Disney and Apple Are Parting Ways Over New Streaming Services

Tim Cook Eddy Cue Bob Iger Credit: Bloomberg (via The Information)
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With both Apple and Disney expected to launch their major streaming services in November, it appears that the two companies are taking steps to be more at arms-length from each other to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.

According to CNBC, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger has resigned from his long-held position on Apple’s board of directors, as revealed in Apple’s SEC filing on Friday.

Both Apple and Disney have long had plans for their own streaming services in the works, although the two companies are taking fundamentally different directions with those services. Apple TV+ will focus exclusively on original content produced by Apple, whereas Disney+ will include a huge library of existing titles from the entertainment company, combined with the sort of original content that it’s already been producing for the past few decades.

Apple and Disney

In fact, the symbiosis between the services and long-held relationship between the two companies led to speculation earlier this year that Apple’s new streaming service could have incorporated Disney’s content in some way — either directly or simply by offering a Disney+ subscription as part of what many believed at the time would have been a bundle of third-party streaming services.

For years, Apple and Disney have been about as close as two massive corporations can be. Legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was Disney’s largest shareholder next to Walt Disney himself, and served on Disney’s board of directors up until the time of his death in 2011. Jobs and Iger were also close personal friends, to the point that the former Apple CEO specifically asked Iger to take his place on Apple’s board after he died.

Despite reports that Disney was considering partnering with other providers, it ultimately decided that it would clearly be able to trade on its name alone, announcing Disney+ shortly after Apple announced its own streaming service. However, Disney CEO Bob Iger made it clear back then that he didn’t see Disney+ as being a direct competitor to Apple, and therefore didn’t think it was necessary to step down from his position on Apple’s board of directors. Iger added that he would continue to be careful to recuse himself from any meetings where Apple TV+ was a point of discussion, but said at the time that it hadn’t happened all that often, but that he would remain “mindful of [his] fiduciary responsibility to Apple shareholders.”

Apple also expressed its belief earlier this year that there wouldn’t be any potential conflicts, stating in a financial filing that it has been entering into “arms-length commercial dealings” with Disney for years — most notably in areas like licensing content sold on the iTunes Store — and that it “does not believe that Mr. Iger has a material direct or indirect interest” in any of those dealings.

An Amicable Parting

Still, somewhere along the way the two companies must have decided that it would be better to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and Iger officially resigned on September 10th, the same day that Apple formally announced the price and release date for Apple TV+. By all indications, however, Iger’s resignation appears to be an amicable parting of the ways that’s being done more for propriety than any immediate concerns about conflict of interest or competition between the two companies.

In a statement, Iger expressed his respect and admiration for Apple, his fellow board members, and CEO Tim Cook, and said he was “forever grateful” to have had the “extraordinary privilege” of serving on Apple’s board of directors.

It has been an extraordinary privilege to have served on the Apple board for 8 years, and I have the utmost respect for Tim Cook, his team at Apple, and for my fellow board members. Apple is one of the world’s most admired companies, known for the quality and integrity of its products and its people, and I am forever grateful to have served as a member of the company’s board.

Disney CEO Bob Iger

Apple also added in its own statement that “Bob has been an exemplary board member for nearly either years, and for as long as he has led Disney he has been on of Apple’s most trusted business partners.” In addition to lauding Iger as a “dedicated, visionary CEO” Apple’s statement also added the more personal note that “More than anything, Bob is our friend” and that Apple expects that its friendly relationship with Disney and its CEO will continue far into the future.

Apple is expected to launch Apple TV+ on November 1 for $4.99/month, while Disney+ will arrive on November 12 for $6.99/month, with full support for the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad via its own iOS and tvOS app, including in-app subscriptions to handle the billing through Apple. There’s no word yet on whether Disney+ will be available through Apple’s own Apple TV Channels service, although it hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

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