Eight Biggest Disney Business Stories of the Year
At the end of 2019, Disney as a company was worth a little over $250 billion.
During the pandemic, which hurt the company in countless ways, Disney’s value fell as low as $168 billion.
Despite the devastation, Disney will end the year with a value over $300 billion. Yes, it somehow increased by 20 percent during a pandemic.
Obviously, the company experienced plenty of ups and downs in 2020. Here are the eight biggest Disney business stories of the year.
8) Walt Disney World Announces High-Speed Railway
The future of Walt Disney World transportation will go through Disney Springs!
Yes, after years of ill-fated rumors involving new monorail tracks and self-driving cars, we finally learned Disney’s plans to move guests.
Brightline and Disney agreed to terms on the construction of a new train station at Disney Springs.
This high-speed rail service will eventually connect guests to Orlando International Airport, along with current locations in Miami and West Palm Beach.
Once this railway connection arrives, Disney guests can bop around Orlando and the rest of Florida easily and quickly.
The current line from Miami to West Palm Beach takes a little more than an hour, and that’s including a stop in Fort Lauderdale.
So, the train takes less time than driving the same route…and there’s no traffic!
This railway station will change the lives of many Disney fans.
7) Bob Iger Marries Then Breaks Up with California
Every day in 2020 felt like an eternity, and I can prove this by discussing Bob Iger’s year.
At the start of 2020, Iger seemed firmly in control at Disney, ready to play out his contract’s remaining two years.
Less than two months later, Bob Chapek…well, we’ll get to that. Anyway, Iger became more of an overseer and figurehead at Disney.
Since Iger had always eyed a run for political office, he saw an opportunity to make a powerful friend in California’s governor, Gavin Newsom.
In mid-April, Iger agreed to join a California task force centered on its economic recovery and reopening guidelines.
The two most prominent names in this group were Iger and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Disney had stated that its highest priority was “getting people back to work,” and Iger figured he could help with that via the task force.
Alas, the situation degraded at warp speed. Newsom’s reluctance to reopen theme parks irked Iger.
On October 1st, the former Disney CEO quit the task force and added some huffy comments about California’s government.
That marriage lasted only five months. Even worse, Disneyland remains closed.
6) The NBA Bubble
The 2020-2021 NBA season lasted less than 24 hours before the league canceled a game.
Former NBA MVP James Harden got caught mask-less at a local nightclub.
This incident underscores the triumph of the NBA’s summer at Walt Disney World.
After the season shut down in March, league officials liaised with Disney about the best strategies to continue the season.
Disney had skin the game as a broadcast partner of the league. ABC and ESPN needed live programming to sell advertising.
The two parties came up with an inventive solution. Disney built a bubble site at Walt Disney World, a place where NBA players could live safely.
The pandemic had led to the closure of theme parks at the time, which meant that Disney had unused hotel space.
Similarly, the company had canceled all sporting events at ESPN Wide World of Sports, a logical candidate to host NBA games.
So, basketball players headed to Disney to finish the season, staying at three Walt Disney World hotels between games.
These athletes isolated themselves from park and hotel guests once Walt Disney World reopened.
They also subjected themselves to stringent health checks to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The NBA Bubble proved so successful that the league finished the entire season AND the playoffs without a single positive COVID-19 test.
Disney kept everyone safe and secure in the bubble, which seems all the more impressive now.
The NBA has already suffered a COVID incident more serious than any during its three months at Walt Disney World.
5) Disney Wins Property Tax Lawsuit
Okay, this one’s a little inside baseball, but homeowners should grasp the concept.
Disney pays property taxes just like any other real estate owner.
The catch is that various tax assessors have disagreed about how to calculate those taxes.
Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh has clashed with Disney on several occasions, trying to employ a specific accounting practice.
Called the Rushmore method, this billing tactic caused what Disney deemed massive overbilling.
The company pushed back in court by suing for a reduction in property taxes.
To the entire industry’s shock, an appellate court ruled the Rushmore method illegal.
In the process, Disney saved millions of dollars in taxes for properties like Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.
Singh later appealed the ruling, but Disney holds all the cards now. It’s proven that it will not allow overbilling on its property taxes.
Meanwhile, Singh felt compelled to write an op-ed in The Orlando Sentinel about the publication’s coverage of the story.
4) Disney Performs Massive Layoffs
Not all Disney business stories have a happy ending. This one, in particular, breaks the hearts of the entire MickeyBlog staff.
We’re passionate in our support of Disney cast members, who are some of the finest employees on the planet.
As such, we’re incredibly sympathetic to the many Disney workers who lost their jobs during 2020.
As mentioned, the pandemic seemed structured to impinge on all of Disney’s financial streams.
So, Disney was left scrambling for cash when the theme parks and movie theaters closed, and live sports ended.
The company’s still in a hole and will remain that way indefinitely. Disney had purchased Fox in early 2019 and had planned to pay for it gradually.
With so many sources of income rendered useless in March, the company had no choice but to perform layoffs.
At the start of 2020, some sources estimated that 223,000 people worked for The Walt Disney Company.
By late November, Disney had indicated it would lay off a total of 32,000 people.
That’s a massive 14 percent reduction in Disney’s workforce.
Putting it another way, one out of every seven Disney cast members lost their jobs in 2020.
3) Disney Goes All-In on Streaming
We’ve covered this story a great deal recently. So, I’ll give you the short version.
Disney+ arrived in November of 2019 as an attempt for Iger to leave his legacy. He envisioned a streaming service empire that could rival Netflix.
Iger laid out an ambitious five-year plan for Disney+ that Wall Street didn’t believe, as he felt the company could gain 60 million subscribers by 2024.
Many analysts guffawed at the thought and believed Disney+ would be lucky to reach half that total in five years.
Nobody’s laughing now.
After 13 months in operation, Disney+ has already gained 86.8 million subscribers worldwide.
That total approaches Iger’s high-end five-year projection of 90 million, which even Disney employees found overly optimistic.
Disney reached a crossroads when the pandemic forced the closure of movie theaters worldwide.
Even in late 2020, movie-goers have hesitated to enter movie theaters, and this issue has forced Disney to improvise.
Starting all the way back in March, Disney+ enhanced its product whenever possible.
First, Disney+ streamed Frozen 2 three months ahead of schedule. Then, Onward skipped the regular digital distribution window and debuted there.
Artemis Fowl, Soul, and The One and Only Ivan skipped theatrical release and debuted as part of the standard Disney+ subscription programming.
Disney also unveiled Premier Access for Mulan, the movie scheduled for theatrical release right after the pandemic hit.
For $29.99, viewers could watch this film at home rather than in theaters as expected.
Disney+ will take the same approach with Raya and The Last Dragon in March of 2021.
More importantly, during Disney’s Investor Day, the company revealed roughly 50 streaming projects in the offing.
Disney will do whatever it takes to dominate the streaming industry and reap the potentially lucrative financial rewards from its pivot.
2) Bob Chapek Becomes CEO
For the body of the 2010s, Wall Street wondered who would replace Bob Iger as Disney’s CEO.
Iger had positioned several candidates as potential successors, only for them to leave the company shortly afterward.
Bob Chapek appeared likely to earn the role for a while, but then reports suggested he had fallen out of favor.
So, you can imagine everyone’s surprise on February 25th when Disney unexpectedly announced that Chapek would replace Iger as CEO.
Even more shockingly, Chapek started the job that day! It was a sonic boom in the corporate world and perhaps foreshadowing for what would happen next.
Chapek suffered through a brutal first week on the job. Several incidents occurred with rides followed by a SWAT appearance at a Disney resort.
Iger moved to the background of Disney as Chapek took the helm. It quickly became apparent that the new boss had a singular purpose.
Chapek was Disney’s wartime consigliere as Iger anticipated that COVID-19 would have far-reaching implications on society.
Iger didn’t feel like he was the person for the job, as Disney needed new blood. So, Chapek ascended and has helmed Disney through trying times.
The jury’s still out on how well Chapek will do, but the company’s market valuation hit an all-time high in December. That’s a good start.
1) The Coronavirus Year
Yeah, there’s just no avoiding it. Coronavirus has impacted all our lives.
I don’t want to belabor the point, as several other stories have told the tale here.
COVID-19 temporarily derailed Disney, as the company entered fiscal 2020 with total momentum. It’d earned record revenue and was on a historic pace.
Then, Coronavirus issues closed society for the rest of the year, disrupting all of us.
Disney suffered mightily, with its theme park division hardest hit.
All the parks closed at various points in 2020, with some currently not open. The company couldn’t host cruises or Adventures by Disney, either.
Other park projects lost their short-term financing, too. So, Coronavirus will, unfortunately, linger like a haunting memory for a while now.
Thankfully, 2020 is over, and Disney is poised to get back on track in 2021.
Feature Image: Disney