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The Walt Disney Company

By: Frank T. Rothaermel, Noorein Inamdar, David R. King

The case is set in February 2020 and the protagonist in the case is Disney CEO Bob Chapek. The case examines how Disney grew through the corporate strategies of vertical integration, diversification,…

  • Length: 21 page(s)
  • Publication Date: Feb 27, 2020
  • Discipline: General Management
  • Product #: MH0070-PDF-ENG

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The case is set in February 2020 and the protagonist in the case is Disney CEO Bob Chapek. The case examines how Disney grew through the corporate strategies of vertical integration, diversification, and geographic expansion. It also focuses on the technological changes in the media entertainment industry. Impending streaming wars mean Disney will face even more formidable competition that may disrupt its reliance on leveraging billion-dollar franchises. In 2019, Disney closed its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets. Disney is also rolling out its own new streaming service called Disney+, thus moving into the direct-to-consumer space. At the same time, Apple also announced is new streaming services, Apple TV+. With $60 billion in annual revenues in 2019, The Walt Disney Company is one of the world's largest media companies. As a diversified media company, Disney is active in a wide array of business activities, from movies to amusement parks as well as cable and broadcast television networks (ABC, ESPN, and others), cruises, retailing, and streaming.

Learning Objectives

Strategic Leadership and CEO Succession; Core Competencies; Innovation and Technology Strategy; Ecosystems and Platform Strategy; Vertical Integration; Diversification: Product-Market and Geographic; Economies of Scope; and Implementation of Strategic Initiatives

Feb 27, 2020


General Management


China, United States


Media, entertainment, and professional sports

McGraw-Hill Education


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case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

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8 Disney’s Marketing Strategy: A Case Study

Gerard Jovian Brand

  • February 3, 2024

Disney's Marketing Strategy

Disney’s marketing strategy – Disney , the legendary entertainment company founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney in 1923, has become a household name synonymous with magic and enchantment. With a rich history spanning nearly a century, Disney has revolutionized the entertainment industry, captivating the hearts of millions worldwide. 

But what sets Disney apart from its competitors? It’s their ingenious marketing strategy that has propelled the company to unparalleled success and popularity.

Read More : Dunkin Donuts Marketing Strategy – Full Breakdown

1. Storytelling: Creating Emotional Connections

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One of the cornerstones of Disney’s marketing strategy is their exceptional storytelling. From the early days of Mickey Mouse to their latest blockbuster hits, Disney has mastered the art of creating compelling and emotionally resonant stories that capture the hearts of audiences.

By tapping into universal themes such as friendship, love, and perseverance, Disney movies and TV shows have become timeless classics that continue to entertain and inspire generations. This ability to create strong emotional connections with their audience sets Disney apart from other entertainment companies.

Disney leverages the power of nostalgia to create a sense of familiarity and warmth. By reviving old classics like “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney taps into the collective memories and experiences of their audience, evoking a strong sense of nostalgia.

This nostalgia-driven marketing approach not only attracts new fans but also appeals to parents who want to share their childhood favorites with their children, creating a multi-generational fan base.

2. Cross-Platform Synergy: Making Disney a Part of Everyday Lives

Disney’s marketing strategy revolves around creating a continuous presence in the lives of their consumers through cross-platform synergy. From movies and TV shows to theme parks, merchandise, and streaming services, Disney ensures that their brand is integrated into various aspects of their audience’s daily lives. 

For example, when a new Disney movie is released, it is accompanied by a wide range of merchandise, theme park attractions, and collaborations with other brands. This multi-platform approach ensures that Disney remains top-of-mind for consumers and maintains a strong market presence.

3. Nostalgia and Innovation: Balancing the Old and the New

Disney’s marketing strategy – One of Disney’s remarkable strengths is their ability to balance nostalgia and innovation. While Disney is known for their classic stories and characters, they are constantly finding ways to modernize and re-imagine these beloved works. 

By combining the familiar with the new, Disney appeals to both long-time fans and a younger audience. This strategy not only keeps the brand relevant but also fosters a sense of shared experiences among different generations of Disney enthusiasts.

For instance, the remade version of “Beauty and the Beast” brought the same plot, songs, and characters from the original animated film to the modern world, creating a strong sense of nostalgia among parents who grew up with the classic. 

At the same time, it introduced the story to a new generation, captivating them with stunning visuals and modern storytelling techniques.

4. Personalized Experiences: Creating Magic at Disney Parks

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Disney’s marketing strategy – Disney understands the importance of creating personalized experiences to delight their customers. Their theme parks, such as Disneyland and Walt Disney World, go above and beyond to provide visitors with unforgettable moments. From the moment guests step into the parks, Disney uses technology to enhance their experience. 

The Disney MagicBand, for example, allows visitors to access their hotel rooms, purchase merchandise, and even save photos taken with characters, creating a seamless and personalized visit.

This focus on personalized experiences not only creates magical moments for guests but also provides valuable data for Disney to improve their marketing efforts. By understanding customer preferences and behavior, Disney can tailor their offerings and promotions to better meet the needs and desires of their audience.

5. Influencer and Social Media Marketing: Amplifying the Disney Magic

Disney’s marketing strategy – Disney harnesses the power of influencer marketing and social media to amplify their brand reach. By collaborating with popular influencers, Disney taps into their vast following, reaching new audiences and generating excitement for their releases. 

Additionally, Disney maintains an active presence on social media platforms, engaging with fans and building a strong online community. This allows them to keep fans informed about upcoming releases, events, and initiatives, fostering a sense of anticipation and connection.

6. Building a Community: Sharing the Disney Magic

Disney’s marketing strategy goes beyond traditional advertising and focuses on building a community of loyal fans. Through various online platforms and forums, Disney creates spaces where fans can connect with each other and with the brand itself. 

This sense of community strengthens brand loyalty and encourages fans to actively participate in the Disney experience. By fostering a sense of belonging and shared enthusiasm, Disney cultivates a passionate fan base that supports and promotes the brand.

7. Corporate Social Responsibility: Making a Positive Impact

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Disney’s marketing strategy – Disney recognizes the importance of corporate social responsibility in their marketing strategy. They actively engage in initiatives around sustainability, diversity, and philanthropy.

By aligning their brand with social issues and promoting positive change, Disney appeals to socially conscious consumers who value companies that make a difference. This commitment to social responsibility enhances Disney’s brand image and resonates with their audience on a deeper level.

8. Innovation: Embracing Technology and Creativity

Innovation is at the core of Disney’s marketing strategy. The company constantly explores new technologies and creative approaches to enhance the Disney experience. 

From virtual reality experiences to personalized content recommendations, Disney stays at the forefront of technological advancements. By embracing innovation, Disney continues to captivate audiences and push the boundaries of what is possible in the entertainment industry.

Read More : Cadbury Marketing Strategy: A Case Study

Disney’s marketing strategy is a masterclass in building a magical brand. Through their exceptional storytelling, cross-platform synergy, nostalgia and innovation, personalized experiences, influencer and social media marketing, community building, corporate social responsibility, and commitment to innovation, Disney has created a brand that resonates with audiences of all ages.

Gerard Jovian Brand

Gerard Jovian Brand

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How Disney Found Its Way Back to Creative Success

  • Vijay Govindarajan

case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

With a new strategy and a few key acquisitions.

Since every industry changes in time, the key to success is adapting to those changes –  hence, strategy is innovation.  In this, Disney and Warner Brothers provide an instructive study in contrasts.

case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

  • Vijay Govindarajan is the Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, an executive fellow at Harvard Business School, and faculty partner at the Silicon Valley incubator Mach 49. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. His latest book is Fusion Strategy: How Real-Time Data and AI Will Power the Industrial Future . His Harvard Business Review articles “ Engineering Reverse Innovations ” and “ Stop the Innovation Wars ” won McKinsey Awards for best article published in HBR. His HBR articles “ How GE Is Disrupting Itself ” and “ The CEO’s Role in Business Model Reinvention ” are HBR all-time top-50 bestsellers. Follow him on LinkedIn . vgovindarajan

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Walt Disney’s marketing strategies for diversity: Disney Corporation is an American media and entertainment conglomerate. The company owns ABC Broadcast Network, ESPN, FOX, National Geographic, and others (Wikipedia). McCastle A. (2020, notes that Disney has incorporated diverse characters into its recent shows and films. The importance of representing marginalized groups has grown over the years. Due to this, Disney has produced stories that address these issues. People of colour and LGBTQ people have also been underrepresented in media, especially in movies. Since the issue became a high priority in society, Disney has made a significant effort to represent these groups in its films.

According to Haner K (, 2015), A variety of cultures are appearing in children’s movies. For mothers who want to expose their families to a variety of cultures, Disney’s efforts have influenced children’s views of diversity and how they relate to characters. My perspective is that Disney is doing well and has overcome its past difficulties. By implementing “World of Belonging”. Disney ( showcases stories and storytellers that reflect the rich diversity of our world. The company launched a company-wide initiative in 2020 to advance opportunities for diverse communities, amplify underrepresented voices, and champion diversity in the entertainment industry.

Based on all those details, we can conclude that Disney is doing a great job of promoting diversity and working for black communities. Now let’s look at Walt Disney’s marketing strategies for diversity using a SWOT analysis. Our knowledge of the previous issue and Disney’s steps to resolve it is already established. SWOT analysis is needed to analyze those marketing strategies. So, let’s begin

SWOT analysis

  • Speaking Up Because Black Lives Matter : Disney Channel published the video on June 3, 2020. Disney featured some African Boys, Girls, and Children in this video and made the statement, “Listen, Learn, Heal, we stand for humanity, solidarity, and justice.”. In the end, we see the phrase, “Speaking up because Black Lives Matter”. Also, Disney Channel published a video called “What to Watch on Disney+ to Celebrate Black Stories” On February 16, 2022, by sharing this video, Disney wishes to celebrate Black stories with some incredible films and series that Shortly describe all of these series, all of which are about African Americans.
  • Celebrating AAPI Stories : “Celebrating AAPI Stories” was released by Disney Channel on May 26, 2021. Here we see Asian characters from Disney and Marvel movies. Asian American and Pacific Islander stories are celebrated by Disney. Their message is “As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month draws to a close, remember that anything is possible.”
  • Promote Diversity in Dream Big, Princess Photography Campaign: A Disney Channel video called Dream Big, Princess Photography Campaign was released in August 2017. This video emphasizes girls, but if you watch closely, the models are diverse. Asian, African, American, and European models are available. Subliminally, this video communicates Disney’s commitment to diversity while empowering women.


  • Lack of LGBTQ+ leads: According to, Karey Burke (Disney’s President of General Entertainment Content) expressed sadness about the lack of LGBTQ+ leads. Disney’s movies lack LGBTQ characters despite their popularity with queer fans, according to GLAAD. The studio released only four LGBTQ characters in 2019, and none met GLAAD’s requirement that queer characters be directly tied to the plot.
  • Lack of diverse characters: Children look up to Disney characters as inspiring figures, according to They might not be getting the full picture due to only one dominant skin tone. Children may feel lonely and isolated when the media ignores them. In the United States, people of colour constitute a substantial part of the population, but they are not accurately represented in films.


  • Promises more diverse characters: It has been reported on that a Disney executive has vowed to include more diversity in its content, with no fewer than 50% of its characters being LGBTQIA and racial minorities.
  • Promote Diversity via Films: Herzindagi (Purwar K, 2022) states Disney promotes diversity through films. Disney princesses are loved by all children. They were all white. Beauty and colour standards have been accepted as superior to those that do not reflect them. The films didn’t represent us. We didn’t see any princesses with brown or black skin tones. Due to the recent racially diverse Disney movies, we could relate to diverse characters. Therefore, we felt globally represented and connected.
  • Eid film for the Muslim community : According to Sami R. (, 2020), Disney’s new streaming platform Disney+ recently announced that they would release a short film titled ‘American Eid’. A Pakistani family that emigrates to the United States is the subject matter of the film, which is currently in development.
  • Against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, but not properly: According to Buercklin K. (, 2022), Disney has been heavily criticized lately. Disney employees and fans protested in March for failing to speak out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and donating to Florida’s Republican Party. Orlando Sentinel reports only one person attended Disney World in Florida, and most “protests” took place in California, which is not affected by Florida’s law. The New York Times reported that 60 to 70 Disney employees walked out and only walked around Walt Disney Studios.
  • Ethical failures: Port Neches-Groves High School performed at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL in March and its mascot is a Native American, according to During their drill routine at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park, the school’s drill team, the Indianize, wore Native American clothing and chanted “Scalp ’em Indians, scalp ’em.” CNN reports the Cherokee Nation has repeatedly requested the school change its mascot. Disney allows the school to perform, reinforcing harmful racial stereotypes.   
  • “Diversity and inclusion” program: Rufo C. F. (, 2021) reveals Disney leadership has elevated critical race theory into a new corporate doctrine and taught employees about “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” “white fragility,” and “white saviours.” Additionally, he obtained whistleblower documents about Disney’s “diversity and inclusion” program, “Reimagine Tomorrow,” revealing its support for racism. Some Disney employees have reported to him that the Reimagine Tomorrow program has become deeply politicized and has caused racial conflict. 
  • Religious Issues: Disney faces some religious issues when supporting the LGBT community. LGBTQ people are not supported by all religions. The Bible and the Quran have been interpreted to make LGBTQ identity sinful, reports (Gander K., 2017). Thus, some countries may ban such movies. The ‘Lightyear’ Movie was an example. The Middle East has banned Pixar’s new animated film Lightyear due to its use of a same-sex kiss, according to The movie will not be screened in some countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

To conclude, The Walt Disney Company may only plan its expansion by addressing its threats. The company also has some weaknesses, but planning can help it minimize the impact of these weaknesses on its growth. Several steps are taken by the Company to prevent threats and restore its reliability. Disney and Pixar director Pete Docter told Tech Insider that in the particular case of ‘Inside Out’ the team wanted to make the ideas and emotions work for an international audience, not just a domestic one. That means they already started changing some parts of movies for different countries to represent different countries. They can overcome their threats by doing so. When we examine the SWOT analysis, we can see that Disney has already begun a considerable amount of work to convert its weaknesses into strengths. However, Disney should be more sensitive to people’s thoughts, emotions, cultural and religious beliefs.

At the end of the day, one can conclude that Disney is doing a very good job of promoting diversity through their marketing as well as through their films.

Resources :

  • The Walt Disney Company. Wikipedia. (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • McCastle A. (2020) Diversity in the Walt Disney Company.Annas BCA Blog.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Haner K. (2015) Diversity in Disney animated films. UNIVERSE NARRATIVES.   Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Youtube. Speaking Up Because Black Lives Matter. Disney Channel.    Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Youtube. What to Watch on Disney+ to Celebrate Black Stories. Disney.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Youtube. Celebrating AAPI Stories. Disney.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Youtube. Dream Big, Princess Photography Campaign. Disney.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • MacKimm D. (2022)  Disney executive promises more diverse characters by end of 2022. Oklahoma’s News 4.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Baume M. (2020) Disney Films Have “Poor” LGBTQ+ Representation. Them.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Wong L. (2021) The Lack of Diversity in Disney. The Unread Initiative.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Miller J. R. (2022) Disney exec vows more gay characters amid a huge inclusivity push. New York Post.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Purwar K. (2022) Disney Films That Are Inclusive And Promote Diversity. HerZindagi.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Sami R. (2020) Disney’s new Eid film is exactly what the Muslim community needs right now. The New Arab.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Rice K. (2022) Disney employees stage walkout over Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill. Orlando Sentinel.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Barnes B. (2022) Disney Employees Walk Out Amid Furor Over Florida Legislation. The New Your Times.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Buercklin K. (2022) Opinion: Disney’s recent ethical problems stem from a lack of diversity. Reveille.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Maruf R.(2022) Disney said it regrets racist cheer by the high school team. CNN.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Rufo C. F. (2021) The Wokest Place on Earth. City Journal.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Beauregard L. P.(2022) Disney’s ‘Lightyear’ banned from 14 countries for including same-sex kissing. EL Pais.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)
  • Acuna K. (2015) Why Pixar changed several scenes in ‘Inside Out’ for foreign audiences. Business Insider.  Available at: (Accessed: August 4, 2022)

Walt Disneys marketing strategies for diversity

Walt Disney’s marketing strategies for diversity in 2022 (SWOT analysis)

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case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

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How Disney Became The World's Entertainment Leader

Table of contents, here’s what you’ll learn from disney’s strategy study:.

  • How long-term clarity builds tenacity and fosters innovation.
  • How focusing on moon shots in the short-term can hurt you in the mid-term.
  • How to make huge business deals based on honesty and trust.
  • How your brand can become a powerful strategic enabler.
  • How to develop deeper relationships with your customers at scale.
  • How to use data to innovate at a business level.
  • How to embrace disruptions and make them part of your strategy.
  • How to take care of your people as an international entity.

The company's trajectory has fluctuated through its long history, but at its highest points, it has left its mark in more than one way. The Walt Disney Company has earned multiple times the leading position in animation. Still, it has transformed into a global behemoth with a more than substantial presence in numerous industries, from theme parks and cruise lines to live-action film production to consumer products. Disney is an excellent example of a company that is more than the sum of its parts.

Very few organizations worldwide can boast numbers better or even close to those of Disney:

  • Revenue of $82.7 billion in 2022
  • Brand value of $60.5 billion in 2022
  • Total assets of over $200 billion in 2022
  • Number of employees: 220.000 as of 2022
  •  Disney has 12 theme parks around the world, 9 Disney Resorts  and  5 cruise ships  (with 2 more en route)
  • The Disney+ streaming service reached 161.8 million subscribers in Q1 2023  


The Humble Beginnings of a Magical Imagination

Today his name is recognizable globally, and mentioning it awakens feelings of joy and wonder to adults and children alike. Walt Disney and his older brother Roy founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio on October 16 of 1923, the entity that was destined to become the colossus known today as The Walt Disney Company.

Walt Disney was born in 1901 in Chicago, Illinois, and developed an interest in art and drawing from a very young age. When he was 4 years old, his family moved to a farm outside of Marceline, a place where young Walt was exposed to nature, animals, and the small-town life that sparked his imagination and allowed it to expand and run wild.

case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

Pursuing art and entrepreneurship

At just the age of seven, he sold his first drawings. Due to financial troubles, two years later, he started helping his father deliver newspapers. However, he continued honing his drawing skills and developing his art education.

At the age of 18, he had his first encounter with animation in Pesman Art Studio, where he met a fellow artist named Ub Iwerks. Disney and Iwerks soon had a failed attempt at creating their own commercial company, and later on, Disney founded another company, a film studio, where he employed Iwerks, among others, as an animator.

In 1923 Disney had to declare bankruptcy due to high costs, resulting in his second entrepreneurial attempt. Nevertheless, his work in the animation industry didn’t go unnoticed, earning him a contract that led to the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio’s first production, a series named “Alice comedies” which mixed live-action motion-picture photography with cartoon animation. One of the first such productions.

Disney worked on the series until 1927, with his friend and former partner Iwerks producing more than 50 films. His next creation, “Oswalt the Lucky Rabbit”, was produced for Universal Studios and was a hit. However, during negotiations, he realized that he had painted himself to a corner, signing away all of the rights for Oswalt when he accepted the contract and losing all of his animators, except for Iwerks, to Universal Studios.

Disney and Iwerks went on and created Mickey Mouse as an answer, retaining all the rights this time. Disney lent his voice to Mickey and Iwerks drew him. Together they created the first cartoon with synchronized sound, the short film “Steamboat Willie”, which was the first film with Mickey that had a distributor and was the start of the mouse’s exploding career. Actually, the film was so successful and significant as an innovation that in 1998 was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.

Demonstrating pioneering

Walt Disney's vision and innovative spirit were demonstrated in 1937 when the first feature-length animated film premiered, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” The film took three years to complete and was nicknamed “Disney’s Folly” by industry insiders due to its revolutionary nature. The risk for the company, now called “Walt Disney Productions,” was great since it exceeded four times its initial budget and had more than 300 people working on it.

In complete contrast to all the naysayers, the novel experience that Walt Disney had created with this film, which elicited the full range of human emotions, was an absolute success. Its release was received with immense praise by critics, audiences, and magazines, granting its creator an honorary Oscar. Financially, not only did it cover its budget, but it also generated enough profit that Walt Disney built a new studio in Burbank, California, and an exemplary corporate culture. The company’s headquarters are still there to this day.

Flexing in the pursuit of the vision

Walt Disney had a vision. He wanted everyone to share the wonder and excitement he experienced when he was a little boy in Marceline. And with that in mind, in 1952, although his company was quite successful and profitable, Walt Disney put everything on the line selling his shares, liquidating his assets, selling off property, borrowing against his life insurance policy, going to great lengths to gather as many resources as he could the one thing that would advance his vision.

Disneyland, his greatest achievement, opened its doors in 1955, and it was a theme park like no other before it. Contrary to the theme parks of the time, Walt’s Disneyland was a safe place, clean and untouched by unlawfulness. It had a coherent story throughout the park, and it was an immersive experience for adults and children, a place where, with Walt Disney’s words, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

The park recorded revenues of more than $10 million and 3.6 million guests during its first year of operation. Its success holds today, as it is constantly expanding with new attractions being added regularly. Before his death in 1966, he started working on a second theme park, the Walt Disney World, but he didn’t manage to experience its opening.

Disney holds the record for most individual Oscar wins with a staggering 22 wins. In addition, he was presented with the George Washington Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Along with his brother Roy, they helped establish in 1961 the California Institute of the Arts.

case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

Key Takeaway #1: A clear vision drives perseverance and innovation

The Walt Disney Company’s international and intergenerational success didn’t occur by accident. Its founder’s clarity of vision and unrestful spirit drove him to take multiple risks in his career and achieve some of the greatest innovations of his industry.

His failures and setbacks, though many, didn’t extinguish the flame of his creativity. His best creations came after his biggest failures and he never sacrificed his freedom to pursue his cause for a safer and easier future. Although he made many mistakes, he was constantly exploring new ways to advance his vision and supply the world with wonder, magic, and unique and safe experiences.

Disney’s Expansion

The Walt Disney Company didn’t grow to its current enormous size overnight. Since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, the company has made numerous strategic moves to expand its parks and resorts and its services and assets. Among others, it increased its distribution capabilities, obtained media assets, increased its channels, and widely diversified its activities.

Media expansion

Although Disney had produced and aired many shows, films, and other television content, it always did so through other, already established networks. It wasn’t until 1983 that the company launched its own premium channel and used it as a content distribution platform to promote other activities and events like the openings of its new theme parks.

Shortly after that, Disney expanded its audience, launching channels in Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Malaysia. There was a specific reason that Disney needed to expand its media reach to foreign markets and develop its audience. Once it had attained a baseline of viewers, it could then advertise the new rides of its later installed theme parks.

In the following decades, various moves were made to expand internationally, but at best the penetration to foreign markets was decent. Despite major moves that increased its reach in the US market, it wasn’t until much later, after 2005, that serious effort was made for deeper international market penetration.

However, the biggest transformation of the company's media segment happened in 2019, when Disney made the massive acquisition of 21st Century Fox for more than $71 billion, the biggest acquisition in its history. From that point on, Disney became mostly a media company concerning its assets.

The Death of the Founder: Did he take the company’s creativity with him?

However, since the death of Walt Disney in 1966, the company suffered in the animation industry, failing to reproduce massively successful productions. That lack of memorable films and characters was felt across its theme parks, as well.

Disneyland parks have relied heavily on the local population to stay profitable. Thus, to attract nearby residents, they require regular reinventions of the performative content inside the parks and the additions of new and exciting rides. The lack of successful films and recognizable characters had provided only minor updates to the park since 1964.

Nonetheless, some of the most extraordinary expansions happened during the first decade of Michael Eisner’s tenure as CEO of The Walt Disney Company, which in total lasted 21 years (1984-2005). As the head of Disney, he was bold and calculated, making strategic moves that increased the company’s international reach and even carried Disney through some tough times.

The Disney Renaissance Period

Since Michael Eisner headed Disney, he and Frank Wells, president and later COO of the company, found, to their amazement, a mountain of dusted material and assets that had a remarkable potential for the future of the company. They were excited and eager to exploit every last one of them. And so they did.

Eisner was very aggressive in expanding the parks, adding new resorts, and adopting a more profitable pricing strategy. He disagreed with the notion that when Walt Disney left this world, he also took with him the soul of Disney and the possibility of making it again the leading producer of original and timeless animation films.

Hence, he put a considerable focus on making quality, new animation films. Successful in his endeavor, he produced movies like “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” that sparked what was later called the Disney Renaissance period. Now he had original Disney characters to promote and populate the parks.

Under Eisner’s guidance, Disney opened seven new parks around the world including “Disney’s Animal Kingdom”, “Disney’s California Adventure”, “Disneyland Paris” (initially Euro Disney), “Hong Kong Disneyland” and one of the best Disney parks, “Tokyo DisneySea”. Eisner encouraged and approved ambitious new rides and shows for both existing and new theme parks alongside the new parks.

These moves contributed greatly to the international expansion of Disney.

He didn’t stop there, however. He wanted to activate all of Disney’s assets and make them profitable. The Disney channel got new productions, aiming at claiming higher Saturday-morning numbers with cheaper animation. He cooperated with big names in the film industry to produce, act and perform on new products.

One of the most cash-producing decisions that the company made under Eisner was the release of its animated classic feature films on video. This unexpectedly lucrative decision was, in essence, tapping into an underutilized market and took advantage of a fascinating habit, persistent to this day, of young kids to watch animation movies a nightmarish (for their parents) amount of times.

Disney Stores, Cruises, and Lifesaving Moves

These successes fueled the expansions of the theme parks and drove significant profits with their physical products. With some service-oriented moves that made the client experience uniquely enjoyable, Disney nearly doubled their stores and even introduced their first one in London.

The initial fear that the increase of stores would compete with other retail outlets that sold Disney-licensed products was quickly busted, since instead of driving their sales down, every new Disney store increased the sales of Disney-related products of nearby stores, too.

In 1996 an original and highly profitable segment of The Walt Disney Company was established, the Disney Cruise Line. The experience in a Disney cruise was designed to offer a sense of luxury of a bygone era coupled with modern amenities. The first two ships, “Disney Magic” and “Disney Wonder” are still active to this day, underscoring their lovable and flourishing voyages.

case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

As profitable and treasured those moves may have been, the one that provided the most invaluable assets to the company was arguably the acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc. in 1996.

Buying a network was in Eisner’s plans for years, and even though a few other networks besides Cap Cities were considered, conversations about ABC were happening years before. Disney tremendously increased its distribution power with the acquisition, being the first company with a major presence in filmed entertainment, broadcasting, cable television, and telephone wires. This proved lifesaving in the following barren decade.

The price of success

In spite of all the success in the 80s, the late 90s and early 2000s were not a good time for Disney. The expansion had taken a toll on the company. During the Renaissance Period, every single project that Disney undertook was always exceeding the initial budget.

Disneyland Paris, originally Euro Disney Resort, went more than a billion over its budget and struggled for many years to become profitable. Its opening day was a disappointment. Key decisions regarding Europe’s cultural habits and based on overly ambitious projections almost closed the park’s gates forever.

On the creative side, Disney strayed from its path and target audience. It produced films and music that were inappropriate for families and young children. In its pursuit of global domination and higher profits, the company made mistakes of arrogance, got involved in many unpopular stories, and damaged its brand.

Internally, people felt they were treated unfairly, and the company's structure became so centered that Disney became rigid and no original ideas could be developed.

Key Takeaway #2: There is such a thing as going too fast

A few years after the death of its founder, Disney went through a rough patch. However, its leadership was determined to conquer new mountain tops and not let the past glories be the highest point in the company’s history.

Pursuing moon shots and pushing a company to its limit is admirable and often leads to innovative new ideas. Nonetheless, sacrificing the brand or the culture and the people of the company in the process is not sustainable in the long run. It needs exceptional skill to balance the pursuit of moon shots and long-term sustainability.

Lack of Creativity and Bob Iger’s First Big Move

As animation goes, so goes the company.

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Bob Iger was working for The Walt Disney Company since 1996 before he became CEO and was quite familiar with its history. He recognized that the company’s performance was tightly bound to the animation industry and its ability to create great animated films. In his own words to his board “as Animation goes, so goes the company.”

In the era from the ‘20s to the ‘40s and the success of movies like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo,” “Cinderella,” and all those great animated movies that Walt Disney built, the company prospered. Even later on, in the Disney Renaissance period when Michael Eisner had taken over the company, The Walt Disney Company created excellent animated films like “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, “The Lion King” that restore the company’s leadership role in the animation industry.

Nevertheless, when Bob Iger’s tenure started in 2005, he knew that Disney Animation was performing poorly and was overall in a bad shape for the last decade. He realized that Disney’s near future and his own as the head of The Walt Disney Company were hanging on his ability to revitalize the company’s animation productions.

Disney's Top Three Strategic Priorities

Bob Iger became the head of Disney with three clear priorities in mind. The first was the creation of exceptional branded content. His understanding of the market was that brand perception would guide people’s choices, so he had decided to invest most of the company’s capital on this.

His second priority was exploiting technological advancements to aid the creation of exceptional content and staying relevant in its distribution. He sensed that consumer behavior was changing, and he believed it was imperative to commit to the pursuit of technological innovations.

The third priority was international expansion. Disney was present in many markets but with superficial penetration. For example, China and India, two of the most populous countries in the world, were underutilized. He believed that the opportunity that was lurking in those markets was significant and Disney should tap into it.

His decision to rejuvenate the brand and Disney Animation was in complete alignment with his strategic priorities. The need for a solution to the creative stagnation of the company was urgent and echoed throughout all of its businesses.

The only source of talent and innovation

Iger quickly came to the conclusion that reviving Disney Animation meant finding the best, most talented animators and leaders in the industry. And so his gaze immediately turned to Pixar, the leading animation company of the time. On his second day as CEO, he presented his radical and, as time proved, outstanding idea of Disney acquiring Pixar.

case study marketing strategy of walt disney company

The first and biggest challenge that Iger had to face before that idea could ever become a reality was the disdainful attitude towards Disney of Pixar’s controlling shareholder, Steve Jobs.

Pixar and Disney were already doing business together for some time with Disney co-funding, co-owning, marketing and distributing many of Pixar’s films. However, their partnership came to an abrupt halt due to numerous disputes in 2004. Steve Jobs concluded that Disney had become too process-oriented with excessive bureaucratic procedures and a lack of collaborative spirit.

Since all of the talent and leading creative minds in animation technology and storytelling were concentrated in Pixar, Jobs had all the leverage in negotiations.

Pixar’s invaluable assets and Bob Iger’s irresistible trait

Unexpectedly though, when Jobs forced Iger to share his “crazy idea” over the phone on a warm October evening, Iger’s sweaty proposition was met with recipience. When discussions on the matter started, Jobs brought forth his main concern and biggest fear: Disney would obliterate Pixar’s culture. He believed the creativity and innovation that Pixar had demonstrated over the years was attributed to its collaborative culture more than anything or anyone else.

Inside Pixar technology was inspiring new storytelling techniques and art was pushing the boundaries of technological possibilities. Those were cultural aspects unique to Pixar and, in Jobs' mind, what enabled the company to technologically and artistically pioneer in the animation industry

Thus, his primary goal during the negotiations was shielding Pixar’s culture from what he viewed as a destructive and sterile culture in Disney. Pixar was bringing such originality that each movie always seemed like a huge risk in terms of storytelling. Imagine pitching their movies, for example, a clownfish loses its father, and the father teams up with another fish that has memory problems to find his son. Not so inspiring.

In essence, nobody knew or could guarantee whether the next Pixar movie would be a massive success or a total flop. An aspect that made the investment extremely risky. Disney was conservative, and Jobs feared that Disney would prevent such risks and thus kill the innovative ideas that would come out of the Pixar movie.

On the other hand, Disney was in desperate need of new ideas, people brave enough to take risks, and the technology to bring those ideas to life. Iger needed to revitalize Disney Animation and the best people who could do that were Pixar’s visionary leaders John Lasseter and Ed Catmull.

It was Bob Iger’s uncommon career experiences that made the difference. Twice during his career, the company he was working for was acquired by another. First, it was ABC from Capital Cities, and the second was Capital Cities/ABC from Disney. This firsthand knowledge on the impact on the culture of a company that acquisitions bring and the candor that Steve Jobs and Bob Iger’s relationship was developed on allowed the latter to persuade the former that Pixar’s acquisition by Disney would leave its culture intact. And so it did.

On January 24, 2006, The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion and allowed the studio to create great films while its leaders refreshed Disney from the inside. Since then, Pixar has earned more than $11 billion at the global box office and even more through Disney’s other assets such as theme parks and physical products.

Key Takeaway #3: Crazy ideas need respect and candor to become reality

Pixar’s acquisition story reveals that every new and radical idea needs more than just determination and hard work to be realized. Bob Iger had clear strategic priorities when he became CEO, but also had the prudence to respect the unique cultural qualities of Pixar.

He was able to recognize that the value of Pixar was in its people and their ways of collaborating. The sincerity and openness that both Jobs and Iger demonstrated laid the grounds for fertile conversations which resulted in the merging of two companies and the birth of a new one that leveraged each other’s strong assets while mitigating their greatest vulnerabilities.

The Brand of Disney

One distinctive and powerful strategic move that Disney did from very early on, was to separate its brand from its marketing. Instead, it  made brand a strategy function , a decision that influenced the company’s trajectory immensely. The addressing of its brand as a strategic variable led to many of the competitive advantages that Disney achieved over the years.

The Walt Disney Company has evolved over the years, expanding its operations, but always remaining an entertainment and content producing company at its core. All of its expansive and evolutionary moves were successful only when they were aligned with its brand. Disney achieved a unifying approach to its brand experience that echoed through all of its core businesses.

Marvel acquisition

Disney’s vision is to become the preeminent leader of family entertainment. And this vision is reflected in its brand attributes. The promise that Disney makes to its customers is of a fun, magical experience that everybody in the family can enjoy. In Walt Disney’s own words: “I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether he be six or sixty.”

This is the promise Disney strives to keep with all of its interactions with its customers. It promises to nudge and excite the child inside every person. And more often than not, it succeeds.

Indeed, whenever the idea of acquiring Marvel fell on the table (it did multiple times in different times in the company’s history), the main question that accompanied it was whether it would benefit the Disney brand. Did those two brands share enough attributes that it would make sense to merge them?

This was a tough question to answer, and before Bob Iger’s era, it had a negative answer. However, Iger thought differently. Consistent with his top priorities, he believed that Marvel could add extraordinary value content-wise to Disney. Although it is common knowledge today whether Marvel and Disney would be a successful pair, it was neither evident nor a certainty back then.

The storytelling opportunities that Disney observed and ultimately emerged through Marvel’s characters were unparalleled, despite having licensed many of them to other entities. As a result, its collection of over five thousand characters was a priceless treasure for the content-hungry company.

The overwhelming success of movies like “Captain Marvel” and “Black Panther” proved that not only were there a massive and starved audience for original storytelling, like female-led superhero movies and black superhero movies, but that, if done correctly, these films could be hugely profitable as well.

Disney is associated with joy and playfulness. Conflict still exists in Disney storytelling, but violence is something that only villains do and that with great restraint. Marvel’s storytelling, on the other hand, is centered around superheroes, and violence is a common occurrence. Acquiring Marvel and associating Disney with such themes could irreversibly damage the brand and distance people who expect their experience with Disney to be free of negative elements.

Upon closer inspection, Bob Iger and his team found out that the two brands shared many attributes in their storytelling and, if managed properly, they could coexist and blossom under one hood. This meant that Disney shouldn’t sanitize Marvel and decrease its brand value or betray its own brand value and take a more edgy path.

There was a great deal of risk involved in merging the two brands and by no means was its success assured. Finally, on December 31, 2009, Disney acquired Marvel for $4 billion and reinvented the film industry, and created another novel Disney experience.

Key Takeaway #4: Brand is a strategic function

Brand is usually ill-defined and thus crudely managed. The first mistake is considering it only as a concern of the marketing department. That’s a deadly mistake.

Brand should always be considered when developing a strategy. Every decision either adds or subtracts from your organization’s brand. The unfortunate trait of brand management is that it can effortlessly go wrong and cause lasting damage.

The fortunate trait of brand management is that it creates priceless opportunities and works as an exponential multiplier to every other aspect of the business if it is carefully handled and nurtured. From talent acquisition to customer satisfaction.

Disney’s Marketing Strategy: Innovating With Fans and Stories

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Disney invests a lot of money and resources in marketing and advertising. Even though the company offers experiences for the whole family, it doesn’t target the whole family at the same time. Instead, it segments its target audience and uses different tactics.

For example, they promote new park rides to children to create demand (or indirect pressure on the parents), while at the same time promoting a limited time offer for the parents to create a sense of urgency.

At Disney, they have a plethora of channels to market their endless products and experiences, from social media accounts with millions of followers to television channels and radio. They strategically choose the content and the channel depending on the audience they wish to address and the feeling they wish to trigger.

The power of nostalgia

In the last decade, Disney has started capitalizing on nostalgia. It recognizes that their once upon a time young audience has now grown up, having its own kids and family. Parents remember the feelings of excitement and joy they experienced when they were watching Disney’s animation films as young children and want their kids to have the same experience.

Over the last years, Disney understands this and has proved it, developing live-action movies of their old and popular animation films targeting the parents more than the children. The success of that tactic is evident in movies like “The Lion King” which grossed over $1.5 million in 2019.

Technology today offers an unprecedented opportunity to remake old classics into live-action adaptations with stunning visuals and incredibly realistic CGIs. And Disney still has a lot of content in its library to use and exploit the feeling of nostalgia.

Retelling old stories and making monumental successes out of them is one of Disney’s magic recipes.

Disney’s digital marketing campaigns

Disney has a massive presence in social media, with countless accounts from its collection of brands. The number of followers across all platforms and accounts adds up to hundreds of millions.

That massive followership makes Disney’s presence a valuable asset to its advertising campaigns since it can inform and interact with its audience or make its announcements.

However, the incredible value from social media is generated by Disney’s fans. People love to share their experiences, findings, and stories on their social media profiles. At the time of this writing, #disney has over 80 million photos on Instagram, with the vast majority of them being fan-generated.

The company knows the power of its fans and doesn’t shy away from making full use of it. Disney always urges people to take photos or generate all kinds of content and share it in their personal social media profiles. It’s not unusual either to partner with celebrities and influencers to promote certain events or products or to simply drive engagement.

The #DreamBig campaign

In 2017, Disney partnered with 19 female photographers and the United Nations Foundation program “Girl Up” to launch the #DreamBigPrincess campaign. Its thematic purpose was to empower young girls to go after their dreams, no matter how big they are, by showcasing remarkable stories of girls and young women who achieved their dreams.

Disney highlighted the most powerful traits of its princesses, promoting the aspects that are making them worthy role models. The campaign was widely successful.

In just 5 days, Disney met its $1 million pledge of donation when the photos reached 1 million shares and the Girl Up program saw amazing growth and support.

Although Disney didn’t directly promote any of its products or movies, it certainly increased its brand awareness by associating it with a positive and inspiring message. It’s undeniable that many girls around the globe were meaningfully impacted by that campaign and attribute it to Disney.

Annual Campaigns

Disney never leaves a good anniversary or significant achievement to go to waste. Every year the company finds a reason to celebrate and promote its collection of brands.

In 2018, Disney celebrated its 100.000th wish granted in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation by launching the digital campaign #ShareYourEars. It invited Disney fans to create and share pictures wearing their own, creative Mickey Mouse ears, donating $5 for each post to Make-A-Wish. Again, the response was excessive, motivating Disney to double its initial pledge to a $2 million donation.

The whole month of August 2020 was dedicated to Pixar, marking the 25th anniversary of Toy Story with Pixar Fest. The company released plenty of new content in the Disney+ platform including animator masterclasses and quizzes. It was, once more, in support of another charity: MediCinema.

We are sure that all kinds of plans are already brewing for the coming 100th birthday of the company in 2023.

How Disney products tell stories

One of Disney’s major revenue generators is its physical products. The company advertises its products in all the traditional ways that other companies do as well, but it has one enormously advantageous leverage.

Instead of building stories to surround its products and then try to sell them by promoting the stories, as most businesses do, its products sprung out of the stories. First comes the story and then the products.

The success of the story in the first place creates a healthy or sometimes overwhelming demand for physical products. Then, capitalizing on the popularity of the story, they supply their already pumped-up audience with their branded merchandise.

And they can charge a premium price for them. They’re not just selling toys; they are selling the opportunity to be part of the story, take the characters home, and relive their adventures with them. Again, they’re selling the Disney experience.

This reverse marketing has its risks, though. If the stories (read movies) are not so successful or cute characters feel forced, their merchandise sales take a serious toll.

For example, Star Wars had a huge boost in merchandise sales in 2015 due to the first movie's release after 10 years, but in the following years, the sales moved downwards. Disney’s failed attempt at a Star Wars spinoff movie seriously impacted its product sales.

Theme parks marketing

Disney is the theme park industry leader with a higher annual attendance than the next two corporations together. This is no small feat.

Disney’s theme park depends a lot on the attendance of the local population. For that reason, every new ride and show is heavily promoted in the local channels to attract repeat customers and offer them fresh experiences.

The company follows a different tactic to attract international visitors. Its marketing campaigns of the theme parks aim at placing them as ideal traveling or holiday destinations. They promise a novel, all-inclusive experience that provides solutions to almost any concern of the potential guests.

But advertising doesn’t stop once the guests enter the gates of a park. Every theme park experience is carefully designed to be immersive and urges the guests to make it memory tokens by taking pictures and videos and sharing them online.

Through the excitement and the joyful participation, Disney makes micro advocates of its brand out of its guests. Simply put, people love sharing and telling the world how awesome their Disney experience is. And Disney compels them to do it.

Key Takeaway #5: Engage your customers and develop meaningful relationships

All of Disney’s interactions with its customers aim at creating or enhancing the relationship between the brand and its customers.

Arguably, media and entertainment companies have more opportunities to engage and foster relationships with their customers. However, purposefully engaging with customers is imperative for every organization that wishes to have loyal and high-quality customers. Producing value and being relevant are today’s most important marketing traits.

Disney's innovation strategy and technological capabilities

Disney has entered, disrupted, and innovated in a number of industries. What is driving all of Disney’s innovative initiatives is its intense focus on the customer. It’s impossible to overstate this fact. Excelling at customer experience is what sets Disney apart.

Reinventing the cruise experience

When Disney decided to enter the cruise industry, few believed in its success. The truth is, to this day, Disney hasn’t achieved a penetration larger than 3% of that market. That’s a poor indicator of its influence. Since Disney entered the world of cruising, it has never been the same.

Disney took the traditional cruise experience and flipped it on its head. In what was a primarily adult-designed experience, Disney shifted its focus on the children. They made their ships particularly family-friendly.

Disney reinvented cruising by designing its ships from scratch. They don’t buy ships and remodel them to fit their standards; they build them from the beginning with their customers in mind.

The ingenuity that went into crafting the cruises was evident in two elements. The customer service and the ship design.

Disney achieved the impossible. It translated the theme park experience to the cruise experience. The company built rides inside the ship, shows, and performances and every single place had a theme attached to it. From pirate nights to Star Wars bars.

And the design is accommodative for the whole family. There are places exclusive to children and others exclusive to adults. Everything and everyone inside the ship aims at making life easier for the parents and joyful (and safe) for the kids.

Living inside the ship is beyond relaxing and comfortable, it’s a Disney adventure. Sometimes people choose not to go to the private islands that Disney has included in the cruise route, just to spend more time inside the ship. They made their ships the destination.

The influence that Disney has in the cruise industry is monumental.

Imagineers: Disney’s most important team

From the early days of the company, the founder established a team, called “Imagineers”. They were responsible for building and bringing the vision, dreams, and plans of Walt Disney and the company into the real world.

Behind the design of every theme park, ship, and attraction is this team. Today this team has evolved into the R&D department of The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney's obsession with quality and exceptional customer service had spoiled the team, which never stayed within budget when it came to their projects.

This later led to complications and disputes within the company, contributing to its financial difficulties when Disney wasn’t performing well. Like every organization, Disney struggled to balance pursuing innovation and having efficient processes.

In all accounts, Disney's R&D arm is responsible for stacks of technological and design advancements throughout its history, helping the company to pioneer and stay ahead of its competition.

World-class analytics

Since well before 2000, Disney had established a world-class analytics department and in the following years kept investing in it, trying to take advantage of its capabilities as much as possible. The primal focus is the customer. Every analysis and insight aims at optimizing the customer experience and improving every single interaction with the brand.

The $1 billion solution

The problem today with companies is not gathering the data, but the analysis and use of it. Disney faced several problems early in the last decade, where guest satisfaction in its parks suffered due to high attendance. In the pursuit of a solution to numerous logistical problems, Imagineers came up with an innovative and widely applicable solution: the MagicBands.

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Initially, a bracelet and recently redesigned to fit several other accessory roles, MagicBands include multiple functions that make the guests’ experience frictionless and playful. However, the easily noticeable improvements to customer service were only the tip of the iceberg of the invention’s efficacy. Its most meaningful impact was occurring behind the scenes.

With the data collected from the bands, Disney solved or improved countless operations and logistical nightmares, which impacted not only the cost of operations but guests’ experience as well. There was one advantage that Disney’s obsession with quality and creating an immersive experience made that investment payout so well. The sense of safety and lack of harmful, ill-intentioned situations within the parks.

People felt comfortable sharing their data within the park’s compounds and resorts, knowing they’re safe from all the negative exploitations and content that platforms like social media can’t mitigate.

Though the capabilities of smartphones quickly outmatched the technology of the MagicBands, Disney had developed elaborate systems and processes to track and analyze all kinds of data from them.

That way, it was relatively an easy matter to incorporate technological advancements into the company’s processes. The $1 billion investment in the development of the MagicBands enhances Disney’s data capabilities in the long term.

Key Takeaway #6: Hardcore customer-centric data analysis in the heart of modern innovation

Disney conquered and influenced a number of industries with its obsession with customer experience. It didn’t achieve that by passively brainstorming new ideas. Instead, it created outstanding analytics programs that connected all of its processes from customer knowledge to financial information.

Raw data is worthless if it can’t be analyzed or connected to the right information. A strong analytics department can lead to insights that create competitive advantages.

Disrupting Disney From Within: How Disney Developed The Best Streaming Services

Technological advances have profoundly impacted the media and entertainment industry. If companies are to survive the disruption, their leadership should always have their eyes on the future and the company's foot in it. That’s Bob Iger’s view.

Consequently, sensitivity to changes in an industry or consumer behavior becomes necessary. ESPN was the first to signal those disruptive effects to Disney, since people were finding alternative means of entertainment, affecting the business extensively. Cable television was dying, and ESPN was going down with it.

Disney’s leadership heard the signal loudly and clearly. Instead of just accepting the industry's changes and passively watching the decline of ESPN, Disney decided to ride the wave of disruption.

Acquiring the technology to go direct-to-consumer

After analyzing the scenery and the effects on their various businesses, the verdict inside Disney was unanimous: they had to pivot early and quickly. So, they swiftly forged a direct-to-consumer strategy.

Since time was of the essence, they couldn’t afford to build from scratch a technology platform to take advantage of the changes in consumer behavior.

So Disney started examining potential acquisitions. Twitter ended up drawing their interest, and if it wasn’t for Bob Iger’s last-minute change of heart, there might have been a multi-billion Disney-Twitter deal. But Iger was deeply concerned about the damage of Disney’s brand from the challenges that Twitter would bring along, like handling hate and uncivil speech, rage, issues with freedom of speech, and generally all the negative aspects of a social platform that families – or anyone in that matter - should never have to put up with.

Instead, in August 2016, The Walt Disney Company acquired BAMTech for $1 billion, and the next year, Disney raised its stake to a controlling 75% with an additional $1.58 billion. BAMTech had developed a user-friendly streaming technology that offered a great opportunity to monetize the content and create a valuable relationship between Disney and its audience.

The approach to delivering their content in a direct-to-consumer manner wasn’t limited to ESPN. Disney decided to turn the whole company towards the direction of over-the-top services going beyond their established ways of content distribution.

Out of that decision, ESPN+ and Disney+ were born with the latter being a platform that utilizes and delivers the content of all the major brands that Disney owns: Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, National Geographic, and of course Disney.

Internal disruption: Innovation isn’t cheap

Investing in those new services meant sacrificing significant short-term capital. For example, to be competitive in the streaming industry, Disney, like any other player, needed exclusive and original content in its platform. Over the years, Disney and its collection of brands had developed an abundance of high-quality content that was distributed mostly through third parties, like Netflix. Pulling out Disney’s content - so the company could distribute it itself - and breaking up the contracts entailed fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In addition, the company had great creative potential that Iger wanted to tap into with the purpose of generating original content specifically tailored to the newborn distribution platform. He simply didn’t want to hire external production or create another studio to populate the platform. He had complete confidence in the existing studios and their abilities to deliver content with specific specifications. They had been successful after all in the traditional ways of content creation.

However, his ambitious approach put a significant strain on the studios and its senior executives. They essentially had to juggle new responsibilities and divert a significant part of their attention and resources from their currently successful businesses to meet the demands and goals of the Disney+ project.

They were competitive people with sometimes unaligned interests and were asked to put aside politics and work together for the success of the company. To avoid failure and also to impose a sense of urgency, Iger had to restructure the internal incentive and rewarding system to align it with the company’s priorities.

Innovation requires sacrificing short-term profits to potentially build a future strategic advantage.

Current status of Disney’s streaming services

Disney has caught on with the notion that people are enjoying the control that the new streaming services are offering. They can decide for themselves not only what they are going to consume, but also the time and the place they do it. And Disney is determined to offer the best solutions on the matter.

Even though ESPN+ isn’t contributing directly to the company's international expansion, it is once again highly profitable with over 12 million US subscribers in early 2021. On the contrary, Disney+ is currently available in over 50 countries with plans to expand by the end of the year (2021). By 2023 it is estimated that Disney’s international streaming service will go toe to toe with Netflix, having already exceeded the 100 million subscribers mark. Hulu, the third streaming service of Disney after the acquisition of 21st Century Fox, is available in the US and Japan, reaching nearly 40 million subscribers.

Key Takeaway #7: Don’t fight disruption, embrace and ride it fast.

Leaders should always develop a futuristic approach when considering their strategy. Having open and sensitive channels permits early detection of disruptive tendencies within their industry. Once those tendencies have been detected, it takes great courage to accept them and leave behind the old ways of doing business.

However, those who take advantage of the opportunity and flex reap great rewards, and those who don’t get to watch their business slowly die out.

People Appreciate Breaking the Status Quo the Right Way

The Walt Disney Company includes a tremendously diverse bundle of businesses, so it makes it hard or, more accurately, pointless to try and define one specific audience that Disney is targeting throughout its businesses. Maybe the best (or frankly the only) term we can use to approximate it is “families”. “Families” in the broadest possible definition of the word and beyond.

What is making Disney uniquely appealing is the remarkable trait of its products to be enjoyed by almost the whole range of ages. Its animation movies may be targeting young children, but they are far from a drag for their parents to watch them together – at least for the first couple of times, after the 100th, it becomes unbearable.

Disney University

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Disney takes the training of its employees very seriously. From very early on, Disney realized that the first and biggest champions of their brand should be the people working for it. The first Disney University was created in 1962 at Disneyland to train new employees and with an extensive preparation process to introduce them to the Disney culture, its ways and traditions, and the communication and collaboration practices of the park.

A fun fact about Disney is that the company doesn’t refer to its park’s employees as employees, instead, they are called “Cast Members” that wear “costumes” instead of uniforms and entertain “guests” instead of visitors.

This reinforces the idea that cast members are entering a stage when they come out and perform their roles. That way the magical experience that guests are invited to have is deeply immersive and exciting.

Since 1962, Disney has opened several facilities near its biggest theme parks with the same name and purpose while expanding its activities digitally with online courses. However, there is one common experience that every cast member goes through on their first day of work called “Traditions”.

The class is a welcoming ceremony and highly emotional, where new cast members learn about the legacy of Disney and their responsibility towards it. In just a few hours, they get the first real glimpse behind the scenes, are inspired, surprised, and taught about the new culture they are becoming a part of.

People working in Disney have many opportunities to get training and propel their careers forward. Even though Disney University is not an accredited institution, it includes highly valuable courses that experienced professionals teach.

Hiring, Diversity & Inclusion

Disney has a variety of programs and processes when it comes to hiring new people or offering internships. However, because of its massive size and diverse segments, the company has created a  website  to guide, inform and facilitate the process.

Over the last few years, Disney has demonstrated an impressive attempt to create products and tell stories that accurately represent the vastly diverse human world. This is evident in Disney’s storytelling, where fresh, inspiring, and modern messages are depicted and inside their culture.

Inside the company, there is a growing intention of leveraging the reach of the brand by welcoming and including people with various backgrounds and cultural traits. They make public statements of their support of communities like LGBTQ, offer internal cross-cultural mentoring, and take important initiatives.

For example, since 2012, Disney has established a program called “Heroes Work Here” dedicated to offer opportunities and help their reentrance to the society of returning veterans.

Another display of the company’s commitment to the promotion of aspirational themes and underrepresented or even forgotten communities, Disney+ has inserted advisories to certain titles that appear before them. The message is shown below

Although Disney has still a long way to go to become a brand and company reflective of humanity's multilateral and terrifyingly flavor-rich realm, it has displayed serious effort to advance in that direction.

Key Takeaway #8: Honoring the responsibility of international brands means focusing on the people

Disney recognizes its ability and responsibility to shape cultures and opinions and has started taking them seriously and handling them with great maturity. It’s not easy to transform an organization the size of Disney and make it an exemplary brand, yet they are determined to pursue it actively.

Maybe the company’s nature and size enable this process or maybe not. But, the truth is that seeing this honest and efficacious attempt to tackle important issues and provide a serious focus on people and culture has an inspiring effect. It sends the message that inclusion is possible and the differences that people bring into the room are not obstacles to overcome, but rather blessings that, if utilized, introduces precious qualities that can’t be bought another way.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways

Disney is a multifaceted corporation. It offers unique experiences and stories. It is a very rare kind of organization, because of the strong correlation between its segments. Its separate business influences the other and works as a multiplier. The brand equity of The Walt Disney Company increases the aggregated value of its part, making it significantly more than their sum.

Recap: Growth by the numbers

The ultimate list of strategic takeaways:.

Though few companies have the diverse assets of Disney, there are still many tactics and strategies that can be adopted by studying the company.

  • A clear vision drives perseverance and innovation
  • There is such a thing as going too fast
  • Crazy ideas need respect and candor to become reality
  • Brand is a strategic function
  • Engage your customers and develop meaningful relationships
  • Hardcore customer-centric data analysis in the heart of modern innovation
  • Don’t fight disruption; embrace and ride it fast.
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Case Study: The Walt Disney Company

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Having developed the Leadership Lifecycle over the preceding chapters, including the leadership roles that correspond with the phases of the organization’s lifecycle, the dangers inherent in transitions from one phase to another, and how it is possible for some individual leaders to span multiple roles, it is perhaps advantageous to illustrate the Lifecycle by looking at how the various roles and transitions apply over time within an organization. This chapter and the next will apply the model to two organ-izations that have enjoyed substantial and storied histories to provide a historical application of the Lifecycle to these respective organizations. This chapter applies the Lifecycle model to The Walt Disney Company, and the following chapter to Marks & Spencer.

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Flower, Joe. 1991. Prince of the Magic Kingdom: Michael Eisner and the Re-making of Disney. New York: John Wiley & Sons, p. 21.

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Eisner, Michael, with Schwartz, Tony. 1998. Work in Progress. New York: Random House pp. 136–7.

Masters, Kim. 2000. The Keys to the Kingdom: How Michael Eisner Lost his Grip . New York: HarperCollins.

Slater, Robert. 1997. Ovitz . New York: McGraw-Hill..

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Ward, A. (2003). Case Study: The Walt Disney Company. In: The Leadership Lifecycle. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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Case Study: Walt Disney World Resorts and CRM Strategy

CIO Insight Staff

Sitting on a curb with their three children one humid afternoon in October inside Magic Kingdom, the oldest of Walt Disney World’s four Orlando theme parks, Jeff Pawlowski and his wife were in a sour mood. Long lines demanded waits of as long as two hours at some rides inside the 47-square-mile fantasy extravaganza, and the lines at the food stalls and restaurants weren’t much better. “Today has been the worst,” Pawlowski complained. His wife agreed: “Our neighbor came home from Disney on Friday and said there were no lines. We came here on Saturday, and it’s not what we expected.”

The Pawlowskis aren’t alone. Throughout the amusement park industry, long lines, fidgety crowds and high ticket prices continue to rank as the top customer turnoffs. Meanwhile, Disney’s theme parks have been particularly hard hit by sliding attendance figures and decreasing revenues. Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co.’s president and COO, told securities analysts on Nov. 20 that the Parks & Resorts division took in $6.4 billion in revenues in the year ended Sept.30, 1 percent less than 2002’s $6.5 billion, which was already down 8 percent from 2001. Iger blamed the sluggish performance on lower hotel occupancy rates and a further decline in attendance, which had already fallen 14 percent, to 37.7 million, in 2002, from a peak of 43.2 million in 2000. Analysts say international visitors are staying away, thanks to the flat global economy, rising anti-American sentiment and a continued fear of flying since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Ticket prices aren’t helping: They’ve risen 20 percent since 1998, and at $52 per person per day, they’re already at the psychological limit of what consumers are willing to spend for the theme park experience, say some analysts. Disney has cut ticket prices by up to 42 percent in some cases this year in an effort to drum up more business. That’s stemmed some of the attendance erosion, Disney executives say, but it hasn’t done much to the division’s operating income, which fell 18 percent in fiscal 2003, to $957 million from $1.2 billion in fiscal 2002.

At the same time, Disney’s costs continue to rise: Analysts say insurance premiums have nearly doubled since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and health care and pension costs for the company’s 54,000 employees in Orlando alone cost the company nearly $250 million in 2003. Analysts also note that capital expenditures for the parks were down significantly in fiscal 2002. That’s exactly the cost-conscious environment that prompted Roy Disney, nephew of founder Walt Disney, to refer, in his Nov. 30 letter of resignation from the company’s board of directors, to “the timidity of [the company’s] investments in our theme park business.”

Clearly, the goal for now is to do more with less. And Walt Disney Co. CIO Roger Berry is at the center of that mandate—but not for all the usual reasons. To help Disney usher in what Disney Chairman Michael Eisner has called the company’s “digital decade,” Berry has been helping to create a risky but cutting-edge technology strategy designed to help Walt Disney World restore the luster of its aging brand, increase efficiencies and boost attendance—as well as the bottom line. Berry’s mission: to use Walt Disney World as a test bed for one of corporate America’s most ambitious tryouts of the business use of IT convergence—the combination of global positioning satellites, smart sensors, wireless technology and mobile devices, including one that looks like Mickey Mouse himself—to reinvent the customer experience, influence visitor behavior and ease crowding throughout the parks. The goal: to reduce the hassle for visitors to the park by creating a more personalized environment, with IT at the core. “The role of IT is changing,” says Berry. “It’s not simply an organization that deploys technology, but one that now integrates technology from a lot of different angles to improve the customer experience.”

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Case Study: The Walt Disney Company

Marketing television like toothpaste.

How do you promote television programming to target consumers who don’t watch much television at all? This was the problem faced by Disney’s Buena Vista Television division.

The answer is by leveraging other non-television related channels of distribution and consumer venues to build awareness for innovative new programming.

Ascension strategists working in Disney’s Buena Vista Television division pioneered an innovative way to drive new viewers to its animated and live action syndicated and network shows.

Ascension’s approach was to leverage the appeal of Disney as part of a third party strategic alliance program designed to get Disney programming exposure in non-television venues like grocery aisles, fast food restaurants, auto dealer lots, and department stores.

The solution involved developing four thirty-minute animated shows packaged into a two-hour programming block called the Disney Afternoon.

Ascension then led the initiative to build strategic alliances with major consumer goods/services firms that were interested in having their brands affiliated with Disney Afternoon. All partnerships brought Disney in-store point-of-sale exposure, television commercial tags in partner product network advertising, and in-package premiums themed around characters that appear in Disney Afternoon programming.

The program resulted in a collective $100 million off-channel marketing program funded by strategic alliance partners McDonald’s, Nintendo, Procter & Gamble, and Kellogg’s.

Now, strategic partnership alliance program and borrowed interest strategy pioneered by Ascension consultants have been adopted by countless other entertainment companies. Today this off-channel marketing strategy is table stakes for most movie studios and broadcast or cable television programmers when launching new initiatives.

Back to Case Studies

The Walt Disney Company

This case study is an example of the AIMS capabilities highlighted below:

The Walt Disney Company Announces Strategic Restructuring, Restoring Accountability To Creative Businesses

BURBANK, Calif., February 9, 2023 – The Walt Disney Company announced details of its strategic restructuring that will refocus the organization on creativity, empower creative leaders and ensure they are accountable for all aspects of their businesses globally, and put the company’s streaming business on a path to sustained growth and profitability.  Effective immediately, the company will be organized into three core, collaborative business segments: Disney Entertainment, ESPN, and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. The leaders of each business segment will have full operational control and financial responsibility for creative development, marketing, technology, sales, and distribution, and will be accountable for driving business efficiencies globally.

“For nearly 100 years, storytelling and creativity have fueled The Walt Disney Company, with virtually every interaction we have with our consumers emanating from something creative,” said Robert A. Iger, Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company. “I am committed to positioning this company for a new era of growth. Our strategic restructuring will return creativity to the center of the company, increase accountability, improve results, and ensure the quality of our content and experiences.”

Disney Entertainment will be co-chaired by Alan Bergman and Dana Walden who will be responsible for the company’s full portfolio of entertainment media and content businesses globally, including streaming.

ESPN will include ESPN networks and ESPN+ and will be led by Jimmy Pitaro. Pitaro will also be responsible for the management and supervision of the company’s full portfolio of sports content, products and experiences across all of Disney’s platforms worldwide, including its international sports channels.

The streaming business remains a top priority for the company. Disney’s unparalleled collection of renowned and trusted franchises and brands, combined with the reach of the streaming portfolio (consisting of Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, Star+ and Hotstar) creates rich and direct connections between the consumer and the company’s stories and characters, powering growth across the entire company.

“Every day, I am reminded of what incredible talent we have leading the many facets of this company,” Iger said. “Thanks to my management team and our exceptional business leaders, who have acted quickly and strategically on the important changes we are undertaking today, I am as encouraged as ever by what the future holds for The Walt Disney Company.”

Disney Entertainment co-Chairmen Alan Bergman and Dana Walden will oversee the company’s global entertainment streaming businesses and manage all content decisions for those services, including Disney+ and Hulu.

Bergman will also have primary oversight of the following businesses and content brands: Disney Live Action, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, and Searchlight Pictures as well as Disney Music Group and Disney Theatrical Group.

Walden will also have primary oversight of the following businesses and content brands: ABC Entertainment, ABC News, ABC Owned Televisions Stations, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content, and Onyx Collective.

Pitaro will continue to oversee eight linear networks, including ESPN and ESPN2; sports content across all Disney domestic and, going forward, international platforms; ESPN+; ESPN Audio; ESPN Digital; ESPN Social; ESPN Fantasy and a variety of owned sports events.

Effective immediately, several shared-service organizations across the company will support both Disney Entertainment and ESPN, facilitating company-wide efficiencies and creating a more cost-effective, coordinated, and streamlined approach to operations. These include Product and Technology, led by Aaron LaBerge; Advertising Sales, led by Rita Ferro; and Platform Distribution led by Justin Connolly excluding Theatrical Distribution and Music, which will be overseen by Bergman.

Outside of North America, the company’s media, entertainment, and sports content and operations will continue to be managed regionally by Luke Kang, President Asia Pacific; Jan Koeppen, President EMEA; Diego Lerner, President LATAM; and K Madhavan, President India. These leaders will report to Bergman, Walden, and Pitaro as part of their global responsibilities. As a result of the changes, Rebecca Campbell, Chairman, International Content and Operations, has decided to leave the Company.  An esteemed leader and longtime industry veteran, Campbell will stay on through June to help with the transition.

Disney Parks, Experiences and Products — encompassing the company’s award-winning theme parks, cruise line, resort destinations and Adventures by Disney and National Geographic Expeditions, as well as Disney’s global consumer products, games, and publishing businesses — will continue under the leadership of Chairman Josh D’Amaro.

The organizational changes will be implemented immediately, and the company will begin reporting financial results under the new business structure by the end of the fiscal year.

Executive Biographies 

Alan Bergman – Co-Chairman, Disney Entertainment 

Alan Bergman is Co-Chairman for Disney Entertainment, along with Dana Walden. Together, they are responsible for The Walt Disney Company’s full portfolio of entertainment media and content business globally, including streaming. This includes accountability for content creation, sales and distribution, marketing, operations and technology. Bergman was previously Chairman, Disney Studios Content, responsible for the Studios division, including Disney Theatrical Productions. Prior to that, Bergman was Co-Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios from 2019 to 2020, and its President from 2005 to 2019.

Dana Walden – Co-Chairman, Disney Entertainment 

Dana Walden is Co-Chairman for Disney Entertainment, along with Alan Bergman. Together, they are responsible for The Walt Disney Company’s full portfolio of entertainment media and content business globally, including streaming. This includes accountability for content creation, sales and distribution, marketing, operations and technology. Walden was previously Chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, overseeing original entertainment and news programming for Disney’s streaming platforms, broadcast and cable networks, in addition to Disney Televisions Studios and Onyx Collective. Prior to that, Walden served as Chairman of Entertainment for Walt Disney Television.

Jimmy Pitaro – Chairman, ESPN 

Jimmy Pitaro is Chairman of The Walt Disney Company’s ESPN business segment, which includes ESPN and ESPN+. Pitaro is also responsible for the Company’s full portfolio of sports content, products and experiences across all of Disney’s platforms worldwide, including content creation, sports rights acquisitions, distribution and marketing. Previously, Pitaro was ESPN President and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks, after serving as Chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, starting in 2016.  He joined the Company in 2010 to lead Disney’s Interactive segment.

Josh D’Amaro – Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products 

Josh D’Amaro is Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, overseeing a global hub consisting of Disney’s iconic travel and leisure businesses, which include six theme park-resort destinations in the United States, Europe and Asia; a top-rated cruise line; a popular vacation ownership program; an award-winning guided family adventure business; and Disney’s global consumer products operations. D’Amaro has a 25-year track record with the company. Previously, D’Amaro had served as President of Disneyland and then Walt Disney World Resorts.

About The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company, together with its subsidiaries, is a leading diversified international entertainment and media enterprise.  For convenience, the term “Company” is used to refer collectively to the parent company and the subsidiary companies through which our various businesses are actually conducted. Disney is a Dow 30 company and had annual revenues of $82.7 billion in its Fiscal Year 2022.

Forward-Looking Statements

Certain statements in this email may constitute “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including statements regarding our future structure, growth, profitability, positioning, results, creativity, quality, expenses, targets and other statements that are not historical in nature. These statements are made on the basis of management’s views and assumptions regarding future events and business performance as of the time the statements are made. Management does not undertake any obligation to update these statements.

Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied. Such differences may result from actions taken by the Company, including restructuring or strategic initiatives (including capital investments, asset acquisitions or dispositions, new or expanded business lines or cessation of certain operations), our execution of our business plans (including the content we create and IP we invest in, our pricing decisions, our cost structure and our management and other personnel decisions) or other business decisions, as well as from developments beyond the Company’s control, including:

  • further deterioration in domestic and global economic conditions;
  • deterioration in or pressures from competitive conditions, including competition to create or acquire content and competition for talent;
  • consumer preferences and acceptance of our content, offerings, pricing model and price increases and the market for advertising sales on our DTC services and linear networks;
  • health concerns and their impact on our businesses and productions;
  • international, regulatory, legal, political, or military developments;
  • technological developments;
  • labor markets and activities;
  • adverse weather conditions or natural disasters; and
  • availability of content.

Each such risk includes the current and future impacts of, and may be amplified by, COVID-19 and related mitigation efforts.

Such developments may further affect entertainment, travel and leisure businesses generally and may, among other things, affect (or further affect, as applicable):

  • our operations, business plans or profitability;
  • demand for our products and services;
  • the performance of the Company’s content;
  • our ability to create or obtain desirable content at or under the value we assign the content;
  • the advertising market for programming;
  • income tax expense; and
  • performance of some or all Company businesses either directly or through their impact on those who distribute our products.

Additional factors are set forth in the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended October 1, 2022, including under the captions “Risk Factors,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” and “Business,” quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, including under the captions “Risk Factors” and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” and subsequent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The terms “Company,” “we,” and “our” are used above to refer collectively to the parent company and the subsidiaries through which our various businesses are actually conducted.

Media Contacts:

David Jefferson (818) 560-4832 [email protected]

Mike Long (818) 560-4588 [email protected]

Investor Contact:

Alexia Quadrani (818) 560-6601 [email protected]

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