Some of Disney's CEO Bob Iger's words at the Disney's financial call may have cable industry execs a little nervous. Bob wants Disney to get more more in fees from them—is he following in the footsteps of Macmillan in the Amazon saga?
Responding to questions about the kind of cash Disney collects from cable companies as retransmission fees, Bob really didn't mince words much: He believes his company "has an obligation to derive value from the great investment that we make in these programs, whether they're local in nature or whether they're national in nature. We have every intention of doing just that." And though this is a delicately-worded, guarded warning, Iger underlined how much he and Disney really mean it: "We're pretty resolute" he noted, before pointing out that "It clearly would not be our preference to see that our signal was taken down" and that Disney plans serious negotiations to prevent this—but he left it hanging as a threat.
What Iger is doing is simply rattling his Disney Castle special knight's sword, as a gentle but important warning to cable providers that some of the very meat and drink of their business is content from Disney. And if Disney thinks its content is being undervalued, and its not seeing the kind of financial returns from retrans fees it likes, it could ultimately pull that content, which would leave the cable company with a gaping media hole.
But what would Disney do then? Iger made no direct mention of this, as you might expect. But there is that Disney-Hulu tie-up to remember. There's also one more option, leveraging Disney's might, its pro novel technology stance and some of its other business friendships, would be for Disney to pursue totally new distribution models for its programming. And, right on cue, Iger also did a fabulous job of promoting Apple's iPad. Remembering the close business ties between the two companies, the happy-go-lucky way Disney leaped to be among the first to offer its movies via iTunes early video sales system and the iPad's massively promising future as a cross platform, media/interactivity device this all makes perfect sense. Iger even called it a "game changer" and noted that while his company had been happily planning novel content for the iPhone and iPod Touch App Stores, along comes the iPad as an "even more robust platform" for interactive media sing-a-longs and such.
To our noses, this sort of posturing has a faintly familiar aroma. Dare we compare it to the stink stirred up in the publishing industry when Macmillan (and others, later) reacted to the promise of Apple's newly-revealed iPad and negotiated a re-pricing of their content as sold via Amazon's digital book store? Yes, I think we dare. It looks like Apple's iPad is already a game-changer, long before it launches, and in ways that you might not have expected.