Disney CEO Bob Iger is the latest celebrity to teach a MasterClass

MasterClass got Anna Wintour to take off her sunglasses and Bob Iger to spill the beans about Steve Jobs. What's next for this social media darling?
Image: Bob Iger
Bob Iger speaks during an Economic Club of New York event in Manhattan on Oct. 24, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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By Claire Atkinson

Disney CEO Bob Iger is the latest prominent figure who has agreed to teach a MasterClass, the popular online creative platform, where viewers pay $90 in exchange for words of wisdom.

Iger is one of many industry leaders who have chosen to share their tips on success, including Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, basketball player Stephen Curry, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and conservationist Jane Goodall.

MasterClass, a small company based in San Francisco, isn’t exactly a TED talk. Instead, it’s a series of videos of varying lengths, each containing educational insights that help aspiring managers, screenwriters, musicians, chefs, and others to achieve their dreams. It comes with a PDF workbook to help students follow the lessons, and an online community to help people share what they’ve learned.

The company's founder, David Rogier, said his pitch to industry influencers was simple.

“This is a chance for you to give back and share," he told NBC News. "Wasn’t there someone in your life who changed your life? How neat would it be to be able to do that on a massive scale?”

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Author James Patterson was the first to sign on. The list of personalities now ranges from poker player Daniel Negreanu and violinist Itzhak Perlman to deadmau5, the music producer and DJ whose trailer alone has more than 25 million views on YouTube.

“MasterClass provided a great opportunity for me to talk about my career, what I’ve learned and what I wish others would have told me,” Wintour told NBC News, noting that the classes are "relatable."

Wintour's series of classes, which came out in September, included details about her leadership style, with words of advice such as "Give people a yes or a no, never a maybe,” and the importance of embracing change quickly. MasterClass even managed to persuade Wintour to ditch her trademark dark glasses for the lessons.

Iger's classes take a slightly different tack, offering personal storytelling. In the first episode, released on Thursday, Iger recounts how he got the top job at Disney — first, he convinced the board that Disney Animation needed a shake-up. Then, he wooed Pixar owner and Apple founder Steve Jobs into selling the famed studio behind “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story” for $7.4 billion.

Iger explains how he dealt with board concerns that Jobs would exert outsize influence at the company if he became a Disney shareholder. “My reaction to that, of course, was that if Steve Jobs could exert influence over Disney — even if it meant him ultimately running Disney — that would be great for Disney shareholders."

Interestingly, Iger’s class schedule also includes one recorded ahead of time that discusses the launch of Disney Plus, the company's first foray into entertainment streaming. While the platform's debut on Tuesday did not go smoothly, the service has already garnered 10 million signups.

While the exact formula regarding how revenue is split between the instructors and MasterClass is a tightly held secret, the company has managed to raise $130 million. Subscribers pay $180 for an all-access annual pass, or $90 for a single class.

In just the last three months, trailers for the site have garnered over 31 million views, according to social measurement firm Tubular Labs. Market insight firm SimilarWeb noted that average monthly traffic to the MasterClass website has grown by more than 47 percent every year from 2017 to 2019, and now tops 1 million a month — still far behind rival TED, which has a 5.3 million monthly average so far this year.

Rogier said one of the surprises has been the extent to which subscribers have joined for one class and taken a broad range of other classes. He believes it is a result of a professional environment where people no longer do one thing for their whole lives. He’s also working on Spanish language classes, and growing the company internationally.

As for whom he would he like to teach the next MasterClass, Rogier said, “I love J.K. Rowling. I would love one from Elon Musk. I would love one from Barack and Michelle Obama — either, or both.”