Why Disney CEO Bob Iger told his top 400 executives to ‘have a love affair with technology’

“Shark Tank” star and entrepreneur Daymond John introduces a panel of Disney executives at CES 2016.
Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

When 400 top Walt Disney executives were summoned by CEO Bob Iger recently, they knew there was something serious on the agenda, recalls CIO Susan O’Day.

Iger’s message for the troops was blunt: “I expect all of you to have a love affair with technology.”

The anecdote, which O’Day recounted at a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, underscores one of the key initiatives underway at the entertainment giant, whose businesses increasingly rely on cutting edge technology to stay ahead of the competition.

Top digital execs from across the company talked about how every part of the company now has to embrace the technical wizardry it takes to make that trademark “Disney magic” – from TV to movies to video games to theme parks and everything in between.

“To bring that stuff to life is pretty astoundingly technical, but if we do our jobs right, you never notice it,” said Jon Snoddy, head of Disney Imagineering, the company’s prestigious division of super-genius Disney park ride designers.

Wearable tech leader

It’s not that Disney was ever really averse to technology – beyond the obvious blockbuster movies and TV shows, Snoddy claims that with its Disney MagicBand, the “smart” bracelet for Walt Disney World resort guests, Disney is the second-largest manufacturer of so-called “wearable” technology in the world.

It’s just that as the times change, Iger wants to make sure his team always looks to use bleeding edge technology in service of the company’s mission to tell stories. To make that happen, the company needs to work together with experts in all disciplines, hence the edict.

Indeed, Snoddy says that at least in his part of the business, there’s no distinction between “artist” and “engineer,” because so many projects at the Disneyland and Disney World parks require equal expertise in both areas – “It’s just how we roll,” he says.

Roller Coaster Philosophy/Flickr

“It is surprising how much technology goes into a park attraction, or operating the park. You don’t go to the park to see a bunch of tech,” Snoddy said.

Behind the scene

That extends into the realm of video games and other toys, said Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Michael White. Disney Infinity, a video game where you buy action figures in real life to unlock characters and levels in the game.

“The technology is there to tell the story, and be part of the magic, but it’s never meant to be front and forward,” White said.

Of course, for O’Day, whose job it is to facilitate a lot of that technology to suit the demands of creative types at Disney, that can cause some headaches, even as her team works to constantly improve the technology on the back-end to handle more and more without sacrificing reliability.

“It drives me crazy, everyone has an opinion about everything,” O’Day joked.