Apple Board Meetings Could Be Getting Awkward

Disney CEO Bob Iger isn't going anywhere.

Evan Niu
Evan Niu, CFA
Apr 12, 2019 at 3:03PM
Technology and Telecom

Disney (NYSE:DIS) CEO Bob Iger joined Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) board of directors nearly a decade ago, just a month after Steve Jobs died. The Mac maker and House of Mouse have had close ties ever since Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, a deal that made Jobs Disney's largest individual shareholder for many years. Yesterday, Disney finally revealed key details for its new streaming service, Disney+, which will launch in November and cost $7 per month. Apple unveiled Apple TV+ a couple weeks ago, and it will launch later this year at an unspecified price.

But with both companies now entering the video-streaming space, board meetings could be getting awkward.

Apple TV+ logo

Image source: Apple.

Iger recuses himself

In an interview with Bloomberg, Iger said he intends to remain on Apple's board despite the competition. The Disney chief does recuse himself when Apple TV+ is brought up, in an effort to minimize potential conflicts of interest. When asked by reporter Emily Chang about the situation, Iger responded:

Well obviously, I'm mindful about my fiduciary responsibility to Apple shareholders as a member of the board. And when the subject is discussed at Apple board meetings, I'm careful to recuse myself and I'm in constant dialogue about making sure that I'm not doing anything that in any way would essentially cause me to be -- wouldn't be in keeping with what an Apple board member would do. That business is still nascent to Apple and still relatively small, and so it's not really discussed all that much. And so far it's been OK, and I'm in constant discussion about it.

Iger also added that he expects Disney+ to be available on Apple's platforms, although the companies have not finalized a distribution deal. Negotiations with many platform operators are still ongoing, according to Iger.

A trip down memory lane

The situation is reminiscent of when former Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board while the Cupertino tech giant was developing iOS. Jobs always felt that Schmidt betrayed him, as the now-Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) subsidiary would proceed to compete directly with Apple via Android, which has since become the dominant mobile platform in the world. Jobs had reportedly berated Schmidt in 2007 once he found out that Google was working with HTC on what would become the first Android phone. Schmidt would end up stepping down from Apple's board in 2009.

"Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric's effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest," Jobs said in a statement at the time. "Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple's Board."

Of course, video streaming is undoubtedly a minuscule part of Apple's business, but things can change over time. For instance, the iPhone represented just 18% of revenue in fiscal 2009, compared to 63% in fiscal 2018. Apple TV+ will likely always remain a small part of the overall business, but the tech titan is very much trying to shift toward services. It's also worth noting that Apple is under growing antitrust scrutiny over its dual roles in operating platforms while simultaneously competing within them, often bending its own rules in ways that benefit its own apps and services.

Disney and Apple could potentially start butting heads more as they increasingly compete for your attention -- and a place in your monthly budget.