Five years ago, I was told that far from retiring with his $1 billion in profits from selling Marvel to Disney, Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter was actually taking a more active involvement in running Marvel and hoping to bring his particularly effective brand of cost cutting to Disney itself. His influence was most felt in the Consumer Products division, but despite getting banned from puttering around in the movie division any more, his influence is still a powerful one at the highest levels of Disney.
The recent sudden removal of Disney heir apparent Thomas Staggsis partly because of a shift to Ike-style belt tightening, Bloomberg reports. Staggs was all set to take over the position of Chairman when current head Bob Iger retires in 2018, but was suddenly asked to step down earlier this month, leaving no heir apparent. Three Disney division heads have moved in, however; theme park head Bob Chapek; consumer and digital products’ Jimmy Pitaro; and top TV guy Ben Sherwood. Pitaro and Chapek are said to be close to Ike – Perlmutter’s dislike of Staggs is reportedly part of why Staggs was asked to leave. In just a few weeks, the new exec team has instituted cost cutting and revenue boosting measures around Disney including reducing executive perks and raising costs of going to Disneyland and other attractions.
Unlike Staggs, Disney’s current roster of division chiefs has known to wield a hatchet to costs. Jimmy Pitaro, as president of Disney’s interactive unit, led the business to profitability by closing video-game studios, licensing the making of “Star Wars” games to Electronic Arts Inc. rather than making them in-house and supervising the elimination of 700 jobs in March 2014 alone. His strategy included emphasizing mobile games rather than slower-growing console products.
The unit shot from a $308 million loss in 2011 to a $132 million profit in 2015. Last year the interactive business was merged with the $4.5 billion consumer products business, and in February Iger named Pitaro as sole chairman of the combined operation.
Before he moved to the parks division, Chapek had put his stamp on the consumer products unit. His predecessor, Andy Mooney, employed a variety of specialists in food, apparel and toys who worked with manufacturers on product designs. Chapek scrapped that approach to focus on franchises such as “Frozen” and “Star Wars.” Profits at the consumer products division have doubled to $1.7 billion since 2011.
There’s no denying that Disney is a vastly profitable company – just last weekend The Jungle Book had a huge opening, surprising observers who thought we just didn’t need another version of Baloo – and acquisitions Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars are being merchandised and marketed to new and amazing heights, while still putting out some good to classic movies.
As all Marvel kremlinologists know, after last September’s shake-up Kevin Feige was left free to run Marvel Studios and the film side to his hearts content, but Ike retained control of Marvel’s TV, digital and publishing. While the infighting over this particular split has remained mostly out of public view, there’s been one apparent casualty: the Inhumans movie. The Inhumans got a big internal push a few years ago as an “in house” franchise of wacky weirdoes to take the place of the X-men in the MCU. The X-men are controlled in movie by Fox, and if there’s one thing Ike really hates, it’s Marvel characters who are controlled by Fox.
And sure enough, the Inhumans were pushed in the TV version of Marvel, in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv show, with the film planned to cap off Marvel’s Phase Three in 2019.
But suddenly, the film has been pulled from the schedule, and with various reasons are being given, including the sudden emergence of a Indiana Jones movie for the same weekend. According to Bleeding Cool, Feige only agreed to make an Inhumans movie if he got to make a Captain Marvel movie, and once Perlmutter was no longer calling the shots at Marvel Studios, the movie came off the schedule.
While I can’t confirm this particular detail, it does jibe with some other hints of MCU vs TV tension I’ve heard. Feige claims that the movie will still be made, but with all the potential spin-offs of already successful movies ready to be made, getting people to love Black Bolt and Karnak may not be a priority. On the other hand, Disney made Groot a household name. I’m sure they could have made you love Lockjaw, and the plush version would have been adorable.
At any rate, while everyone fervently hopes that Ike’s contract will run out and he’ll retire to terrorize more of his neighbors, that still doesn’t seem too likely in the near term. And I expect we’ll see more subtle sniping between Marvel’s TV division and the MCU. Civil War, indeed.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.