Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger told employees Tuesday that the task he faced after returning to the company a year ago was harder than expected, and he played down his previous comments suggesting major asset sales were on the table.
"I knew that there were a myriad of challenges…I must say there were many more of them than I expected," said Iger, who was interviewed by ABC News anchor David Muir at a companywide town hall at New York's New Amsterdam Theatre.
Iger said he plans to spend the next year building the "modern version of the Walt Disney Company," but offered few new details of what that would entail.
Asked about his comments regarding potential asset sales, which Iger made last summer on CNBC, the Disney CEO said a fault of his might be that he likes to "run things up flagpoles to see how they will fly" and "think out loud" to signal to the investment community that the company is open-minded about its future .
"I did not think everyone would run with a story that everything is being sold, which is not the case," Iger said. No decisions have been made, he added.
Iger was joined on stage by ESPN Chief Jimmy Pitaro, Disney Entertainment co-chairs Dana Walden and Alan Bergman and parks and resorts head Josh D'Amaro.
Iger said that Walden and Pitaro have been examining their businesses, which include ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel and FX, to make them more efficient and assess their strategic value to the company, which he said is still "pretty significant."
Launching a direct-to-consumer version of ESPN that has all the content of the flagship cable network is top on the company's list of construction projects. Pitaro reiterated that such a streaming service is expected to launch by 2025 at the latest.
Muir asked both Iger and Pitaro about Disney's search for partners for ESPN. They provided few details beyond saying they have been talking with sports leagues and tech companies.
Iger said partners aren't mandatory for ESPN's future plans . "We could go it alone. We are fully prepared to do that. It would be a little more challenging if we did," Iger said.
Iger spent much of his time explaining the decision to pump $60 billion into Disney's parks and resorts business , saying, "This is a business where you spend to succeed." The parks and resorts operations have been showing the biggest growth potential and should be allocated the most capital, he said.
Iger wasn't asked about Disney's battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose firm has acquired a substantial Disney stake and is pushing for board seats .
The Disney chief executive spent time praising ABC News, which like the rest of the company has endured significant staff reductions.
"I'm a believer in the future of news," Iger said, while acknowledging that he is grappling with what a modern news organization should look like in today's media landscape.
Iger also reiterated that Disney's movie studio needs to perform better, following several disappointing releases , adding that the perception of how Disney is faring is still largely based on its box-office performance.
When it comes to how Wall Street and the creative community look at Disney, "nothing is more powerful than movies," Iger said, adding that when the studio is on a hot streak "we feel giddy."
Addressing Hollywood's recent labor strife, Iger said the strikes by actors and writers were painful for the industry, but that the deals the unions reached left them better off than if they hadn't gone on strike.
As for concerns that artificial intelligence will hurt both writers and actors and be a threat to creativity, Iger said, "I don't believe AI will replace one of the great essences of the human condition, and that's creativity."