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The Disney King will be declared today: Key vote decides if movies stay ‘woke’ plus the future of Hulu, ESPN, Star Wars and Disneyland


The battle for the future of Disney will come to a head on Wednesday afternoon.

It could shape the movies it makes, the future of Disney + and Hulu, and how much the business will continue plowing into its sports streaming and amusement parks like Disneyland.

Billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz last year launched one of the highest-profile proxy fights in history against the current Disney leadership, headed by Bob Iger, and today, votes will be counted.

Iger represents the Disney establishment and has the backing of major players like Star Wars creator George Lucas, Steve Jobs’s widow Laurene Powell Jobs, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and the grandchildren of Walt and Roy Disney.

But Peltz, the father-in-law of Brooklyn Beckham, has the backing of anti-establishment players like Elon Musk and investor Bill Ackman – both of whom have been vocal opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in recent months.

Nelson Peltz of Trian Capital is challenging CEO Bob Iger and the Disney establishment

Nelson Peltz of Trian Capital is challenging CEO Bob Iger and the Disney establishment 

Nelson Peltz is the father in law of Brooklyn Beckham and has the backing of anti-establishment players like Elon Musk and investor Bill Ackman

Nelson Peltz is the father in law of Brooklyn Beckham and has the backing of anti-establishment players like Elon Musk and investor Bill Ackman

Peltz, via his campaign ‘Restore The Magic,’ has argued that Disney has ‘lost its way.’ In particular, he has attacked the company for producing ‘woke‘ films that underperformed at the box office.

He has long been an advocate of taking the politics out of America’s boardrooms and focusing on delivering returns for shareholders.

During the company’s annual shareholder meeting investors will elect a new slate of 12 board directors who will sit for another year.

Peltz, via his asset management firm Trian, is hoping to win two seats. Disney on the other hand has its own set of 12 nominees which it is steering shareholders to vote for.

DISNEY’S MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS 

(As of December 31, 2023)

Vanguard – 151M shares – $18.4B

BlackRock – 122M shares – $14.8B

State Street – 76M shares – $9.2B

Morgan Stanley – 48M shares – $5.8B

Geode Capital – 35M shares – $4.2B

Trian – 32M shares – $3.9B

State Farm – 32M shares – $3.9B

Disney’s 2024 annual meeting will begin at 1pm ET/11am PT and anyone can follow along via a live stream.

At the beginning of the meeting, Peltz and Trian will have an opportunity to address shareholders. Soon after Disney general counsel will announce that voting has closed and announce the preliminary results.

Shareholders’ voting power is proportional to the number of shares they own. The Walt Disney Company, which now owns Hulu and ESPN, currently has 1,832,000,000 shares outstanding and a market cap of around $225 billion.

Activist investors like Peltz often believe that they can unlock the value of a the company by advocating for changes to leadership or strategy.

In open letters to Disney investors, Peltz has been critical of the company’s heading under Iger’s leadership.

In particular, he has criticized Iger’s botched attempt at establishing Bob Chapek as his successor in 2020.

After 15 years as CEO, Iger picked Chapek to take over the company but did not last long. In November 2022, he was ousted by the board and Iger was reappointed as CEO.

Peltz has also attacked current Disney leadership for poor box office results in recent years and its generally poor performance of its share price.

Despite reaching an all-time high of more than $200 in March 2021, it is now only up 6.8 percent from five years ago at $123.

Trian is seeking to remove Disney directors Maria Elena Lagomasino and Michael Froman from the board and replace them with Peltz and former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo.

Iger and his investor relations team have been traveling the country in recent weeks trying to convince shareholders they should not allow Peltz a seat.

Activist investor Nelson Peltz

Former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo

Peltz had nominated himself and former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo (right) to the board of the entertainment giant’s directors, slamming Iger as ‘underperforming’

Disney launched the website votedisney.com in an attempt to steer smaller shareholders into voting for its own nominees and to 'reject Nelson Peltz'

Disney launched the website votedisney.com in an attempt to steer smaller shareholders into voting for its own nominees and to ‘reject Nelson Peltz’

Poster for Shanghaied movie. From left: Mickey Mouse, Pegleg Pete, Minnie Mouse,

Poster for Shanghaied movie. From left: Mickey Mouse, Pegleg Pete, Minnie Mouse,

The company has also launched the website votedisney.com, on which it seeks to make the case against Peltz and to convince retail shareholders that Iger’s leadership will steer company in a promising direction.

Trian on the other hand has adopted the slogan ‘Restore The Magic’ for its campaign, and launched the website restorethemagic.com.

While small investors are important, big institutional investors will be key players. Money managers like Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street together own more than 16 percent of the company’s shares.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that BlackRock and T. Rowe Price are among major investors backing Disney. 

Peltz’s daughter, actress Nicola Peltz, is married to Brooklyn Beckham, the son of David and Victoria Beckham.



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