Disney CEO Bob Iger Reveals the Future of Entertainment

Bob Iger. (Photo via Shutterstock/s_bukley)

For the Wall Street Journal’s 125th anniversary edition, Disney CEO Bob Iger contributed his thoughts on the future of entertainment, which is valuable insofar as it reflects the views of the person in charge of the world’s largest entertainment/media conglomerate in terms of revenue. Iger’s formula boils down to the following:

Storytelling+Customization+Social=$$$

Highlights from Iger’s think piece:

Mobile storytelling, and mobile entertainment, will dominate our lives, and offer rich, compelling experiences well beyond what is available today. Where someone is will no longer be a barrier to being entertained; the geography of leisure will be limitless.

One of the most exciting developments I see on the horizon is technology that will immerse us into entertaining worlds, or project those worlds and experiences into our lives. In essence, entertainment will be immeasurably enhanced with both virtual-reality experiences and augmented-reality experiences. Bringing us into created worlds and bringing created worlds into our world will fundamentally explode the boundaries of storytelling, unburdening the storyteller in ways we can’t yet imagine.

That’s why we value entertainment “events” that create treasured memories, strengthen personal connections and deliver shared experiences, whether at the movies, in a theme park, or at a sports stadium. This is entertainment that cannot be time-shifted or duplicated; you have to be there, immersed in the moment.

An experience is enhanced when shared with others, becoming something to be savored and remembered long after it’s over. These social events enrich our lives, and our need for them will never change.

The only thing that Iger is absolutely sure of though is the storytelling part, because that’s what Walt Disney once said. So, Iger concludes, “Although I can’t predict the precise future of entertainment, I share Walt Disney’s optimism and his belief that whatever lies ahead, it will be defined by great storytelling. Just like it always has been.”


  • bushido

    This reminds me of a book that came out in the late 90s that talked about the Experience Economy. Here’s a great article that talks exactly about this move from service to experience economies: http://hbr.org/1998/07/welcome-to-the-experience-economy/

  • etoons

    So in the future, movies will be so real that we will be able to have tea on the ceiling with Mary Poppins, fly on a magic carpet with Aladdin or swim under the sea with Ariel? Awesome!

    Seriously though, I understand that they want entertainment to be more than just an audience watching something, but to what extent are we talking about when we discuss audience interaction? Mobile entertainment is already happening with movies and shows on demand through Apps, though I personally can’t imagine watching a widescreen film on a mobile phone screen (but people do it). Yet I don’t understand how movies can be used in the same context as theme parks and sports events, it’s the screen that divides the audience from the movie/show. Sure you can shout at your TV screen and make remarks on what’s occurring on screen, but it’s not the same as being amongst people with the ambient sounds and smells, and sometimes flavours experienced in live theatre, park rides or sports games. How are films/shows going to transcend that silver-screen barrier, so that audiences will feel like they are actually there?

    3D is an expensive (and pretty limited) gimmick. I don’t see 3D evolving anymore than it has. Our eyes have taken this long to evolve for regular use, and 3D sacrifices picture brightness for often underwhelming pop-out effects. No offense meant towards the people who do this work though, but it usually doesn’t justify the added cost on my ticket, especially when most movie reviews consistently remark that I’m better off seeing said movie in 2D. If you wear glasses like I do it can be worse, plus wearing 3D glasses over corrective lenses is ridiculous. 3D is an old trend that was made new, but the future has to look beyond 3D. Better sound, better picture quality (something beyond IMAX) and films that offer spectacles not justly done on smaller screens. However, if the objective is to transcend the limitations of sitting in front of a screen well then there’s only so much that can be done. It is moving pictures after all, a different art form from interactive games and other similar media.

    Regarding storytelling, sometimes I don’t think many people in charge of projects really understand what makes a great story when it comes to media entertainment. Film/TV stories are told from the perspective of the storyteller to the audience, and are completely different from the stories in choose-your-own-ending books or video games, since the audience has no means of altering the story themselves, unless they become the storyteller. It’s all about suspension of disbelief and convincing the audience to invest in something that is either entirely fictional, or has been altered from true events for artistically dramatic effect. The people who make the films and shows must be completely invested in the material, so the audience can connect to the emotional drama through the art, music, sound, lighting, texturing, acting, staging etc to help sell the themes and messages of the motion picture entertainment. Yet there will always be someone who doesn’t like a particular piece of entertainment, but that’s human nature. I also don’t believe in the idea of story being the most important element, it’s all the elements working together to sell the storyteller’s vision. A great story can be made even greater with added sounds and visuals, that’s why we have theatre and motion pictures. Video games and other interactive entertainment can be great too, but they rely on audience interaction to drive the story forward. The other problem regarding games especially is their limited shelf life. Films/TV shows only require transfer to a usable viewing format which allows for multiple visits. Games are limited to their hardware and operating systems, and the older the title becomes, the harder it gets to be able to revisit them.

    The future of entertainment technology has potential for many innovative and lucrative opportunities. Now if only people would stop investing in projects that “play it safe”. You can’t drive innovation forward if you don’t take any risks. Invest in smart risks and don’t be reckless with safe projects or unrealistic concepts. Looking forward to the future.

    • MaskedManAICN

      I don’t think ‘they want’ entertainment to be more than just watching something. That’s just what they think we want.

      What they want is for us to hook-up our bank accounts up to them like IVs, so they can take as much as they want. That’s the ultimate goal of immersion= never stop paying for it.

  • Dumb_Tim_Armstrong

    He also revealed his thoughts on the future of media 5 years ago – July 23, 2009:
    http://mankabros.com/chairmans-blog/2009/07/bob-iger-and-the-future-of-med-1.html

  • Ryoku240

    Call me crazy but I actually don’t look forward to a world of rich, 3D immersive enhancements. Already we have people that can’t decipher an interstate and Gran Turismo.

  • Mister Twister

    Forget writing good stories; it’s the TECHNOLOGY that will make entertainment better.

  • CaJd554

    Baloney. There’s far more juvenile Japanese cartoons than anything. And some of it is even coherent. Disney films succeed or fail on their own merits (ever seen Black Cauldron or Atlantis?).

    • DangerMaus

      I would hardly use “The Black Cauldron” as an example for criticizing the coherence or childishness of anime. The Black Cauldron was the single worst animated film ever made by Disney. I’m amazed that TBC didn’t result in the complete shutdown of Disney’s animation unit.

      TBC demonstrates the difference between old Disney management and the mercenaries running the asylum now. The crew presently running Disney probably would have been tripping over themselves in their rush to shut down the animation unit if they had been in charge during the period of time when TBC was released. It was terrible and a huge flop.

      Also, naming “Atlantis” as a counterpoint to Anime seems ironic considering that it was heavily influenced by the very cartoons that you are calling incoherent and juvenile.

      A lot of anime is juvenile, but a good chunk of it isn’t and North American animation has no analogues for the anime that isn’t juvenile. I don’t see any any American equivalent to films such as “Wings of Honneamise”, “Akira”, “Perfect Blue”, “Millennium Actress”, “Ghost In The Shell”, “Patlabor”, “GotF”, “Night on The Galactic Railroad” and on and on. Hell, I’ve never even seen an American kid’s cartoon that did what San Rio did in “Chirin’s Bell” which was prettly well intended to be a little kiddy show. The closest any western commercial animated movie got to being a “serious” drama was Rosen’s adaptations of “Watership Down” and “The Plague Dogs”. Those two are great animated films in my book, but a complete anomaly when it comes to western animation.

      • Paul N

        The Black Cauldron is the “single worst” Disney animated feature? Clearly you’ve never seen The Aristocats…
        http://www.instantrimshot.com

  • CaJd554

    He talks and talks and talks, but doesn’t say anything. He’s just repeating what tech types are telling him. But they can’t create content on their own. And artists won’t be owned by technology or technologists. I bet he even uses lame outdated terminology like “transmedia.” Blech.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Actually I’ve stopped watching television and movies. Now I just watch puppet shows in the park. Although crude in their presentation their depth is widely understood.

  • MaskedManAICN

    Me thinks he talks in circles. First mobile is the way to go (participate whenever you want)- then immersion is the way to go (participate all the time)- then events are the way to (participate at specific time and place).

    I feel what he said boils down to ‘buzz words’ + ‘we do too still honor Walt Disney’ = “continue to give us your money’

  • truteal

    With stuff like “Pickle and Peanut” coming soon, they’re going to have to rely on story!

  • Marbles471

    Sometimes I feel like an alien on my own planet, because it sometimes feels like I’m the only person who sees this as a terrible thing. Seriously—-I do not like how fast things have been developing technologically the past fifteen years or so, particularly the last eight or so of those years. Frankly, humans are too immature and weak to handle it gracefully. I dread what we’re becoming—-a completely plugged-in society that loses touch with tactile realty more and more each day. Little children are staring at screens now from literally the moment they open their eyes. And we thought too much television was bad. What effect is this CONSTANT, INESCAPABLE virtual world going to have on us as humans, cognitively, socially, emotionally, even physically?
    I write this as someone all too aware of my own weaknesses and addictive nature, who needs to spend less time on the internet. Mankind does NOT need any more excuses to duck out of the real physical world. We do NOT need more “convenience” in entertainment.

  • Marbles471

    Disagree strongly about Bakshi. Troma films aren’t strong, personal statements from a distinctive worldview. Bakshi’s best work is that and more. They may be “trashy,” but it’s trash with a message and an intelligence behind it. “Heavy Traffic” and the tragically named “Coonskin” are his masterpieces, because both are intensely personal films spoken from deeply felt convictions. And both are composed in a manner that is essentially the filmmaker’s counterpart to jazz riffing.

    • Zeidz

      I actually quite like Bakshi’s works (well, barring most of the rotoscoped stuff), but they all share a really sleazy and crude attitude (his penchant for drawing in girls with massive knockers for a start) which sorta undermines them, and as I said, doesn’t place them far away from the usual grindhouse fare.

      “Troma films aren’t strong, personal statements from a distinctive worldview.”
      What, you’ve never seen Combat Shock? ;)

  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com/ Cory Gross

    Two major problems with this argument, and an observation about anime…

    1) It’s specious to assert that books and live action necessarily have better storytelling than Disney animated films simply by virtue of being books and live action. Which books are you talking about? Which live action movies? Are you suggesting that, say, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is worse at storytelling than Wild Wild West? Or that Beauty and the Beast WASN’T deserving of a Best Picture nomination? Or that a Harlequin romance is better than Little Mermaid or Cinderella?

    2) The idea that Disney is uniformly childish is simply wrong. I’ve been finding the classic fairy tales more engaging as an adult than I ever did as a kid. And then there are the non-fairy tales that most people overlook, that are brilliant in their own rights. Fantasia is one of my favourite movies ever, not just my favourite Disney movies. Or Three Cabelleros, or Atlantis, or Melody Time, or Dumbo, or Tarzan. Don’t brush Disney off based on the common misperception that Disney is just for kids.

    On anime…

    There is a fundamental difference in how animation is perceived between Japan and America. In the United States, animation is largely considered a genre while in Japan it is largely considered a medium. In the United States you get a more narrow range of Disney-style films or Pixar-style films, while in Japan you get wildly divergent things from Studio Ghibli to Attack on Titan to DiGi Charat to Macross.

    But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this automatically makes Disney bad and anime good. There is LOTS of TERRIBLE anime out there. For every Makoto Shinkai, you get some terrible, silly bit of fluff that is indistinguishable from every other magical girl buddy comedy or whatever is hot that year. And we don’t even GET most anime over here. It’s easy to point at really good examples of anime and say it’s better than Disney, but it would be just as easy to look at pointless, silly, violent, cliche, disposable anime and argue that Disney is better. The very nature of anime as a medium prevents you from being able to say it is uniformly “better,” because you have to ask which anime you’re talking about.

  • Barrett

    While I certainly wouldn’t mind going to a “Disney Holodeck” now and then, I would think something like that would be more like a theme park type experience; something you do once in a while, or at most, once or twice a month. Going into an immersive fantasy environment is a different experience than watching a non-interactive narrative play out before you on a screen. it’s also a lot easier to look away from or interrupt as desired a movie or TV show than it is to “come out” of a virtual world. I also have my doubts about anyone with a reasonably healthy psyche wanting to spend more than a few hours a week in such an artificial environment. Even when it comes to today’s videogames, only hardcore gamers spend more than 20 minutes to an hour per day playing some kind of videogame, and they are a niche.

    Put simply, watching a 30 minute cartoon or even an hour and a half film is a lot easier to pick up and walk away from than a VR fantasy experience.

  • DangerMaus

    You lost me when you said that “Fantasia’ is better than any anime ever made. In fact, I laughed when I read that. Right. Fantasia is better than Akira or Night On The Galactic Railroad or Graveyard of The Fireflies or Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind, just to name a few. Don’t make me laugh. Fantasia is a great film but saying that it is better than EVERY anime EVER made is just patently ridiculous.

    • DangerMaus

      After re-reading this comment, it comes across as overly judgmental. I think the idea that Fantasia is better than every anime made is wrong, but I could have stated that in a better way than to say it in a tone that comes across as rude and dismissive.

      • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com/ Cory Gross

        No worries.

        You bring up some very good movies (except for Akira… Katsuhiro Otomo’s movies are pretty, but deathly dull and pseudo-intellectual), but I still believe that Fantasia is superior. Nausicaa is a good movie, but not even Miyazaki’s best movie and feels very incomplete after you’ve read the entire manga. Night on the Galactic Railroad is sublime, but really does require a reading of the book to supplement it. Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible movie, but is such a straightforward drama that it has since been adapted to live action.

        Where I give points to Fantasia is that it is an amazing piece of pure art. It is not only the peak of Disney’s art, but of animation in general. Besides its undeniable quality, it is an exemplary showpiece of what animation is capable of. You can have great films that are just abstract or just comedy or just horror or just narrative, Fantasia has it all.

  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com/ Cory Gross

    I would actually disagree with the argument that Disney is formulaic, especially if you take historical perspective into consideration (i.e.: Snow White wasn’t formulaic because it was the first one). Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, etc. may be simple narratives, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad, or even substandard. Compared to what? Wings? My Fair Lady? Around the World in 80 Days? Titanic? The Sound of Music? All of those were Best Picture winners, and you’re suggesting that something like Snow White or Beauty and the Beast DOESN’T stand in that same class?

  • Baruch

    Hopefully, in the future, we will all see a DVD release of Songs of the South. Also, A DVD release of Professor Ludwig Von Drakes TV appearances would be a plus!!