Bob Iger at a Spurs-Clippers game in October 2023. Oct 29, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Disney chief executive officer Bob Iger in attendance during the second half at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Some of the strangest stories in the sports media world involve remarkable comments, weeks and weeks to months of follow-up reporting and clarifications, and then an ultimate return to the status quo antebellum. The latest one to make that jump is the talk of Disney selling off linear networks, especially including ABC. And that all started in July when Disney CEO Bob Iger brought up the idea that linear networks, including ABC, “may not be core” to Disney’s business, doing so during a remote interview with CNBC’s David Faber:

There, Iger said “We have to be open minded and objective about the future of those businesses.” And that led to months of discussion, from other network executives talking up their bullishness on linear networks to Byron Allen making Disney a $10 billion offer for ABC and beyond. But now, in a town hall with Disney employees Tuesday, Iger said he only made those comments to see what offers they might stir up, and he was surprised by the reaction they drew. Here’s more on that from J. Clara Chan of The Los Angeles Times:

“Maybe this is a fault of mine, I don’t know, but I often give people the benefit of my own thinking in public, meaning I run things up flag poles to see how they’re going to fly,” Iger said. “It’s just sometimes when I speak out loud or think out loud, I get a reaction right away. In most cases when I do it, I’m trying to get a reaction from the investment community, just to see.”

“When I said that, I meant it, but I did not necessarily believe everybody would run with a story that everything was being sold, which is not the case,” he continued.

Since his comments over the summer, Iger said his time spent reevaluating the company’s business has demonstrated the value of Disney’s trove of networks, particularly for its streaming services.

“The fact that I can either watch a show on ABC in prime time or see it on Hulu the next morning, or four or five or six hours later and serve maybe a completely different audience, that has real strategic value to the company. And there’s a lot of it,” he said. “So no decisions have been made. Really that should not in any way indicate anything that is negative or, or should be of concern.”

As we discussed around Iger’s initial comments, getting rid of ABC would have posed tremendous problems for other Disney assets, including Hulu and ESPN. So it likely makes some sense that a wider reevaluation decided that wasn’t a good plan. And Iger’s overall comments here did come to pass in some smaller ways, with the hard-fought Disney-Charter deal allowing Charter to remove some less-prominent Disney linear networks.

But it’s interesting to hear not just this walkback, but also Iger admitting he said this in an effort “to get a reaction from the investment community.” He certainly did pull that off, even if the eventual offers weren’t high enough to make Disney seriously consider this. And it’s worth keeping that in mind with future Iger comments; he’s made it clear here that some of his public comments are more floating ideas to test reactions than saying the company will certainly pursue a strategy. So that will be worth considering going forward in discussions of Disney and ESPN strategy.

[The Los Angeles Times]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.