Disney CEO Bob Iger is watching the world go digital--and he's pretty excited about it.
In a talk with writer Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital Conference, Iger touched on Netflix, the inevitablity of the cloud, Disney's relationship with Apple and what he thinks about social networks for kids.
Iger began by saying that more had changed since his last appearance at the conference, seven years ago, than he had thought was possible.
"We're at an extraordinary time," he said.
Though movie studios have been known to grumble about Netflix, the online movie rental and streaming site, Iger was more optimistic about the opportunity digital distribution represents for the movie business. He touted the new power to distribute content all over the world, in more ways, as a necessary upheaval of traditional models.
"If I look back seven years ago, we were in businesses that were relatively low growth, and hadn't changed in a long time," he said. "For instance in movies, not much had happened since VHS, then DVD. Same with TV. But suddenly we were looking at the video iPod. And the lightbulb went off on my head: this could be what VHS was to our business, the same kind of potential, an entirely new opportunity to monetize our capital investment in content."
Still, Iger maintains that having relationships with multiple distributors is his preferred strategy, also adding that traditional media is still vastly more profitable than digital media.
"I'm not in the camp that believes that Netflix is going to take over the world," he said. "Technology makes it impossible to have a monopoly."
Iger was especially keen to emphasize the importance of the mobile device industry for movies, pointing out that smartphones and tablets are becoming entertainment devices in a huge fashion, opening up the possibility for turning profits on digital sales.
"The tablet is going to revolutionize filmed entertainment business," he said. "On the way here, I was reading ATD on the iPad, and watching the French Open via the ESPN app. A few years ago, you couldn't do that."
Iger said that cloud storage will be crucial to the way consumers today expect to digest entertainment, arguing that the ability to have content online, accessible in a single location is a "better user experience," especially because storage presents an issue to those who don't have space on their hard drives for their content but don't want to throw it out.
Iger noted that, though he would not favor any single cloud idea, Disney chose to go with iTunes because "the user experience was great." Apple head Steve Jobs is Disney's largest shareholder (as a result of Pixar's sale to the company), but Iger says the companies don't have any special relationship, and that he will not be involved in the iCloud launch on Monday.
"We've not said yes to everything that Apple's wanted, and vice versa," he said.
Iger also spoke about Disney's stake in the social network and gaming spheres.
Disney purchased children's social network Togetherville in Februrary. And although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently expressed his belief that children would benefit from joining Facebook, Iger says Disney has no plans to create its own social network anytime soon. (Interestingly enough, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also sits on the Disney board.) Still, Iger noted that Disney must protect its brand, and will not go forward in the space until it can ensure that it can create an appropriate product.
"I don't think we will create our own social network," he said. "But there is an opportunity for child or family safe environment. Club Penguin is sort of that, and we're talking about going beyond that. I wouldn't say it's in highly advanced stages, but we're doing a lot of thinking about it."