Disney CEO Bob Chapek Says They ‘Ought to Listen’ to Audience, So Why Aren’t They?

Things aren’t looking great from where Disney CEO Bob Chapek stands. Despite $82 billion in revenue for fiscal 2022, investors are balking, and stock prices are down. Highly respected financial analysts are calling for him to be fired. What’s a beleaguered executive of one of the world’s largest conglomerates to do?

Apparently, he cuts jobs and institutes a hiring freeze while creating a “cost structure taskforce” to further implement cost cutting measures. People will lose their jobs because the company fell $1 billion short of expectations — despite making over $18 billion more than fiscal 2021.

You may have noticed a pattern when Chapek does interviews — the interviewer tends to mention how things have been so hard for Chapek. He started right before the pandemic. He managed the company through unprecedented times. There might be a recession coming. Poor Chapek, they project, the guy that grew his beard out because his wife liked it, hitting all the notes to make audiences sympathetic. (Chapek, who, by the way, makes $2.5 million a year with a minimum guaranteed $20 million annual bonus. He made $34.5 million in 2021.)

So when Chapek sat down with the Wall Street Journal for WSJ Tech Live 2022, after making cheeky comments about the Disney fan community and declaring that every guest will have a great experience because of Genie+, he brought out a new sound bite designed to reflect in his favor and said they “ought to listen” to their audience.

So are they? Of course they are. But not to what we’re saying.

They’re listening to what we’re doing.

Disney sees the fans complaining — too much Star Wars, too much Marvel, bring back Horizons, anti-Chapek petitions — ad infinitum. But they also know the same fans are subscribing to Disney+, binging “She-Hulk,” and renewing annual passes. So if we’re still paying, why would they change their model?

Look, I’m not going to be hypocritical here. I’m not going to stop going to the parks, and as long as they keep putting out shows like “Andor” and “The Mandalorian,” I’m going to have an ad-free subscription to Disney+. I pay for a D23 Gold membership but hardly ever use the perks. I don’t expect anyone to give up the things that bring them joy in an increasingly stressful world.

But while they’re watching our behaviors, we can do the same. When they say they are listening to the audience, they don’t mean they will bring back old attractions or put less emphasis on IP. Rather, they’ll sell us nostalgia in the form of brat burgers and wings while garnering national media attention and 7-hour-long queues for popcorn buckets. And they’re listening as those buckets sell out and guests flood social media with cute cupcakes. It might be hard to hear us over the constant ding of the cash register, but the message is well received. We’re saying, “this is enough.” Why should they spend more when trivial expenses make guests happy and turn a profit?

Chapek’s focus (and the shareholders’ focus) is on Disney+, and if we wanted to hit them where it hurts, we’d unsubscribe. If the service is hemorrhaging viewers, they’d be forced to make a change. But I’m not so sure it would be a change we like to see. Instead, it would likely be more of what we are seeing now — Cast Members and creatives fired.

The other, more practical option, is to stop buying Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane. Experience the parks like the average, confused family from Denver or Seattle, and then fill out those post-visit surveys. Tell them hours-long waits are unacceptable, that $22 is too much for a service that used to be free, and that you’re not about to wake up at 6:55 a.m. to make sure your kid can ride something.

So sure, Disney and Chapek are listening, but they only hear in dollar signs. So fans need to speak their language to be heard.

If you’d like your money to go to a good cause rather than line an executive’s wallet, tune in next week for WDWNT’s annual fundraiser for Toys for Tots. It was Walt Disney’s charity of choice, and every holiday season, we honor his wishes by collecting donations for the organization. Join us for a 50-hour marathon or bid on rare Disneyana in our charity auction, where all proceeds go to Toys for Tots. Last year alone, we were able to donate more than $36,000. Stay tuned for more details, including the items up for auction this year.

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Featured image: Fortune

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