The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Disney, is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California.
Disney was originally founded on October 16, 1923, by brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio; it also operated under the names The Walt Disney Studio and Walt Disney Productions before officially changing its name to The Walt Disney Company in 1986. The company established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into live-action film production, television, and theme parks.
Since the 1980s, Disney has created and acquired corporate divisions in order to market more mature content than is typically associated with its flagship family-oriented brands. The company is known for its film studio division, The Walt Disney Studios, which includes Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures, and Blue Sky Studios. Disney's other main units and reporting segments are Disney Media Networks, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, and Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International. Through these segments, Disney owns and operates the ABC broadcast network; cable television networks such as Disney Channel, ESPN, Freeform, FX, and National Geographic; publishing, merchandising, music, and theater divisions; and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, a group of 14 theme parks around the world.
The company has been a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1991. Cartoon character Mickey Mouse, created in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, is one of the world's most recognizable characters and serves as the company's official mascot.
1923–1928: Founding and silent film eraIn 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 a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The series was produced by Winkler Pictures and distributed by Universal Pictures. Universal owned Oswald, so Disney only made a few hundred dollars. Disney completed 27 Oswald shorts before losing the contract in March 1928, when Winkler head Charles Mintz hired away four of Disney's primary animators 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 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 percent and Roy owned 40 percent 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 to produce cartoons in color, beginning with Flowers and Trees. Disney released cartoons through Powers' Celebrity Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists. The popularity of the Mickey Mouse series allowed Disney to plan for his first feature-length animation. The feature film Walt Before Mickey, based on the book by Diane Disney Miller, featured these moments in the studio's history.
1934–1950: ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'', World War II, and package filmsDeciding 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 by 1939 became the highest-grossing film of that time. 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 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, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. 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 percent 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 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.
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 and Melody Time, which performed poorly at the box office. At the same time, the studio began producing live-action films and documentaries. Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart featured animated segments, while the True-Life Adventures series, which included such films as Seal Island and The Vanishing Prairie, were also popular. Eight of the films in the series won Academy Awards.
1950–1966: Television, Disneyland, and Walt Disney's deathThe 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 and Peter Pan, both in production before the war began, and Disney's first all-live action feature, Treasure Island. Other early all-live-action Disney films included The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, The Sword and the Rose, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Disney ended its distribution contract with RKO in 1953, forming its own distribution arm, Buena Vista Distribution.
, July 1955.
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 One Hour in Wonderland. In October 1954, the ABC network launched Disney's first regular television series. 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 Robert Cummings, 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, Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, 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, adaptations of children's books and modern-day comedies. 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. On December 15, 1966, Walt Disney died of complications relating to lung cancer, marking the end of an era for the company.
1966–1984: Roy O. Disney's leadership and death, Walt Disney World, new leadership, theatrical malaiseFollowing Walt's death, Roy O. 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 and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 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 O. Disney died of a stroke. He left the company under the control of Donn Tatum, Card Walker, and Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller, each trained by Walt and Roy. While Walt Disney Productions continued releasing family-friendly films throughout the 1970s, such as Escape to Witch Mountain and Freaky Friday, the films did not fare as well at the box office as earlier material. However, the animation studio saw success with Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and The Fox and the Hound. 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; it 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 ; 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 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, 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.
opened in October 1982.
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 percent 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. Likewise in 1984, MCA actually struck a deal with Disney to purchase the company on the condition insisted by the Disney family that Disney CEO Ron W. Miller be MCA president, but disagreements between MCA chairman Lew Wasserman and Disney over the condition caused the agreement to fall through completely.
1984–2005: Michael Eisner's leadership, Disney Renaissance, and "Save Disney" campaignWith 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 leading to increased output with Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Pretty Woman and additional hits. Eisner used expanding cable and home video markets to sign deals using Disney shows and films, making a long-term deal with Showtime Networks for Disney/Touchstone releases through 1996 and entering television with syndication and distribution for TV series such 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.
Buoyed by the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, Disney's flagship animation studio enjoyed a series of commercial and critical successes known as the Disney Renaissance, with such films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. 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, , Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, Bonkers and Gargoyles. Disney moved to first place in box office receipts by 1988 and had increased revenues by 20 percent 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, 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 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 while international revenues contributed 22 percent of total 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. 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. 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. Eisner later said, in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, that he regretted letting Ovitz go.
, a community that was planned by the Walt Disney Company.
In 1994, Eisner attempted to purchase NBC from General Electric, but the deal failed due to GE wanting to keep 51 percent ownership of the network. On August 1, 1995, Disney announced they would acquire and merge with Capital Cities/ABC Inc. for $19 billion, which at the time was the second largest corporate takeover. The merger would bring broadcast network ABC and its assets, including a 37.5% minority stake in A&E Television Networks, an 80 percent majority stake in ESPN and the Limited Partnership-ran DIC Productions into the Disney umberella. The deal was closed on February 10, 1996, and 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 million 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.
of the Disney Cruise Line at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
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. In November 2000, Andy Heyward purchased back DIC Entertainment from Disney and making the studio re-independent. On July 23, 2001, Disney announced to purchase Fox Family Worldwide for $2.9 billion cash plus $2.3 billion in debt assumption, which would include ownership in the Fox Family channel alongside other assets including the Saban Entertainment library and Fox Kids channels in Europe and Latin America. The purchase was completed on October 24, 2001 and Fox Family would be renamed to ABC Family in November.
The year 2001 was one of cost cutting, laying off 4,000 employees, Disney parks operations decreased, slashing annual live-action film investment, and minimizing Internet operations, mainly due to the September 11 attacks, which led to a decline in vacation travel and the early 2000s recession led to a decrease in ABC revenue. 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 August 9, 2002, Disney said it was expressing great interest in buying Universal Studios whose parent company Vivendi started a bidding war after inheriting $17.9 billion in debt by its purchase of the famed major film studio from Seagram for $34 billion. In addition, Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure was struggling to deal with catastrophically low attendance since the park's opening in 1999, and the September 11 attacks in 2001 caused a dip of Universal Parks and Resorts' tourism attendance worldwide. As a result, Vivendi lacked the interest in investing in the Universal parks more meaningfully and may have been one of the reasons for selling off Universal. Analysts speculated that Universal would have to be available at a bargain price to justify such a deal. "Owning more theme parks could make Disney even more cyclical because that's a cyclical business," said Katherine Styponias of Prudential Securities. Despite this, Disney didn't succeed in pursuing a takeover for various reasons, owing to its stock price at a 52-week-low and the likelihood of the Disney/Universal deal being blocked on antitrust grounds.
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 percent 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. In February 2005, Disney sold the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hockey team to Henry and Susan Samueli, who later renamed the team the Anaheim Ducks. On March 13, 2005, Robert A. Iger was announced as Eisner's successor as CEO. Also that month, Miramax co-founders Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein departed the company to form their own studio. On July 8, 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. On July 25, Disney announced that it was closing DisneyToon Studios Australia in October 2006 after 17 years of existence. On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the Board of Directors.
2005–2020: Bob Iger's leadership and company expansionOn October 1, 2005, Bob Iger replaced Eisner as Disney's CEO. On November 4, Walt Disney Feature Animation released Chicken Little, the company's first film using 3D animation. 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 percent 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 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. In February 2007, the company was accused of human rights violations regarding the working conditions in factories that produce their merchandise. On August 31, 2009, Disney announced a deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment for $4.24 billion, in a deal completed on December 31, 2009.
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 planned to produce a in the main film franchise for release in 2015. The sale was completed on December 21, 2012. On March 24, 2014, Disney acquired Maker Studios, an active multi-channel network on YouTube, for $500 million. The company was later turned into a new venture called Disney Digital Network in May 2017.
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 percent 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.
In September 2016, Disney considered purchasing the American online news and social networking service Twitter, but they dropped out partly due to concerns over abuse and harassment on the 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 percent, and would launch a subscription video-on-demand service featuring its entertainment content in 2019, which will replace Netflix as the subscription VOD rights holder of all Disney theatrical film releases. In November 2017, Lasseter announced that he was taking a six-month leave of absence from Pixar and Disney Animation after acknowledging "missteps" in his behavior with employees in a memo to staff. According to various news outlets, Lasseter had a history of alleged sexual misconduct towards employees.
In November 2017, it was reported by CNBC that Disney had been in negotiations to acquire 21st Century Fox. The negotiations had reportedly resumed around Disney acquiring several of Fox's key media assets. 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. On December 14, Disney agreed to acquire most assets from 21st Century Fox, including 20th Century Fox, for $52.4 billion. The merger included many of Fox's entertainment assets—including filmed entertainment, cable entertainment, and direct broadcast satellite divisions in the UK, Europe, and Asia—but excluded divisions such as the Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Television Stations, the Fox News Channel, the Fox Business Network, Fox Sports 1 and 2, and the Big Ten Network, all of which were to be spun off into an independent company before the merger was complete. The following June, after a counter offer from Comcast worth $65 billion, Disney increased its offer to $71.3 billion. The transaction officially closed on March 20, 2019.
Beginning in March 2018, a strategic reorganization of the company saw the creation of two business segments, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products and Direct-to-Consumer & International. Parks & Consumer Products was primarily a merger of Parks & Resorts and Consumer Products & Interactive Media. While Direct-to-Consumer & International took over for Disney International and global sales, distribution and streaming units from Disney-ABC TV Group and Studios Entertainment plus Disney Digital Network. Given that CEO Iger described it as "strategically positioning our businesses for the future", The New York Times considered the reorganization done in expectation of the 21st Century Fox purchase.
2020–present: Leadership change and COVID-19 pandemicOn February 25, 2020, Disney named Bob Chapek as CEO to succeed Iger, effective immediately. Iger assumed the role of Executive Chairman, under which he would oversee the creative side of the company, while also continuing to serve as Chairman of the Board during the transition period through 2021.
In April 2020, Iger resumed operational duties of the company as executive chairman to help the company during the COVID-19 pandemic and Chapek was appointed to the board of directors. Also in the month, the company announced that it would suspend pay to more than 100,000 employees at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products in response to the coronavirus recession—reportedly amounting to monthly savings of $500 million for the company—while continuing to provide full healthcare benefits. Reportedly, staff in the United States and France were affected and were encouraged to apply for government support.
Due to the closure of Disney parks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney experienced a 63 percent drop in earnings for the fiscal second quarter of 2020, resulting in a loss of $1.4 billion for the company. Additionally, the Parks, Experiences and Products division experienced a loss of $1 billion in revenue.
Company unitsThe Walt Disney Company operates four primary business units, which it calls "business segments":
- Studio Entertainment encompasses the company's primary business unit, The Walt Disney Studios, which includes the company's film studios, Disney Music Group and Disney Theatrical Group.
- Media Networks, which consists of the company's broadcast, cable, radio, publishing, and digital businesses, including Walt Disney Television, ESPN Inc. and Disney Media Distribution. The division also owns 50% of A&E Networks with Hearst Communications.
- Parks, Experiences & Products, which includes the company's theme parks, cruise line, travel-related assets, consumer products, and publishing divisions. Disney's resorts and diversified related holdings include: Disney Parks, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney Vacation Club, Disney Cruise Line, and Adventures by Disney.
- Direct-to-Consumer & International, including digital subscription streaming services, and international holdings, including Star India and UTV Software Communications in India.
- Bob Iger – Chairman ; Executive Chairman
- * Bob Chapek – Chief executive officer
- ** Alan Bergman – Co-Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios
- ** Alan Braverman – Senior Executive Vice President, General counsel, and Secretary
- ** Rebecca Campbell – Chairman, Direct-to-Consumer & International
- ** Josh D'Amaro – Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products
- ** Alan F. Horn – Co-Chairman, and Chief creative officer, The Walt Disney Studios
- ** Christine M. McCarthy – Senior Executive VP, and Chief financial officer
- ** Zenia Mucha – Senior Executive VP, and Chief communications officer
- ** Jayne Parker – Senior Executive VP, and Chief human resources officer
- ** James Pitaro – President of ESPN and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks
- ** Ike Perlmutter - Chairman, Marvel Entertainment
- ** Peter Rice – Chairman, Walt Disney Television, and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks