As shareholders entered this year's annual meeting of the Walt Disney Company, they were handed pins touting "D23 Official Launch," helping to focus attention on the question that has been perplexing, then concerning, many in the Disney online community.
While many rumors ran rampant over the last couple of months, details had emerged within the last week indicating that D23 was going to be "the Official Community for Disney Fans." Now, members and proprietors of the various unofficial online communities were wondering: Was D23 going to be an attempt to put those unofficial communities out of business, or would it be a complement or inclusive community that would work in harmony with the already-existing communities.
But first, the informational portion of the meeting began with Disney CEO and President Bob Iger presenting the new trailer for the Disney/Pixar feature Up and an unfinished scene from The Princess and the Frog. Iger also announced the new names of the two Disney Cruise Line ships that just began construction last week: the Disney Dream (launching in 2011) and the Disney Fantasy (2012).
Then it was time to announce D23. All morning (and early afternoon, in the eastern half of the U.S.), the Disney fan community had been actively speculating what would be revealed. Some of those listening to the shareholder meeting via streaming webcast kept up a running commentary on the Twitter social messaging site.
Disney CEO and President Bob Iger introduces D23.
Iger introduced a film clip announcing D23, and as the clip ended, the D23 Web site went live (link). Word quickly spread as fans scoured the site for information. Of course, the D23 shopping site at DisneyShopping.com (link) had opened earlier in the morning, so this was now a scramble to find out what D23 would have besides merchandise.
Following the informational/marketing content, Disney Chairman John Pepper, Jr. ran the business portion of the meeting. There was no discussion on any of Disney's business items (election of directors, ratification of PricewaterhouseCoopers as accountants, approval of changes to 2005 stock incentive plans and 2002 executive performance plan). The fireworks came with the discussion of shareholder proposals.
While renowned gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis was not in attendance for the second consecutive year, the first proposal, from the Free Enterprise Action Fund, provided plenty of conflict. The proposal was presented by Thomas Borrelli who, as he has done in the past, pressed the board about Disney refusing to sell The Path to 9/11 on DVD. In his presentation, he launched an aggressive attach on Bob Iger and the Disney board, claiming that Iger's personal politics and a "puppet board"a Pinocchio board, with Mr. Iger pulling the strings" had suppressed the release of The Path to 9/11 on DVD. He also insinuated that Iger is stubborn and greedy and launched other personal attacks on the Disney CEO.
After Pepper warned Borrelli that he was exceeding his allotted five minutes to speak, Borrelli said, "You're not shutting me down this time," and continued his attacks. After he finished, he attempted to shake Iger's hand, then ran back to the microphone screaming that Iger had dismissed him with an expletive (the archived recording of the meeting has deleted this exchange). In a comment from the floor later during the business portion of the meeting, after refuting many of Borrelli's assertions about the facts surrounding Disney's involvement with both Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 and The Path to 9/11, Chuck Oberleitner told Iger that he was impressed with his restraint, as were Oberleitner in the same position, he "probably would have knocked him on his rear end."
All of Disney's items passed, while all three shareholder proposals failed.
The question-and-answer portion of the meeting featured its usual assortment of the unusual—a boy asking, "Why did Mr. Walt Disney create Walt Disney?" (which was originally answered by Pepper as, "Because he loved children," then skillfully redirected by Iger into a discussion of how much Disney execs study Walt and want to learn from him), followed by the boy asking the board to sign a book to prove to his teacher that he was on an educational field trip, and the business-focused (asking about interest in the Busch Entertainment Group theme parks, a question about acquiring troubled TV duopolies to leverage the extra bandwidth, and asking for Disney's thoughts on revenue generation in new media). Missing for the first time in recent memory was any question regarding Song of the South.
And what about D23? Well, after the shareholder meeting, a conference call was held with Steven Clark (Head of D23 and Executive Editor of Disney twenty-three), Chief Archivist Dave Smith, and Imagineering Ambassador Marty Sklar for a group strongly represented by the online Disney-focused news sites.
After Clark presented information that was already available via the D23 announcement press release (link) [reviewed by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix in her blog earlier in the day (link)], Sklar said that he was looking forward to the opportunity to share stories through D23, adding that he has a lot of stories to share. Sklar also noted that D23 has its roots in Walt's dedication speech for Disneyland, where he said "Disneyland is YOUR land," noting that D23 is YOUR Disney for the fans.
Smith gave a brief history of Disney fan clubs, noting that there had never been a company-wide fan club, only for specific aspects of the company, and that in recent years many fans directed their questions directly to the Archives because there was no other way to get their questions answered. Smith then talked about the fan groups that sprung up independently, including The Mouse Club and the NFFC, noting that he had been designated as the unofficial liaison to the clubs, and also noting that he was probably the only person to have attended every national Disney convention (I guess that means that MouseFest doesn't count as a convention).
The call was then opened to Q&A. The question on everyone's mind was asked by Lou Mongello of WDWRadio.com (link), who asked, "How do you see D23 fitting in or coexisting with the online organizations, and things like the NFFC?"
"There is such a vast world of stories, content, perspectives related to Disney out there. We don't pretend to be the only one." Clark responded. "There is a voracious appetite for consuming all the trivia, minutiae, behind-the-scenes, backstage, insider perspectives about Disney and we believe that there's room for everybody. I think that as time goes on, you look at expanding the world of D23 and D23 is a community that includes many sub-communities, and whether that's Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club, the NFFC, the online communities, I think there's room for everyone and we should all be celebrating the larger Disney fan experience. Like I said, I'm a Disney fan. I read those Web sites, I enjoy the content, and sometimes you guys get some pretty good stuff out there, so I think that that is something that will remain."
Clark also noted that the D23 Expo gathering would be located in Anaheim for the first four years, and that they would then start looking at holding Expo events at Walt Disney World and maybe the international parks, as well.
As an example of how D23 would interact with the various sub-communities, Clark noted that they could have a special reception on DVC member cruises for D23 members only, or something in the parks for Annual Passholder/D23 members.
Clark noted "fan sites" will be able to exhibit at the D23 Expo, and that there will be more information on how to exhibit in the coming months on D23Expo.com (link). He also said that he would look into providing opportunities for fans to provide content for D23 and have official roles in D23, noting that he doesn't see the relationship with NFFC changing.
MousePlanet's Chris Barry also asked a question regarding the exclusive D23 merchandise, an area of interest for Barry.
The net result of all of this is that it appears that D23 will be a formidable company presence, and its impact on the community of unofficial sites is undetermined at this time. It will likely either cause some of the smaller sites to either fall off of the map or, conversely, have many more sites spring up in its periphery. It will likely depend on how Disney administers the club and interacts with the various unofficial sites. We'll have to wait and see as things develop, but we'll certainly be keeping an eye on it here at MousePlanet.
(Send an email to Mark Goldhaber)
Mark (@MPMark) is a veteran of dozens of trips to Walt Disney World starting in 1972, with a few Disneyland trips thrown in for good measure. As a Disney stockholder and a Disney Vacation Club member, Mark is always in touch with what's going on with The Mouse. Mark serves as MousePlanet's Walt Disney World content coordinator. Mark is a senior information technology manager working for the State of New York. He lives in the suburbs outside Albany, New York, with his wife and son.