NEW YORK Walt Disney president and CEO Bob Iger said today that he does not see search engines like Google and Yahoo! as competitors to ABC and the Disney cable properties, even though they are selling advertising.
Iger said because Disney/ABC are content creators and providers, he sees search engines more as a way for his company's media platforms to distribute content. He also sees significant benefit in search engines' ability to drive consumers to Disney properties through searches.
"I'm not worried about Google cannibalizing our advertising," he said. "Google's search capabilities are more important to us because they will drive consumers to our companies."
Speaking at McGraw-Hill's Media Summit in New York today, Iger responded to a wide range of questions from BusinessWeek executive editor John Byrne during an opening session at the conference.
In response to a direct question, Iger said he is not interested in buying America Online. "Disney is not going to buy AOL," he said, adding that just because a company comes up for sale doesn't mean it would fit into the Disney portfolio.
Commenting on Disney's digital philosophy, Iger said the company is not as much embracing particular digital technologies as it is embracing consumers. "Consumers are using technology and we are using technology to reach consumers."
Iger said the company is employing social networking sites to reach younger people who are a major part of Disney's audience.
He cited Disney's acquisition of the virtual world Club Penguin, which is frequented by kids 6-14. He said it's an opportunity for Disney to build engagement with its prospective viewers and drive audiences to its other platforms.
Disney takes in about $1 billion in digital revenue, which is a relatively small portion of its assets, but Iger said, "Digital will be a very important part of our business going forward." He said airing ABC television programming on the Internet and other nontraditional platforms "will cannibalize some of that [TV] audience [and revenue], but most of it will be incremental."
Iger said he has a page on social networking site Facebook, but told the audience "good luck finding me," adding that he uses a pseudonym. It's important for media executives to be familiar firsthand with the various digital networks and technologies they are use to reach consumers, he said.
Iger derided those who call television an "old medium."
"You denigrate television by calling it old," he said. "It is still a very powerful medium. "When you watch [Disney Channel's] High School Musical on a 50-inch, flat screen television in high definition, that's not old media; that's new media."
Iger believes there are many opportunities to offer content via mobile platforms, and said the failure of the ESPN and Disney mobile phone rollouts was due to bad marketing, bad pricing and bad research by the company. "Our approach was wrong. We made mistakes," he said, but vowed to continue to try to reach audiences via mobile outlets. "Lots of kids have cell phones and they are our audience," he said.