Disney Activist Investor: Studio Should Embrace AI

Should Disney release AI-generated Hollywood movies to realize its true shareholder value?  

A technology “vision” statement from Blackwells Capital — an activist firm run by Jason Aintabi campaigning for board seats at Disney’s annual meeting set for April 3 — asks the studio to do just that.

“Disney should be dominating in the fields of spatial computing and AI (artificial intelligence). Few companies have the potential of Disney to synthesize these revolutionizing technologies, and relate them to consumers with the impact, and ROI, that Disney can. Spatial computing has far more relevance to Disney than it does to either Apple or Meta, for example,” Aintabi said in a “Vision for the Future of Technology at Disney” strategic plan released Monday.

Also Monday, Disney’s board of directors gave investors an update on meeting strategic priorities in a letter to shareholders. “The board has been laser-focused on a strategy that will drive shareholder value. The company has restored its cash dividend and subsequently increased the dividend payment declared for July 2024 by 50 percent. Disney is also targeting $3 billion in share buybacks for FY24,” the letter stated.

Disney’s board also said it was continuing with cost-cutting measures with a target of $7.5 billion in savings by the end of fiscal 2024, and by the fourth quarter of that year the studio expected to reach profitability in its combined streaming TV platforms.

Blackwells’ Aintabi repeated his call for a technology “reimagineering” at Disney in a video statement posted to YouTube: “Disney will never valued as a technology company so long as it does not think like a technology company.”

His investor presentation included a technology reorganization for the Hollywood studio led by Blackwells’ nominee Leah Solivan that would include ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence tools used to create Disney characters, and “AI assistants” used to help plan and navigate park visits, including help with crowd control and patrons reserving rides.  

Aintabi also argued Solivan wanted Disney to introduce a chief technology officer to which all studio divisions, including Disney Entertainment, ESPN and theme parks, reporting into. “That would enable Disney to build out a native technology stack that underpins all efforts of the corporation,” he argued.

The Blackwells exec also reiterated another activist investor, Nelson Peltz and his Trian Partners, who is also lobbying shareholders to sway their votes at the upcoming annual shareholders meeting, should be dismissed so Disney can avoid being “corrupted by flip-flopping personal vendettas and lack of qualification.”

Blackwells in a Feb. 6 proxy statement and an accompanying white paper proposed Disney consider spinning off its real estate holdings (including presumably Disney World and Disneyland) into a REIT, which it could leverage for cash, and invest more heavily in virtual and augmented reality. 

On Monday, Disney repeated its opposition to a vote for Blackwells nominees Leah Solivan, Jessica Schell, and Craig Hatkoff. “The Disney board of directors does not endorse the Trian Group nominees, Nelson Peltz and Jay Rasulo, or the Blackwells nominees, Craig Hatkoff, Jessica Schell and Leah Solivan, and believes that they are unqualified to serve on Disney’s board and preserve value creation for shareholders in this increasingly complex global landscape,” the latest letter to shareholders stated.


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