Steve Jobs Reportedly ‘Major Driver’ Behind Disney’s Digital Shift in Mid-2000s

An excerptfrom an upcoming book “Binge Times: Inside Hollywood’s Furious Billion-Dollar Battle to Take Down Netflix” reveals that Steve Jobs, the prolific founder of Apple, was the big reason Disney began its shift to digital content so early in the game.

Disney’s first foray into digital content began in 2005, when the company grew frustrated by piracy concerns, per Inc. and Apple Insider. Furious that the “Desperate Housewives” finale was available through piracy a mere 15 minutes after its airing, the company was looking for a solution. A few months later, Steve Jobs, then a board member at The Walt Disney Company, reached out to newly minted CEO Bob Iger to demonstrate “something we’re working on” — the iPod Video.

Jobs flew to Burbank to demonstrate his new idea for selling digital TV show episodes via iTunes and the upcoming iPod Video to get Disney on board, using an episode of the then-popular series “Lost” as an example.

After striking a deal to add Disney’s content to the iTunes service, which panicked advertisers and infuriated ABC affiliate owners, episode masters of “Lost”, “Desperate Housewives”, “Night Stalker”, and two Disney Channel shows were transported under high security to Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters for digitizing. The deal was revealed on October 12, 2005.

The book writes that this was one major step towards the healing of Disney’s relationship with Pixar, also owned by Steve Jobs at the time, and leading to its eventual purchase by Disney in 2006. Iger and Jobs built a much stronger rapport than with previous Disney CEO Michael Eisner, under whom the Pixar relationship soured.

Many details of Iger and Jobs’ close business partnership have emerged in recent years, including a remark from Iger that Disney and Apple would likely have merged at some point if Jobs were still alive.

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