchandising based upon Disney-owned properties, as well as including Disney's Internet, mobile, social media, virtual worlds, and computer games operations. Three segments are led by chairmen, but Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media are currently both led by a president. Marvel Entertainment is also a direct CEO reporting business, while its financial results are primarily divided between the Studio Entertainment and Consumer Products segments. While Maker Studios is split between Studio Entertainment and Media Networks segments.
The company's main entertainment holdings include Walt Disney Studios, Disney Music Group, Disney Theatrical Group, Disney-ABC Television Group, Radio Disney, ESPN Inc., Disney Interactive, Disney Consumer Products, Disney India Ltd., The Muppets Studio, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, UTV Software Communications, Lucasfilm, and Maker Studios.
The company's resorts and diversified related holdings include Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, Euro Disney S.C.A., Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney Vacation Club, Disney Cruise Line, and Adventures by Disney.
Disney Media Networks
Disney Media Networks is a business segment and primary unit of The Walt Disney Company that contains the company's various television networks, cable channels, associated production and distribution companies and owned and operated television stations. Media Networks also manages Disney's interest in its joint venture with Hearst Corporation, A+E Networks, and ESPN Inc. Unlike the four other business segments, it is the only one with two leaders or "co-chairs": the presidents of ESPN and Disney-ABC Television Group. Thus, Disney has a total of eight business unit leaders who report to the CEO and COO.
- Walt Disney (1923–1945)
- Roy O. Disney (1945–1966)
- Donn Tatum (1966–71)
- Card Walker (1971–77)
- Ron W. Miller (1978–83)
- Frank Wells (1984–94)
- Michael Ovitz (1995–97)
- Robert A. Iger (2000–12)
Chief Executive Officers
- Roy O. Disney (1929–71)
- Donn Tatum (1971–76)
- Card Walker (1976–83)
- Ron W. Miller (1983–84)
- Michael Eisner (1984–2005)
- Robert A. Iger (2005–present)
Chairmen of the Board
Walt Disney dropped his Chairman title in 1960 to focus more on the creative aspects of the company, becoming the "executive producer in charge of all production."
After a four-year vacancy, Roy O. Disney assumed the Chairmanship.
- Walt Disney (1945–60)
- Roy O. Disney (1964–71)
- Donn Tatum (1971–80)
- Card Walker (1980–83)
- Raymond Watson (1983–84)
- Michael Eisner (1984–2004)
- George J. Mitchell (2004–06)
- John E. Pepper, Jr. (2007–12)
- Robert A. Iger (2012–present)
Vice Chairman of the Board
- Roy E. Disney (1984–2003)
- Sanford Litvack (1999–2000) Co-Vice Chair
Chief Operating Officers
- Frank Wells (1984–94)
- Sanford Litvack (1997–99) Chief of Operations
- Robert A. Iger (2000–2005)
- Tom Staggs (2015–16)
|Year||Studio Entertainment||Disney Consumer Products||Disney Interactive||Walt DisneyParks and Resorts||Disney Media Networks||Total|
|Year||Studio Entertainment||Disney Consumer Products||Disney Interactive / Disney Interactive Media Group||Walt DisneyParks and Resorts||Disney Media Networks||Total|
- Also named Films
- Merged into Creative Content in 1996
- Walt Disney Internet Group, from 1997 to 2000, next merged with Disney Media Networks
- Broadcasting from 1994 to 1996
- Disney Interactive Media Group, merge of WDIG and Disney Interactive Studios
- Not linked to WDIG, Disney reported a $300M loss due to financial modification regarding real estate
Some of Disney's animated family films have drawn fire for being accused of having sexual references hidden in them, among them The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). Instances of sexual material hidden in some versions of The Rescuers (1977) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) resulted in recalls and modifications of the films to remove such content.
Some religious welfare groups, such as the Catholic League, have opposed films including Priest (1994) and Dogma (1999). A book called Growing Up Gay, published by Disney-owned Hyperion and similar publications, as well as the company's extension of benefits to same-sex domestic partners, spurred boycotts of Disney and its advertisers by the Catholic League, the Assemblies of God USA, the American Family Association, and other conservative groups. The boycotts were discontinued by most of these organizations by 2005. In addition to these social controversies, the company has been accused of human rights violations regarding the working conditions in factories that produce their merchandise.
Disney has been criticized for its influence over children in that it endeavours to appeal to children at a young age and develop their views and interests according to Disney's portrayal of major themes as well as prepare children to become early consumers of their brand.
- Walt Disney and Roy Disney
- List of assets owned by Disney
- List of Walt Disney Pictures films
- Lists of films released by Disney
- Disney University
- Buena Vista
- Mandeville-Anthony v. The Walt Disney Company, a federal court case in which Mandeville claimed Disney infringed on his copyrighted ideas by creating Cars
- List of conglomerates
- List of United States companies
- Maker Studios
- Consider the Source