Disney streaming chief Kevin Mayer resigns to become TikTok CEO

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Kevin Mayer is leaving his post as the head of Disney’s streaming efforts to become the CEO of the shortform video app TikTok, Disney announced today. He will also become the COO of TikTok’s owner, ByteDance.

“Kevin has had an extraordinary impact on our company over the years, most recently as head of our direct-to-consumer business,” said Disney CEO Bob Chapek in a statement.

At ByteDance, Mayer will be responsible for “driving the global development of ByteDance, as well as overseeing corporate functions including corporate development, sales, marketing, public affairs, security, moderation, and legal,” according to ByteDance’s press release. “In his role as COO, Kevin will lead music, gaming, Helo, emerging businesses, and will serve as CEO of TikTok, leading the rapidly growing platform as it continues to build its global community of creators, users, and brands.” He starts at ByteDance on June 1st.

Mayer’s biggest achievement at Disney was leading the development of Disney Plus, the company’s streaming service that launched in November. So far, the service has been a hit, reaching 50 million subscribers in April. Mayer also helped orchestrate Disney’s four major acquisitions alongside former CEO Bob Iger: Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, and 21st Century Fox. Some believed that Mayer would someday take over the top job at Disney, but when Iger announced his successor in February, it wasn’t Mayer who got the nod — instead, it was Chapek, who was formerly head of Disney’s theme parks.

In his new role at TikTok, Mayer will have the tough job of shepherding one of the most popular apps around and keeping it competitive against other social media giants like Facebook and Snapchat. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join the amazing team at ByteDance,” Mayer said in a statement. “Like everyone else, I’ve been impressed watching the company build something incredibly rare in TikTok – a creative, positive online global community – and I’m excited to help lead the next phase of ByteDance’s journey as the company continues to expand its breadth of products across every region of the world.”

Mayer’s role at Disney will be taken over by Rebecca Campbell, who has been named chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer efforts. She is a 23-year employee of the company and previously was the president of Disneyland Resort, overseeing Disneyland, California Adventure, three of the company’s resort hotels, and Downtown Disney. Disney also announced that Josh D’Amaro would become chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences, and products.

Comments

OOooooh, I look forward to Julia Alexander’s take. I had the feeling from her Vergecast discussion of "the Bobs" that Kevin was likely to take this poorly.

Disney+ may get rocky in 24-36 months when Kevin’s roadmap runs out.

I don’t know, isn’t it all about content now? The service itself works perfectly fine for me. There’s just not much that our family wants to watch.

eh, the service doesn’t work that great tbh. I set up a separate account for my kid and there is no granularity to the selection. For example, Big Hero 6 (the movie) was only available on my "adult" user account. I have also run into other examples of this randomly (not sure if it’s still this way, but there was a time when Finding Dory wasn’t on the kid’s profile but Finding Nemo was). Also there is apparently no way to jump from the "continue watching" list into the product listing if, for example, you wanted to go to the episode list because that particular item in your continue watching list was wrong (or had been inadvertently started by another family member).

These are all knit-picks, and the service is "fine" but that’s about it. It doesn’t do anything any better than any of the other services, and the content certainly isn’t as plentiful. It is still great content, but in reality that is what they are building it on…the experience itself is sub-par.

Agree with this. My family loves Disney, perhaps a little too much (wife and I got married there all those years ago!), and we love Disney+, but the apps are… not great. Unfortunately, this is pretty common with all of Disney’s online stuff. Just try booking a hotel or a dining reservation on their web site. It’s a pretty laboring experience, and it hasn’t really improved. Just like Disney+, it works and is… fine, but it could be so much better with just a little bit of polish.

That’s my point. Choosing a good set of "hook" shows with a release schedule to keep people constantly enrolled rather than bouncing in and out over holidays. Lots of people got the 2 (3?) year launch plan, will they keep it and/or recommend it when they hit the monthly fees? Kevin Mayer surely had a road map of shows for the next couple of years planned out, which I figure will be decent.

There were rumbles in Julia’s earlier stories that if Kevin Mayer left, several people at that division were prepared to leave as well, implying that either Disney’s corporate environment isn’t a good fit without Kevin’s protective shield or that Kevin has a solid cult of personality. The first could be managed by a replacement aware of the situation and with enough leeway from new-Bob to maintain similar policies. Cults of personality, however, are harder, especially when it becomes entrenched in the development process.

I expect a higher percentage of shows to die during development or pre-production than at other studios.

Who is head of content now? I honestly don’t know. Iger moved to creative, so he probably has more say than before? Also, I believe there must be a reason the board passed on Mayer for CEO, as most people thought he was the heir apparent.

Can someone explain to me how TikTok is different than say Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.? Can’t you upload short videos to all of those too? Don’t people do dances in their house on YouTube? Sorry, I just don’t understand why TikTok is so huge, so fast.

As far I can decipher, my son does not simply want to watch people dance like morons. No, he and his friends wants to show each other how they each might dance like a moron. There is some kind of socializing of stupidity going on that I cannot for the life me understand.

Because I’m sure you never did anything silly with your friends at his age.

Of course I did, and this is not hypocrisy. I have done my fair share of dumb things. More often than not, I paid the price for it. It is not hypocrisy to want my child to benefit from my hard-earned experiences, so that he does not also have to pay the price I paid. I understand that some lessons will not sink in without first hand experience, but I can try.

He stated how he felt about it without bashing or generational hate towards the platform. I’m sure most of us did crazy things younger, don’t know why that response as aimed this when it’s a legit question. Why is there many apps that’s basically redundant on doing the same thing over and over? You can privately send videos. You can DM videos your friends, you can use Snapchat, many ways to connect. For TicTok it sure isn’t the privacy feature that keeps people coming back. I personally don’t care because one comes and another one leaves; people move on. Millions to billions of investment always get lost with these apps. But it’s a question that should be asked.

Yea. It’s shared socializing stupidity and normalized cringe. But this time, it’s Chinese communist government backed and state sponsored.

While the West’ younger generation are clamoring about this and making a fool of themselves in front of this spyware app, the CCP is probably watching and could be partly controlling / influencing the very fabric of our younger generation’s pop culture now. And that itself is scary.

And I can’t believe that man exchanged that privilege to keep being in charge of one of the best, newly debuted streaming service, that he himself is responsible of, to this cringe spyware app. What a career downgrade and sell out move.

It’s kind of nascent as with all social networks – if you were ever privy to what Vine was it is the closest analogue. Whereas the other services you mention do indeed support video, I think with TikTok the fact that they are marginally short (15-60 seconds) it hits that dopamine rush you get with a very high churn of stimulating content just hitting you – it is addictive in its own way, and the UI is designed to stimulate that with a very fast set of swipes between content that you view/minimal friction to get to features like live broadcasts or sharing with your friends/other platforms.

TikTok has also had its phases – it began as music/dance app that tweens and teenagers would use, now its going through more of a "I downloaded this as a joke but now I’m addicted" phase which includes a slightly larger genre of content that can be quite creative when creators feel like it, and its slowly mainstreaming in the way that Instagram did with having major celebrities/YouTube content creators come on it.

Also keep in mind that it is region locked in a way (it displays content that comes from the SIM region) so certain regions can have wildly different content/phases that got people to load the app on their phones that will show up in the algorithmic feed as it learns your preferences. Chinese/Japanese TikTok is just as weird/funny as US TikTok but they all have largely separate fanbases because of this limitation, and may have started due to other reasons than just "wow this is so cringey I want to see what it is". Indian TikTok has some truly hilarious shit.

TLDR: it’s short, weird/funny/sweet/random, and 100% optimized for short video whereas the other services you mentioned aren’t.

if you were ever privy to what Vine was it is the closest analogue/blockquote>

Exactly…my confusion is how this, so seemingly similar to Vine, is excelling where Vine apparently failed. Is it the fact that the videos can be longer than 7 seconds? Or is it the fact that ByteDance has so much more money to throw at it?

Vine Failed because of Jack Dorsey and Twitter. Jack is a good CEO for Square but a horrible one for Twitter.

Vine is probably a classic example of killing the golden goose – it was terribly mismanaged and if I remember correctly many of the top content creators were interested in continuing but in separate meetings with Twitter they weren’t able to figure out a way to handle monetization. When Vine started costing more than it generated for Twitter and they decided to shut it down, those creators flocked to YouTube in large part because they could make some real money (David Dobrik, et. al come to mind but there’s a large group of former Viners who are now mainstream "YouTubers").

ByteDance also has a ton of funding from China (it’s a major startup), and it can be easily argued that it is a very powerful propaganda tool for the CCP and its APAC presence – but that’s definitely out of the scope of my knowledge and you can read up a ton on how a lot of folks distrust it and its intention. I’m fairly sure a big reason for hiring someone from Disney of Mayer’s caliber is to give Congress some form of reassurance that they’re not just spyware given the broader tech offensive the Trump administration is waging via Huawei, etc.

There’s a lot wrapped up in an app with dumb content but this is the timeline we’re in lol.

TikTok has the advantage of being designed from the ground up for smartphone video. There’s a time cap, it’s all vertical, and the videos loop. The other big thing is that it encourages people to build on each other’s work- the audio from every TikTok is saved to a library everyone can search and use in their TikToks.

So he’s basically cutting out the middle man, eh?

It sort of makes sense, after they went with the other guy as CEO for Disney. Like there was no where to go.

Are you shitting me?

He exchanges the continued opportunity and privilege to keep working on one of the best newly debuted streaming services right now, in the middle of the height of streaming wars, that he’s responsible himself, just to work on a Chinese communist government controlled and backed shortform cringe video app.

Are you shitting me??

No. It makes senes. He wasn’t picked to advance Disney even though he had everything one would consider a win. So now he’ll go to arguably the hottest social media app and get paid. Worst case, in like 3 years he jumps ship to another company.

Some people really do it for the money

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