In a sudden turn of events, Disney has reversed the CEO swap that surprised us in early 2020, with Bob Iger returning to his post, replacing his own successor, Bob Chapek. Iger, who is also the company’s largest shareholder, is now set to serve a new two-year term as CEO. Part of Iger’s job in those two years will be to pick and groom his long-term successor.
Of course, Chapek was an Iger choice too. Chapek had been called the “Tim Cook to Iger’s Steve Jobs,” but during his tenure, their handover got off to a rocky start, while blowups like the Scarlett Johansson Black Widow lawsuit and Disney’s initial lack of reaction to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida scuffed its all-important reputation.
During an episode of the Decoder podcast in April, former Verge writer and now Parrot Analytics senior strategy analyst Julia Alexander described the issues facing Chapek:
...Bob Chapek is in a difficult position of trying to take Disney, a legacy company of yesterday, and make it into a legacy company of tomorrow. That means becoming more like a tech company rather than a traditional media and entertainment company. He arguably runs it the way that some tech companies might, where he breaks up the content production and the distribution. He goes in and says, “This is how it is going to work; we are focusing on streaming, on the Metaverse, and on how to get into these different positions.”
All of these issues happen at the same time. So it seems like Bob Chapek is losing control of the kingdom, versus Bob Iger had control over it. But what I think gets lost in that is that Bob Chapek is just over two years into his tenure as CEO, and his first job was pulling the company out of the pandemic and focusing on how to just survive it. Now he’s being tasked with carrying the company very publicly in a way that generates support from the shareholders, from the consumers, and from his employees. That’s easier said than done, especially for someone who’s so new to the role.
While Iger initially pushed Disney into the streaming wars, Chapek’s reorganization of the company ruffled feathers by placing Kareem Daniel, a non-streaming executive, in charge of everything streaming and studio budgets and increasing the emphasis on streaming. However, since returning to his post, Iger has announced new structural changes, resulting in Daniel’s departure. Iger announced this development in a memo obtained by CNBC:
Over the coming weeks, we will begin implementing organizational and operating changes within the company. I’ve asked Dana Walden, Alan Bergman, Jimmy Pitaro, and Christine McCarthy to work together on the design of a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs, and this will necessitate a reorganization of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. As a result, Kareem Daniel will be leaving the company, and I hope you will all join me in thanking him for his many years of service to Disney.
The change in leadership comes nearly two weeks after Disney reported its Q4 2022 results, noting that both its parks and media divisions failed to reach analyst estimates. Its streaming business has grown, with an increasing number of subscribers opting for a bundle offering combining Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus, but the costs of streaming are rising too. An ad-supported Disney Plus streaming plan will launch on December 8th, and there are rumors of coming layoffs.
Disney’s board chair Susan Arnold said in a statement that, “We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period.”
Bob Chapek was not quoted in the press release.
Update November 21st, 6:03PM ET: Updated to note Iger’s structural changes resulting in Kareem Daniel’s departure.