On this day in 2005, the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company officially announces that Robert Iger, Disney’s president and chief operating officer, will succeed Michael Eisner as the company’s chief executive officer (CEO).
As Disney’s chief executive since 1984, Eisner was credited with expanding the company’s reach into diverse realms of the entertainment industry–including animated and live-action films, theater and theme parks–with phenomenal success. By the spring of 2004, however, Disney was struggling to emerge from a bit of a slump: Its ABC television division was struggling, while its once-dominant animation department was being outpaced by innovators such as Pixar, producers of the massive 2003 hit Finding Nemo. Shareholders voted to strip Eisner of his chairmanship of the Disney board that March, and Eisner announced in September that he would leave Disney in two years.
The following March, the announcement came that Iger, Disney’s president and Eisner’s loyal second-in-command since 2000, would succeed Eisner as the company’s CEO. Iger worked as a weatherman and news reporter in Ithaca, New York, before joining ABC in 1974. He rose through the ranks there and was eventually named president and chief operating officer of Capital Cities/ABC. The success of shows such as NYPD Blue, Roseanne, Home Improvement and America’s Funniest Home Videos helped drive ABC’s increasing profits during Iger’s tenure, and he oversaw the merger of ABC with Disney, creating a juggernaut of channels including ABC, ESPN, Lifetime, A&E and The History Channel.
Iger had officially joined Disney’s senior management team in 1996 as chairman of the ABC Group; in 1999 he was named president of Walt Disney International. The following January, Iger was named Disney’s president and chief operating officer.
Things were looking up for Disney at the time of Iger’s promotion, as ABC had scored recent hits with Lost and Desperate Housewives and its movie division had showed strong results. From the time his succession was announced, Iger worked to give Disney’s various business units more autonomy. Seeing the enormous potential of advances in technology and new media, Iger also made it a priority to guide Disney into the future of entertainment. Less than two weeks after he officially took over as CEO on October 1, 2005, Iger announced a deal that made Disney- and ABC-owned TV show episodes available through Apple Computer’s online iTunes store. Rivals such as NBC and CBS hastened to follow suit and provide their programs for iTunes or on-demand viewing.