Disney's Iger: Content need not be free

People will pay for online content, the Disney CEO insists during the opening talk at the Fortune Brainstorm: Tech conference.

PASADENA, Calif.--Disney CEO Robert Iger said he appreciates the fact that his company helped pioneer user-generated video with "America's Funniest Home Videos," but acknowledges he missed a big opportunity.

"Unfortunately, I didn't come up with YouTube," Iger said Wednesday during the opening interview at Fortune's Brainstorm: Tech conference here. Although it has yet to be profitable, he noted that those who created the site did sell it for a "chunk of change."

Robert Iger
Fortune's Richard Siklos interviews Disney CEO Robert Iger as the Brainstorm:Tech conference kicks off in Pasadena, Calif., Wednesday. Ina Fried/CNET

But, Iger insisted that free content isn't going to be the only game in town.

"People are willing to pay for quality," he said. "They are willing to pay for choice. They are willing to pay for convenience."

He noted that people still pay $5 an hour to go to the movies, 75 cents an hour to read books and magazines, 50 cents an hour to watch cable, but just 25 cents an hour to use the Internet, in terms of the amount they pay their Internet service provider.

"There's plenty of room for people to spend more money on for things they are doing online," Iger said. "I think it is wrong to assume that because there is a lot on the Internet that is free that it is going to be impossible to monetize" content.

Iger acknowledged that the company still makes far less online than it does from traditional broadcast means.

"We're not monetizing as much as we do in our traditional business," he said. "It's very early in the timeline. I think there is going to be ample opportunity to improve monetization from advertising online."

When moderator Richard Siklos pointed out that he had a fairly optimistic take on things, Iger noted that's part of his job.

"If you are trying to lead anybody, you better be an optimist," he said. "Not too many people follow pessimists."

He said his job as CEO is to make sure everyone at his company has one hand in the present and one hand in the future--essentially aware of where his bread is buttered but also with an eye toward where that next meal is coming from.

As for privacy concerns, he notes that most of the issues come from "older people," saying that when he talks to his daughters they show little concern for those issues.

"I've learned more about my daughters on Facebook than I did when I was raising them," Iger said.

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