A formal partnership between The Walt Disney Company and Apple will finally go into effect on Friday, February 2, but the scope of the new partnership may only be in its infancy, with a broader collaboration on the horizon.
Apple to the Rescue?
Just days after The Walt Disney Company’s board of directors removed former CEO Bob Chapek from his post in November 2022, replacing him with veteran CEO Bob Iger, headlines promising the inevitable takeover of Disney by tech giant Apple spread like wildfire, and though neither company confirmed any part of the speculation, the merger seemed a viable option.
Iger had clearly been reinstated to right the financial ship at Disney, and soon after he returned to the helm, just how dire the situation was at Walt’s beloved company became much clearer. Subpar box office returns, as well as reduced revenue across the company’s various divisions and an ever-expanding feud between The Walt Disney Company and the State of Florida, had created a near-desperate scenario for the Mouse House.
Add to these the fact that in the first weeks following Iger’s reinstatement, a Wall Street analyst made specific claims about CEO Bob Iger planning to sell Disney, which served to lend even more credibility to the speculation of an Apple-Disney buyout.
Disney’s Dire Straits Become Public Knowledge
In February 2023, Iger conducted the first quarterly earnings call since his return, and during that call, it became clear that The Walt Disney Company was in a dire position–and Iger was serious about trimming spending, laying off employees to lower expenditures, and ultimately saving more than $5 billion–all in a three-month period of time.
Iger announced a major restructuring at the House of Disney, and layoffs would total more than 7,000. But no one could say who would be let go. Would it be one division? Would it affect every division? It would be the largest planned series of layoffs since tens of thousands of cast members were laid off when Disney’s theme parks closed in 2020 in response to the global pandemic.
All of a Sudden, That Disney-Apple Partnership Becomes Real
After a series of layoffs that left some of The Walt Disney Company’s high-level executives without jobs, Disney set its sights on an actual partnership with Apple–no more speculation, no more questions.
Thanks to an announcement by Disney and Apple in June 2023, fans were finally armed with the truth: the two mega-entities were finally coming together. But the partnership wouldn’t take effect until February 2024.
Apple introduced its first virtual reality (VR) project, named the Apple Vision Pro, which the tech giant describes as a “spatial computer that transforms how people work, collaborate, connect, relive memories, and enjoy entertainment.”
In an exciting twist, it became clear that Disney had something Apple needed desperately–content to use with its new VR offering. Therefore, thanks to a partnership between the two companies, Disney would be the key to Apple’s promise of changing the way people “enjoy entertainment,” especially as Disney owns much of what Apple would offer as “entertainment” in its revolutionary new $3500 gadget.
Apple Vision Pro x Disney+
In a press release in January 2024, the tech giant went public with news of its plans to roll out the new Apple Vision Pro VR headset on February 2, 2024, bringing a real Apple-Disney partnership to fruition.
Per the announcement from Apple, the new headset would be available at Apple store locations across the United States and on the U.S. Apple Store online. The announcement further served to give a more in-depth description of Apple’s newest technology:
Vision Pro is a revolutionary spatial computer that transforms how people work, collaborate, connect, relive memories, and enjoy entertainment. Vision Pro seamlessly blends digital content with the physical world and unlocks powerful spatial experiences in visionOS, controlled by the most natural and intuitive inputs possible — a user’s eyes, hands, and voice.
An all-new App Store provides users with access to more than 1 million compatible apps across iOS and iPadOS, as well as new experiences that take advantage of the unique capabilities of Vision Pro.
“The era of spatial computing has arrived,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said. “Apple Vision Pro is the most advanced consumer electronics device ever created. Its revolutionary and magical user interface will redefine how we connect, create, and explore.”
Disney Announces New “Worlds” on the Apple VR Headset
Days after Apple’s announcement, The Walt Disney Company made an announcement about the new partnership as well, giving fans an idea about the role Disney would play in the partnership, as well as about the new Disney content available on Apple’s new tech gadget, which is equally as revolutionary as Apple’s new headset itself.
Fans will be able to experience Disney’s iconic stories like never before with Disney+ on Apple Vision Pro, Apple’s revolutionary spatial computer, offering Disney+ subscribers with a Vision Pro device a new way to stream entertainment at no additional cost.
At launch, viewers can transform their space into one of four Disney+ environments, bringing them even closer to the story. Each environment includes animations and sounds that make the space feel alive, and Easter eggs from films and franchises that will surprise and delight fans.
Disney+ subscribers will be able to stream the entire catalog – including thousands of TV shows and films, plus access to Hulu content for eligible Disney Bundle subscribers – from iconic environments with vivid details, including the Disney+ Theater, inspired by the historic El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood; the Scare Floor from Pixar’s Monsters Inc.; Marvel’s Avengers Tower overlooking downtown Manhattan; and the cockpit of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, facing a binary sunset on the planet Tatooine from the Star Wars galaxy.
With 3D movies, Disney’s storytelling will also leap off the screen like never before with remarkable depth and clarity for an unprecedented in-home 3D experience on Disney+ with Apple Vision Pro. Viewers will be able to watch dozens of popular movies in 3D, like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Elemental,” and “Encanto.”
Another Disney-Apple Deal Could Be on the Horizon
Disney and Apple will officially join forces on Friday, but talk of an even broader collaboration is making headlines now.
It’s long been known that one of the proverbial thorns in Disney’s side is the ESPN sports network. Subpar revenue has plagued the network in recent years–so much so that Disney CEO Bob Iger recently called on two former Disney execs to return on a consultative basis to specifically determine the best action to take with ESPN. But the veteran CEO may not have to look any further than Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Per a report from Reuters, Disney has what Apple needs, and Apple has what Disney needs, meaning a deal between the two with regard to ESPN could be a viable option for both entities.
In March 2022, Tim Cook oversaw a deal that resulted in Apple buying media rights to Major League Baseball, and three months later, Major League Soccer sold all of its global media rights exclusively to Apple, making it the first major league sports group to dive headfirst into a partnership with a digital media company. At the time, MLS was still in negotiations with ESPN.
Having ESPN as the primary outlet for Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer could give Apple a leg up, and selling ESPN could be the solution to Disney’s problems as well. But whether such a partnership and/or sale will become a reality remains to be seen.
For now, Disney fans, sports fans, and Wall Street analysts alike will simply have to wait and see.