When you’re competing with Netflix, it helps to have Steve Jobs in your corner. In the early 2000s, Jobs played a vital role in shaping the Walt Disney Company’s business strategy. In this excerpt from their new book Binge Times: Inside Hollywood’s furious billion-dollar battle to bring down Netflix (from William Morrow, a HarperCollins imprint) Dade Hayes and Dawn Chmielewski reveal how Jobs inspired former Disney CEO Bob Iger to take the studio in an aggressive new direction by embracing technology.

In the official, corporate-sanctified narrative of The Walt Disney Company, its drive to invest in its technological capabilities began nearly a generation ago, long before streaming became de rigueur. In that account, two signing deals with Apple’s Steve Jobs signaled the company’s bold new direction under Bob Iger, the affable, camera-ready former weatherman who rose through the ranks at Capital Cities/ABC for becoming the CEO of Disney in 2005. The first culture change movement, within two weeks of Iger taking over as head of the company, allowed customers to buy popular ABC television shows to watch on their new video iPods, and the second was the $7.4 billion acquisition a few months later of Pixar, the computer animation pioneer led by Jobs.

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“It was an interesting time,” Iger recalled in his 2000s memoir, The ride of a lifetime“and marked what I considered to be the beginning of the end of traditional media as we knew it. What really interested me was the fact that almost all traditional media companies, while trying to understand their place in this changing world, were operating out of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old patterns that could not survive the drastic change that was taking place.”

The 21st century record, however, tells a much more complicated story about the timing and extent of Disney’s digital wake-up call. It would waste $1.6 billion on acquisitions as it chased fads, from social media to social games to viral video, that mattered little to its core business. It launched a short-lived digital locker service designed to prop up declining DVD sales years after millions of Netflix consumers demonstrated a preference for watching Disney movies on demand. As in the music industry, piracy would play an irresistible role in forcing change.

Former Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney recalls excitedly going to a staff meeting on the Monday morning of May 23, 2005, eager to share the overnight ratings for the season finale. from ABC’s hit series. Desperate Housewives. The frothy prime-time drama, which explored the dark undercurrents of a seemingly idyllic suburb, had become a cultural phenomenon whose latest episode drew 30 million viewers. But before Sweeney could share the good news from Wisteria Lane, ABC technical director Vince Roberts asked to speak. He quietly placed a disc in a DVD player and pressed play, and images of Eva Longoria, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman flickered on the television screen.

“I said, ‘Vince, this is the final.’ And he said, “Yeah, and it was available online for download 15 minutes after he disappeared,” Sweeney recounted years later. “Boy, talk about a killjoy. It totally gutted what we thought we understood about our audience size. Our audience was much bigger and we weren’t getting paid for it – and there was no legitimate way to tell advertisers, ‘Hey, we actually got 10 million more viewers.'”

A few months later, Jobs would offer a solution to the television industry’s online piracy problems – just as he had done years earlier, when he met with plummeting music industry executives. The Pixar CEO flew to Burbank to give a personal demonstration of the iPod video. Sweeney recalls Iger arranging a phone conversation with Jobs, during which the head of Silicon Valley’s most secretive company dangled a tantalizing proposition: “I’d like to show you what we’re working on.”

Jobs met with the ABC Network chief in a conference room in the Team Disney Executive Office building, where he opened his laptop to show a version of the iTunes Store that featured a giant image of Lost. He told her about the process of downloading the show, then handed her a device that looked like Apple’s popular music player, with a 1.8-inch video screen, and she watched an episode of the survival drama. to the plane crash. “It didn’t cross my mind until he left. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, how did he get an episode of Lost‘” Sweeney said, although the answer was obvious. “Well come on, everyone was downloading it.”

Disney and Apple quickly struck a deal and, in a stealth logistical operation worthy of an episode of Narcosused company aircraft to carry master recordings of ABC Lost, Desperate Housewives, Night Prowler, and two Disney Channel shows at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. The head of engineering hand-delivered the packages, wrapped in brown paper, to a locked room to upload to iTunes.

The partnership remained shrouded in secrecy until October 12, 2005, when Apple held a product unveiling at the lavish California Theater, a restored 1927 movie theater in San Jose, California. Iger appeared on stage and shook hands with Jobs in the first public display of a thaw in Disney’s frosty relationship with majority shareholder Pixar. Sweeney, who watched from the audience, said the iTunes deal marked the network’s first step in the fight against piracy. But affiliates didn’t see it that way. “This afternoon we drove back to Burbank and my phone blew up,” Sweeney recalled. “Many of our broadcast affiliates called and were very upset with the announcement.

Having one foot in the future and one foot in the past made it difficult to maintain balance. From the dawn of digital to the modern age of streaming, Disney has been a calculated risk-taker, aware at every turn of its legacy and the billions of dollars generated by traditional businesses.

The content deal with Apple was a building block in Iger’s efforts to mend Disney’s frayed relationship with Pixar’s chief executive and majority shareholder, which had turned toxic under Iger’s predecessor, Michael Eisner. Disney’s bold deal to acquire the studio behind animated blockbusters such as toy story and The world of Nemo had perks that went beyond movie theaters, merchandise sales, and theme parks: Iger enlisted one of tech’s leading futurists as an advisor, confidant, and board member. Jobs’ innate appreciation for the importance of branding and his uncompromising focus on quality have touched every corner of Disney – from his billion-dollar redesign of Disney’s California Adventure theme park to the expansion of its cruise line. He believed a golden age of content was coming, and technology would put movies and TV shows right into the hands (and pockets) of consumers.

This future vision would inform Iger’s thinking – emboldening the chief executive to make brash digital forays that sometimes set Disney at odds with the rest of the entertainment establishment, such as rushing its content onto the latest Apple devices, which rivals have growled. . It helped that Iger was an unapologetic tech enthusiast who liked to talk about gadgets at home, said former ABC product manager Albert Cheng, who led development of the network’s online media player and its iPad app.

“He would talk to me about everything, so he has a genuine interest in technology,” said Cheng, who is now co-director of television at Amazon Studios. “So when he became CEO, that allowed us to go further. I felt that set the tone for, like, ‘The CEO gave permission. So let’s do it.'”