Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Liveblogging Fortune Brainstorm Tech: Disney CEO Bob Iger Has "One Hand in the Present and One Hand in the Future"

Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company (DIS), was the kickoff interview onstage at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Tech conference, which is taking place over the next three days in Pasadena, Calif.

The event is packed full of Web and media luminaries.

So, BoomTown will be sitting in the front row and liveblogging some of the sessions here, including this one, titled, “Digital Kingdom: New Business Models for a Media Giant.”

Translation: When you Twitter upon a star, makes a–big–difference what you earn.

Which, right now, is not a whole lot, as Iger and others in the media business know all too well.

But let’s set the scene: Iger looks like a very typical old-media mogul you might order from an online catalog–handsome, suave and sophisticated, a perfect mix of Hollywood and New York.

Thank goodness, then, that he never seems to have acquired that other irksome characteristic of some of his peers–a full-bored panic over the Internet.

In fact, Iger–whom I also interviewed onstage at the fourth D: All Things Digital conference in 2006–has been unusually fast-forward among many of the big media companies in facing the digital music and dancing.

Fortune writer Richard Siklos asked him about a mishmash of subjects, from subscription services to authentication to cable providers, all of which center around a basic question:

How the heck is Disney going to be paid for its wares–because someday those agelessly lucrative “kids” from “High School Musical” are not going to agree to yet another reunion?

“This is the beginning of the beginning,” said Iger, who noted that it would be folly to guess what’s coming next in the digital arena.

A most excellent point that he made several times, adding that it was important for companies like Disney to keep trying out all sorts of things digitally, until they got it right.

“This notion of protecting the present is something that I talk a lot about [with employees],” said Iger, who wants them not to do that so much.

He noted that running a modern media company meant you had to have “one hand in the present and one hand in the future.”

Iger forgot about the hand that you might need to protect yourself from partners of the present–like big-box retailers, television affiliates, cable networks–who are going to come at you with a cudgel for giving the stuff you sell them away free on, say, Hulu.

Hulu, of course, is the popular, tiny-money-making premium online video service, which is a joint partnership of News Corp. (NWS), GE’s (GE) NBC Universal and now Disney.

“We believe in Hulu,” said Iger, who thinks its business model–currently just online advertising–might evolve over time.

But, he added, he was “somewhat skeptical” of any one answer to what is ahead.

As in: Iger just does not know, which is probably the best thing a media mogul can say right now.

Except for one thing he said is always mindful of–to follow, “where the consumer is going.”

Consumers are going online, of course, which is certainly going to require all-hands-on-deck at Disney in the years ahead.

[Update: It seems Disney was keeping its hand in the present for today, as it apparently had YouTube take down a trailer for its new “Alice in Wonderland” movie, which was set to debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego tomorrow.]

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We got to do a lot of epic shit when I was at DARPA.

— Regina Dugan, SVP of advanced tech and projects at Motorola Mobility LLC (and former DARPA chief)