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Disney axes programming and development plans

Entertainment giant takes drastic measures amidst economic and political woes

A sign near an entranceway to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida Getty Images/Photo by Joe Raedle

Disney axes programming and development plans

Shelby Jean Beasley and her husband, Christopher, celebrated her birthday and graduation with a stay at the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel earlier this year. They saved up for over a year to go. “You literally feel like you’re going to space,” Shelby Jean said. “I’m a 32-year-old woman who thinks it was real still.”

Beasley’s time on the ship included interacting with characters, participating in missions with new Star Wars story lines, and making friends with cast, crew members, and fellow guests. She keeps up with many of them on Facebook.

On May 18, Disney announced the scrapping of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Experience. Though critics maligned the resort for its high price tag—$4,800 for two adults—guests raved about the three-day, two-night immersive experience.

Before hearing about the closure, Beasley had hoped to return with her kids, especially her 13-year-old and 6-year-old, who are both huge Star Wars fans.

“I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “When I saw the post, I cried.”

Consumers, hotels, and communities are starting to feel the burn of Disney’s budget cuts.

In a May 10 investor’s call, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the company is set to “meet or exceed” its goal of $5.5 billion in budget cuts announced in February, which involve laying off 7,000 employees. Days later, Disney announced the shuttering of its Star Wars hotel, the cancellation of plans to build a new office complex in Florida, and content cuts for Disney+.

On the same day as its Starcruiser announcement, Disney canceled plans for an office complex in Lake Nona, Fla. Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro announced the move in an internal memo to employees, citing “changing business conditions” as the reason behind the cancellation of the projected $1 billion venture. The move came amidst Disney’s ongoing feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Though Disney executives blame the office park cancellation on DeSantis-endorsed state policies, Bob Iger’s drastic cost-cutting measures didn’t allow for the billion-dollar project in the budget.

In 2022, Disney vocally opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, sometimes erroneously referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In the year since the bill’s signing, DeSantis’ allies in the state legislature stripped Disney of its governance of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, renaming it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Disney sued DeSantis in April in an effort to regain control of the district and its sweeping, self-governing authority in the Disney World area.

Meanwhile, Disney is struggling to make its streaming service profitable. In the May 10 call, Iger told investors that much of the content wasn’t driving subscribers. “We’re getting much more surgical about what it is we make,” he noted. Rising budget allocations for animation also weigh down the budget: Disney spent about $200 million on the upcoming Pixar release, Elemental. Experts say the film could bring in less than $40 million during its June 16 opening weekend. By comparison, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which has grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide, only cost Disney’s rival Universal $100 million to make.

It isn’t just future Disney+ content that’s being delayed or axed. Disney+ removed more than 50 shows and movies on May 26. Many of the shows had already been created for the streaming service, which has lost Disney billions of dollars since its launch in November 2019.

John Bickerstaff, a writer for the now canceled Disney+ fantasy series, Willow, took to Twitter to decry the show’s removal. “They gave us six months,” he said of the show’s run. “Not even. This business has become absolutely cruel.”

During a post-earnings call, Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy indicated the content cuts will allow the company to take $1.5–1.8 billion in impairment charges. While these charges aren’t directly a part of the budget cuts, they will lower Disney’s tax burden.

While the company’s political and economic woes dominate the headlines, Beasley said she is more passionate about the brand than anything else. “I don’t want the magic to die, she said. “Walt Disney wasn’t about all that. It was the magic.”

Anna Catherman

Anna Catherman is a student at Houghton University and the World Journalism Institute.


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