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Bob Iger: Hollywood Storytellers Need to ‘Embrace the Change’ Driven by Tech Innovation

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New technology is friend not foe to Hollywood’s creative community. That was the message delivered Thursday morning by Disney CEO Bob Iger during his keynote conversation at the Canva Create showcase event held at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park.

Iger, who is an investor and board member of the privately held online design platform, commended Canva for embracing the potential of generative AI tools and other cutting-edge technologies to make high-end visual media design tools readily available to everyday users. Based in Sydney, Australia, Canva has emerged over the past decade as a digital media star. The company was valued at $40 billion in 2022 when Iger took an undisclosed stake. That transaction came during his two and a half year retirement from Disney that ended with his return as CEO November 2022.

Canva Create is a mix of a festival to showcase new additions to the Canva platform and a conference probing creativity and other topics. Thursday’s event drew about 3,500 Canva enthusiasts and marked the first time Canva has held such a gathering in the U.S.

Iger took the stage at YouTube Theater with Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins to discuss brand-building, maintaining a strong company culture and scaling operations. He drilled down on Canva’s strength at building intuitive technology and design tools. Pressed by Perkins, Iger reflected on the significant role that new technologies have played in propelling the Walt Disney Co. (which marked its 100th anniversary last October) for a century.

“Walt Disney himself was a big believer in using technology in the early days to tell better stories. And he thought that technology in the hands of a great storyteller was unbelievably powerful,” Iger said.

He acknowledged the high anxiety in the creative community these days about the potential for generative AI tech to eliminate the need for a lot of human labor in content creation. Iger argued that this is the wrong perspective on the potential unleashed the marriage of cutting-edge tech and creators with strong vision.

“Don’t fixate on its ability to be disruptive — fixate on [tech’s] ability to make us better and tell better stories. Not only better stories, but to reach more people,” Iger said.

Iger was also blunt in suggestion that there really is no other option but to figure out how to make it work for the larger goal of enhancing the production of movies, TV shows, music and other content.

“You’re never going to get in the way of it. There isn’t a generation of human beings that has ever been able to stand the way of technological advancement,” Iger said. “What we try to do is embrace the change that technology has created, and use it as the wind behind our backs instead of wind in our faces.”

Perkins prompted to Iger to tell the crowd how he happened to become an investor in Canva. Iger explained that his wife, USC Annenberg School dean Willow Bay, used Canva tools to design a how-to manual for a fancy espresso maker that she gave her husband. Iger at first thought it was a professional manual produced by the manufacturer. Once Bay introduced him to Canva, Iger was impressed by the company’s tech and by the ethos of empowering creative that has been infused into the platform.

At Perkins’ behest, Iger advised the Canva founders to stay true to the company’s core ideals of simplifying tech tools and helping build the architecture that powers creativity in the modern age. He cited Disney and Coca-Cola as two of the precious few examples of U.S. firms that were big in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and still have strong businesses and recognizable brands today.

“There’s this belief sometimes that adjusting your values is necessary to adjust to the world that has changed,” he said, adding that he does not subscribe to that belief. “Think about what Canva is today and the business you have today because of the values that were imbued in the brand and the company culture years ago. That value creation should be ongoing. Abandoning those core values that got you where you are is what, in my opinion, results in the extinction of brands and companies.”