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Bob Iger moves to calm Disney staff after sparking ‘high anxiety’ over potential sale of TV assets

<i>Gisela Schober/Getty Images</i><br/>Bob Iger attends the
Gisela Schober/Getty Images
Bob Iger attends the "Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny" red carpet during the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 18 in Cannes

By Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — Bob Iger is seeking to reassure an anxious arm of Disney’s business.

In an off-site meeting on Tuesday, the Disney chief executive spoke to senior leaders of the company’s television businesses, CNN has learned. The meeting came just days after Iger made decidedly candid remarks to CNBC’s David Faber in which he said Disney’s linear business “may not be core” to the entertainment giant — a comment that immediately sent shockwaves through the industry.

The admission to Faber naturally set off alarm bells inside Disney General Entertainment Content, the division of the Magic Kingdom that houses its linear business and operates quintessential broadcast and cable networks such as ABC, the Disney Channel, National Geographic, and FX.

Employees in the sizable division (there are thousands and thousands of employees who work for DGEC) have been experiencing “high anxiety,” sources noted to me, with them adding that Iger had effectively left staff “in the dark” by not communicating directly with them since the stunning interview. There have been no company-wide memos. No town halls. Nothing but silence since Iger jolted the organization with the news.

The chief executive on Tuesday sought to quell some of this unease as he fielded questions submitted by senior company leaders assembled at the off-site. He told the personnel gathered that the content created by the company’s television production teams is “incredibly valuable to our business,” according to a person with knowledge of his remarks.

And Iger talked up the importance of ABC News: “I’m ridiculously passionate about news,” Iger said, according to the person familiar with his comments. “It’s important to this company. We need to figure out how it makes the transition into streaming. And I happen to believe we will endure. It’s too good, it’s too important, and it’s really fun.”

Of course, those comments are unlikely to entirely calm the rattled nerves of those working in Disney’s television businesses. While Iger did not explicitly tell Faber that he wanted to sell the linear stations and networks, he effectively put that sector of the business on the market with his comments.

Expressing passion for the news does not solve for that. No one has ever doubted Iger’s love for the news business. And it comes as no surprise that Iger believes the content produced by the television production teams holds incredible value.

The important question is — and always has been — whether the linear television businesses are crucial to Disney, particularly as Iger positions the company for the future. Iger has already answered that — and candidly so. “They may not be core to Disney,” he openly told Faber.

As one Disney insider told me on Tuesday, Iger’s remarks to senior leaders were “the usual jewel in the crown stuff — except now we know that he’s selling the jewel.”

“It’s great to say he loves the jewel. It’s great to say that the jewel is important. It’s great to say that the jewel is fun,” the Disney insider said. “But he has revealed the truth: he wants to get the highest price he can for the jewel because he can’t afford it anymore.”

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