Defending Disney from critics calling the company “too woke,” Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek said Disney will continue to create inclusive content that caters to a “rich, diverse” world.
“When someone walks down Main Street, and you look at the castle, you’re not thinking, ‘I’m on one side of the political spectrum or the other.’ You have a shared belief in all the wonderful aspects of what Disney is,” Chapek said this week. “And we want to use Disney to bring people together, and I think we’ll do that by diverse stories and diverse characters.”
Disney’s perceived political correctness, and the fallout over the company’s response to Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill earlier this year, was one of several contentious issues involving Disney Chapek discussed during a panel at the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live conference Wednesday.
Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Matt Murray questioned Chapek about recent criticisms, including theme park fans’ disapproval of price hikes and the park reservation system, and the company’s future, particularly with its streaming service Disney+.
Chapek continued to defend Disney’s response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed “don’t say gay” by critics. Facing pressure to condemn the legislation, Disney did not denounce it at first, upsetting employees and fans. Chapek later issued an apology, suspended Disney’s political donations in Florida and reached out to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Referring to the issue as the “controversy in Florida,” Murray asked what Chapek learned from the ordeal. Chapek said it was a lesson in listening to Disney’s employees.
“We were reminded through the passion of our cast reaction, and how important their sentiments are on these issues, in terms of making them feel that they were part of the Walt Disney Company and could relate to [its] products,” he said.
When he ran Disney’s theme parks division, the vast majority of letters Chapek would get from fans were about memorable interactions they had with employees, he said.
“If that’s the key to a great guest experience — and we’re all about the guest and the audience, and maximizing their experience — then you have to make sure that the cast is at the center of everything that you do,” he said.
At the theme parks, the reservation system in place since Disney World reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some fans away and even spawned lawsuits in Florida and California. It is one of the biggest fan frustrations in recent years, along with park price hikes.
Chapek said the reservation system, combined with the current pricing structure, works like other fixed-capacity businesses, such as airlines, hotels and cruise ships. Through it, Disney gives guests a better time, he said.
“It’s not only good business practice, in terms of maximizing shareholder value, but more importantly, it protects the guest experience so that when you get into the park, you can have confidence it’s not going to be overcrowded,” Chapek said.
During the discussion, Chapek also mentioned Disney’s plans to merge Disney+ data with that of theme park guests to personalize user and visitor experiences.
He publicly introduced the plans at a September financial conference, and his remarks suggested Disney would use the combined data in targeted advertising. This week, he said the system is still in development.
Disney’s theme park fans are known for intensely defending their preferences at the parks and often directly blame the company’s CEO when things change. Asked about these personal criticisms, Chapek said he brushes them off.
“I ran Parks for seven years, and I was quite familiar with how passionate people can be,” Chapek said. “I mean, if we move a churro cart 10 feet, it’s a big deal. … My own personal feelings aren’t really important. What’s important is how people think about our company.”
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