Former and current Disney execs told CNBC they think Bob Iger's plan is to one day sell to Apple.
Analysts have speculated about an Apple acquisition of Disney for years.
Iger himself wrote that he thinks the two companies would have combined if Steve Jobs were still alive.
As questions circulate about what lies in store for Disney's future less than a year after Bob Iger returned as CEO, speculation about a potential Apple acquisition has surfaced yet again.
Over a dozen past and current Disney executives told CNBC for a recent behind-the-scenes report on Disney's bumpy CEO succession that they think Iger's ultimate "end game" is to stay on and eventually sell Disney to Apple.
Analysts have theorized about a possible Apple acquisition of Disney for years now, though Apple rarely makes major acquisitions and has never done one at such a scale — the company's biggest buy to date is still its 2015 acquisition of Beats for $3 billion. Whether or not a mega-deal with the iPhone maker would get regulatory approval is another question.
Neither Disney nor Apple immediately responded to Insider's request for comment ahead of publication.
Iger returned to the CEO position last November — ousting his hand-picked successor Bob Chapek — supposedly just for a two-year reset for the company initially. But Disney announced in July that the company would add an additional two years to Iger's contract, giving him more time to shape the future of the company, especially given internal turmoil in the company and current instabilities in the industry with the ongoing writers' and SAG-AFTRA strike, which Iger has already drawn criticism for calling "unrealistic."
The Disney CEO has already made clear that the door is open for potential sales of non-core Disney assets, including ABC and cable networks like FX and National Geographic. He's also floated the idea of an ESPN spinoff, though he's expressed a preference for bringing on a strategic partner.
Iger himself had a long-standing relationship with Steve Jobs, as did Disney with Apple. Following Disney's acquisition of Pixar in 2006, Jobs became Disney's largest shareholder in the wake of the deal and was a member of Disney's board of directors until his death in 2011. Iger joined Apple's board shortly after Jobs' death in 2011 until 2019, when he stepped down over a potential conflict of interest as Apple confirmed its venture into the content business with the launch of Apple TV.
In Iger's 2019 book "The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company," the Disney CEO wrote that if Steve Jobs were still alive, the two companies may have combined.
"I believe that if Steve were still alive, we would have combined our companies, or at least discussed the possibility very seriously," Iger wrote.
Analysts have suggested that an Apple acquisition of Disney could benefit both companies.
Needham analyst Laura Martin previously told Insider that Apple should buy Disney to grow its content streaming business, and that such a deal could add 25% to Apple's valuation. Both companies have dedicated fans and consumers as well as global scale and influence — Martin asserts that a merger of the two companies would strengthen these assets.
More recently, Iger announced a major partnership between Disney and Apple with Apple's upcoming Vision Pro headset. The streaming service Disney+ will be available from the beginning of the Vision Pro's launch — Apple has said the immersive headset will begin shipping in early 2024.
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