Last June, Disney’s departing executive chairman Bob Iger reportedly issued a warning to the company’s management. “In a world and business that is awash with data, it is tempting to use data to answer all of our questions, including creative questions,” he said. “I urge all of you not to do that.”
Bob Chapek, Iger’s successor as CEO, seems to have different ideas. In an interview with Fortune, Chapek described his vision of a Disney that smashes “heretofore definitions of media,” taking “digital storytelling and blend[ing] it with physical storytelling, like in a metaverse where it’s a three-dimensional canvas that gets painted.” And the key to achieving that is data.
“The precursor to everything we’re talking about with the metaverse and this customer-personalized blending of physical and digital is the database,” he says. “We’ve been collecting very deep, rich data for a long time from our parks.”
The parks, which Chapek used to lead, are at the frontline of Disney’s push into the metaverse. The company recently patented technology that can create immersive virtual environments at parks and other venues, through complex projections of potentially interactive images.
It won’t end there: Chapek has said that Disney+ will also have a place in the metaverse, but didn’t explain how. Describing his concept of the metaverse to Fortune, he says, “It’s a book, it’s a game, it’s a movie, it’s an episodic tv show — forget all that. For our storytellers it’s like taking out the lane markers in the swimming pool and saying you have the whole pool to swim in.”
With streaming, too, data is king. “We’ve got volumes of hard data that tells us exactly what were the first streams, when did the first streams come on, how long did people watch, how many times did they watch?” says Chapek. Harnessing that database, “we can do an even better job of customizing the experience for the consumer, regardless of whether they started in a park or at home watching Disney+ or anywhere in between.”
Last week, Chapek fleshed out his plans for the company in a memo to staff. He described three “strategic pillars”: storytelling excellence, innovation, and “relentless focus on our audience.”